Archive for September, 2008
Sunday Business Post – Best Business: Healthcare supplement – Sep 28 2008
The technology for electronic prescriptions has been developed and tested by a consortium of Irish companies including Helix Health, Health Ireland Partners and DMF Systems, which are currently involved in a EU supported market validation project called ePrescript. However, until changes are made to the law a fully electronic prescription process is impossible.
“The legislation means we must produce a paper prescription for the doctor to sign,” said Declan Fitzgerald, DMF’s managing director. “Ideally you would want to lose the paper, but to deliver that we need a legislative change.”
Ongoing discussions on unrelated matters between the HSE (Health Services Executive) and the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI) also form a hurdle to a full rollout of the technology, according to Fitzgerald.
“We got held up quite a lot due to the issues between the HSE and the pharmacists,” he said. “This meant it was very difficult to get an implementation up and running in a pharmacy. But we believe that dispute is coming closer to resolution at the moment.”
Declan Rossiter, managing director of Health Ireland Partners said the ePrescript project had demonstrated exactly how an efficient and secure electronic prescription model could work.
“The idea of the ePrescript project is to demonstrate how the practice management system in a GP’s surgery could issue a prescription,” he said. “Instead of writing it on a prescription pad, or printing it on a piece of paper, it is sent to a web portal broker and sits there. When the patient goes to a pharmacy, the pharmacist has an identification code to log on to the web broker and draw down the prescription for the patient. A message is then sent back to the GP to say that the medication has been dispatched by the particular pharmacy.”
During the ePrescript trials, funded 50 per cent by the participants and 50 per cent by the EU commission, the technology was installed and tested in three Irish pilot sites. Similar trials are also underway in Belgium and Poland.
Those involved in the ePrescript project have adapted the system to deal with the challenges imposed by Irish law, according to Howard Beggs, managing director of Helix Health.
“We have changed the doctor software so that as well as printing the prescription it also prints a 2D barcode beside all the details,” he said. “It is very similar to the barcode used for online check-in by Aer Lingus. The doctor signs it in ink so it is compliant with the law, and then the patient takes the piece of paper to the pharmacy. The pharmacist simply scans it with a barcode reader and the information is transferred into his system.”
A primary benefit of electronic prescription is the elimination of human errors or misreadings, according to Beggs.
“The doctor knows that what he has prescribed is exactly what is dispensed,” he said. “There is no room for keystroke or other error with the barcode. If the doctor wants 25Mg, that is what gets dispensed.”
Electronic prescription also offers efficiencies for both pharmacist and patient, according to Rossiter.
“Instead of having to type in details of a prescription, the pharmacist can spend time talking to the patient about how to use their inhaler or whatever the medication might be,” he said.
Rossiter also said that electronic prescription was more secure than the present paper-based system.
“It eliminates the possibility of fraud and duplication, which are big concerns,” he said. “The prescription can only be used once, the patient cannot go to another pharmacy, and get another lot of the medication.”
Beggs said that the HSE could use the new system to implement much greater centralised oversight and analysis of prescription trends in Ireland.
“From a budgeting point of view the country spends more than €2 billion a year on dispensing drugs through the PCRS (Primary Care Reinbursement Service) service,” he said. “They will be able to analyse patterns of use and prescribing.”
Beggs also said that similar technology had already been rolled out in Britain.
“In the UK it took approximately four years to get electronic prescriptions fully up and running,” he said. “The paper is completely gone out of their system. That is in a population of some 50 million.”
Everyone within the Irish healthcare sector was positive about fully electronic prescribing becoming a reality, Beggs said.
“This technology has great buy-in from all the stakeholders,” he said. “The minister has seen it and likes it, the ICGP (Irish College of General Practitioners) has seen it, the IPU (Irish Pharmaceutical Union) have had a delegation here in the office looking at it.”
“Raising public awareness by running pilot projects and getting consumer feedback is important,” Beggs added. “We need people to be asking ‘why are we not doing this?’”
Fitzgerald said he was optimistic the legal and administrative hurdles could be overcome.
“The appetite from the GPs and pharmacist is certainly there, and the technology already exists,” he said. “Fully electronic prescription could be introduced and up and running certainly within a year.”
Sunday Business Post – Done Deal Page – Sep 21 2008
Read it on the SBP website by clicking here.
US retailer group MyWebGrocer has acquired the US business of Irish company Buy4Now in a deal valued at $15 million (€10 million).
Under the terms of the agreement, Buy4Now founder Ali Murdoch will head up the new operation, Buy4Now USA, under MyWebGrocer ownership.
Murdoch will retain his existing 10 per cent shareholding in the Irish company, with sales director and co-founder Michael Veale succeeding him as chief executive.
The €10 million acquisition figure includes an estimated €6.5 million outlay by MyWebGrocer and approximately €3.5 million in restructuring costs.
Veale, along with fellow directors Kevin Murphy, Dan Murphy and Allen Corcoran, hold a 53 per cent shareholding in the Irish company. Veale said the deal would benefit all concerned.
‘‘Ali Murdoch has been living and working in the US for some years and it is very exciting for the new management team here,’’ Veale said.
‘‘While we owned a small percentage of something that was bigger, we now have a larger percentage of a pretty valuable company going forward. The original investors – Superquinn, Grafton and Eircom – have also retained an interest.”
Veale said MyWebGrocer had instigated the deal, approaching Buy4Now late last year. ‘‘We were a major competitor of theirs in the US, and we were winning a lot of the large accounts, so they approached us to see if we were willing to sell the US business,” he said.
Buy4Now entered the US market in 2004, securing e-grocery agreements with retailers including A&P Group, Roche Brothers, New Seasons Market and Lunds & Byerlys. Established in 2000, the company has 80 staff and an annual turnover of €8 million.
An online portal for retail brands, it features more than 20 Irish retailers, including Superquinn, Atlantic Homecare and Arnotts, and 2.5 million products on its website.
Veale said the company’s original e-retail model had evolved over the years to include software development.
‘‘We now see ourselves primarily as a software and services company for retailers,” he said. ‘‘We can design and develop a website, host it and maintain it for you, and also provide call centre support facilities.
‘‘If you buy any phone from our biggest client – 3 mobile – whether through a partner store, their own store, online, or telesales, at some stage you are using Buy4now software.”
Veale said the company planned to focus its future expansion efforts on overseas markets closer to home, including Britain and other European countries.
‘‘While we have been very successful in the US, we have been looking at lesser-developed e-grocery markets in Europe,” he said. ‘‘We see opportunities there for driving the company forward. Europe and Britain are pretty untapped markets for us.”
Sunday Business Post – Computers in Business Magazine – Sep 7 2008
Read it on the SBP website by clicking here.
There are a number of IT options available for companies who want to cut their energy bills and help the environment, writes Dermot Corrigan.
If environmental concerns regarding energy efficiency had not yet grabbed the attention of Ireland’s IT managers and small business owners, then August’s 17.5 per cent ESB increase has ensured the subject is now front and centre of everyone’s mind.
One of the biggest contributors to most organisations’ energy bills is their server farm. Whether a company is running one server or a hundred, companies need to ensure that their technology is as energy efficient as possible, said Bill O’Brien, business group lead, server at Microsoft Ireland.
“Companies have to look at their ongoing energy costs,” said O’Brien. “We see many customers actively pursuing a green IT agenda. Practically this is about reducing the number of machines and power consumption from each machine in their infrastructure.”
Kevin Swan, advanced systems group manager, Del l Ireland, said that vendors had introduced newer more energy-efficient server products in recent years, to meet customer demand for cheaper to run servers.
“Depending on server configuration, customers may pay up to €150more on the sticker price for an energy efficient server over a regular server, however, these servers consume up to 25 per cent less energy than previous generations,” said Swan. “This can result in a three-fold increase in performance per watt over previous generations.”
A server’s energy efficiency is now more important to cost-conscious purchasers than its sticker price. Bryan Hickson, IBM system-x and bladecentre manager, said that many businesses were unaware that the cost of powering a server can be four times the purchase price.
“The upfront cost of purchasing a server only represents about 25 per cent of the entire cost over its lifetime,” said Hickson. “For anyone involved in a data centre 55 per cent of the cost is power alone in the current environment. The ‘performance per watt’ metric that you see being touted around a lot is becoming really important. For anybody who signs the cheques, that is the important factor.”
All the major vendors have also introduced management tools, which al low administrators control the power being used by their servers, with a view to keeping energy costs as low as possible.
“As the price of energy has risen in the last few years, management has become much more critical,” said Hickson.
“People can no longer afford to take for granted what their server is doing at any given time. They want to understand exactly what its utilisation is, and make sure they are getting the best value for money out of it.”
James Henry, sales specialist with HP, said management tools al lowed IT staff to see exactly how much they were paying to power their servers at any moment.
“You can see how much power the company is using right now,” he said. “You can input your power costs and see exactly how much you are paying in real time. More importantly it can allow you to plan workloads and set power caps. It looks at how busy the CPU is and are there jobs coming in the queue. Does it really need to run at 3.5 GHz or can it run at 2 GHz, and therefore use a lot less power? Basically if the server is not busy, it can run at the lowest power state. This reduces the power consumption dramatically over the life cycle of the server.”
The green agenda is also persuading companies to look at the energy consumption of their servers, with Henry saying that the IT sector was very aware of its responsibility to reduce the amount of power being used.
“In the US they are talking a lot about government regulation, and it is coming into the EU as well,” said Henry.
“IT emissions are equivalent to airline companies’ emissions. The key focus for us, and for the industry as a whole, is control ling power utilisation within servers, and managing this power more efficiently. I spend a lot of time working with companies who are interested in going green while saving money.”
O’Brien said virtualisation technology, which al lows companies to use one server to do two or more tasks simultaneously, was now widespread in Irish business.
“Our customers are consolidating servers, turning off older machines and replacing them with newer more powerful machines,” he said.
“In many cases they are replacing ten older servers with one newer, multi-processor machine running virtualised instances of those ten much more efficiently.”
Hickson said the use of virtualisation and similar products helped companies improve the energy efficiency of their servers.
“VMware virtualisation software, and Citrix’s new Xen product, al lows you to make your systems a lot more efficient,” he said.
“Most applications do not use anything like the total power that is available in a server. Some software is only using an average of 712 per cent of the available processor power. So, while the system seems to be working hard, there is a lot of the resource left over doing nothing. VMware recognises all that spare resource, and al locates it on the fly to other requests. Instead of one process in a queue waiting until the first one completes, VMware al lows multiple threads to be worked simultaneously.”
Hickson said that the combination of virtualisation and rising energy costs meant that companies were deciding to throw out their older gasguzzling servers.
“Most people now look at the possibility of replacing all their kit,” he said.
“The ability to have multiple systems consolidated onto one server means you can clear up a large amount of their estate. You see people reducing this by up to 70 per cent in some cases. The new server probably uses two thirds or less power than the one it is replacing, and if you are reducing by something like 70 per cent, then the break-even point comes very early.”
Henry said that the days of each piece of server hardware being dedicated to just one individual application or purpose were now numbered.
“The trend is towards utility computing and pooled and shared resources,” he said. “Hence servers and their associated technology will evolve to meet that trend; it is just one massive pool of shared resource, that is highly available, efficient and enables you to share those resources across lots of users. I think a lot of people are going to start taking up on that and outsourcing rather than hosting their IT in-house.”
Swan said many companies were using high-speed internet connections to access applications and information stored offsite.
“Some of the change we see is where the servers are located, with many customers consolidating shared applications such as e-mail into data centre facilities delivering software as a service from one central site rather than the application being managed separately in multiple sites or countries,” he said.
Paul Lynch, sales and marketing director at Hosting 365, said that utility computing, where customers received their server requirement from a supplier rather than purchasing the hardware themselves, was a major development in the way IT was thought about.
“It is down to the evolution of technology, and it has come around in a circle,” said Lynch.
“We started off with a mainframe environment, and then the likes of Intel put processing capacity into individual chips and you were able to have individual servers. The next step is into high availability cloud infrastructure, delivered using multiple very high-end servers.”
The idea of taking your server requirement as a metered utility made particular sense to organisations whose computing needs tended to fluctuate depending on demand, Lynch said.
“Take the example of Olympics.com or the website of any major international sporting event,” he said.
“It ticks along for three and a half years, with no one really looking at it. Then for one month every four years it goes insane. For you to manage that type of infrastructure you have to invest in new hardware every four years, because the servers will be archaic by the time the next Olympics comes around.”
“With hosted infrastructure you can build to the level you are at today, with the knowledge that you can grow that within literally minutes, to where you need to be for a particular event,” said Lynch.
“If today you are using a server with 1GB of RAM, and tomorrow you need a server with 8GB of RAM for six hours, then we will just charge you for those six hours when you need it.”
Lynch said customers relying on servers for business critical operations were particularly interested in utility computing, as it was less likely to suffer systems failures or downtime.
“We see a huge requirement from customers for higher availability,” he said.
“A couple of hours downtime for your websites, or for the critical applications that your business runs on, is just not acceptable any more. If you can share your data out among multiple data centres, it is no longer located in the one vulnerable centre. If you lose power in one centre, it is not a disaster, your applications should remain up and running, and your data will still be there.
“If your e -mail server goes down in a traditional setting, the problem could be one of 20 things and you could be down for one or two days. If it is hosted, you can be back up and running in a couple of minutes.”
Lynch said utility computing offered huge flexibility to customers, with the ability to buy your computing power where energy is cheapest.
“Clients should be able to choose which they want to use and for how long,” said Lynch. “If they want to use an Irish provider at night-time to take advantage of lower power costs they can do that. Then at six o’clock in the morning they can move their requirement to a provider in the US, or anywhere else. It is really about freedom.”
Servers still needed
Henry said that fewer servers were being sold in Ireland this year than in 2007. However, he blamed economic conditions rather than any dramatic shift in the technology.
“The whole server market in Ireland dropped 18 per cent in Q1 of 2008,” he said. “Personally, I think that is more down to general market conditions, although virtualisation is having an impact as well. We are still selling more servers today than we were selling three years ago and servers will continue to be the lifeblood of a company’s IT solutions.”
Blade-servers are the fastest growing products in the Irish server market, Henry said.
“Blade servers would be the biggest new technology in the server arena over the last couple of years,” said Henry.
“Our blade servers were launched in 2006, and adoption of them has grown massively in the Irish market.”
Henry said blade servers were smaller and more efficient than the traditional rack-type technology.
“They are a lot smaller, but there is no compromise in terms of performance or scalability,” he said.
“They offer the same amount of performance, disks, CPUs, etc, etc as rack servers.
“They are just a lot more efficient in the way that they do things. A blade server does not come with a keyboard, screen or mouse, they are all managed remotely from a central console. This helps customers get up and running a lot quicker and they also provide a lot more advanced management features and functionality.”
Hickson said vendors were continually introducing servers with more and more processing power into the market.
“The main thing that has catapulted it is multi-core technology, where multiple processors are combined into one,” he said. “That is where you get the terminology dual core and quad core. You have several processor cores that fit into one socket.
“Five years ago, we were in a single core environment, with one or two processor units. Now we have up to systems with four sockets holding four processors each. It will keep growing exponentially.”
Smaller companies could now buy servers capable of handling applications that were previously only available to larger organisations, Hickson said.
“Because of the advent of multi-processor core technology, smaller organisations now have the ability to work and use large enterprise applications at lower costs,” he said.
“A typical small user might have been deterred from buying large database applications because they are charged and licensed by processor cores, so something like SQL Server, you might have originally required eight processor cores, which would have been quite expensive. Now you can run those types of software on much lower-end servers.”
O’Brien said that scalability was a key concern of Irish SMEs when purchasing new server solutions. “Scalability is important and interestingly that is why virtualisation is so in vogue,” he said.
“You can add resources quickly and easily and it’s not necessarily about adding a new box but simply a matter of provisioning a new virtual instance on your existing hardware. This gives you great flexibility.”
Henry said bigger organisations now tended to purchase bigger servers.
“The trend is towards buying bigger servers, with higher levels of availability, because you want to know that if I am taking 20 to 50 small virtualised servers on one big server, I want to be getting a server with reliability that I can trust,” he said. “We have seen an interest in sales in our higher-end systems, which compensates for a drop in sales in units.”
Hickson said that resilience – the ability of a server to maintain service level despite power or system problems – was a key concern of smaller companies, especially those using servers for business critical processes.
“The explosion of both e-mail and web trade means that a large amount of business that was done over the telephone or face to face is not any more,” he said.
“If any organisation were to lose either its web or e-mail servers, it is losing money, and a lot of it. It is imperative that organisations look for the most resilient server infrastructure.”
Swan said today’s servers tended to last longer than their predecessors.
“Historically customers upgraded server hardware every three years,” he said.
“Today customers are using their servers for longer and longer, typically between three to five years. Hardware reliability and performance continue to improve, and with technologies like virtualisation and data tiering, older servers can play their part at the core of an IT infrastructure.”
Hickson said the introduction of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) would lead to a surge in demand for server technology.
“We are heading towards Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, which is reverting back to the dumb terminal stage,” he said.
“Instead of everyone having a PC on their desk, they have a box that connects to a back end server.
Your whole desktop and Windows environment is stored on a virtual machine in a back office somewhere. All you have on your desk is a monitor, keyboard and a small processing unit that allows traffic to go from the server to your desk. There will be just one system at the back end, instead of a PC on every desk.”