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St. Jude solves "impossible case" with fiber optics.

Each spring used to mean trouble for the data center staff at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

Situated in the middle of the east coast's tornado alley, seasonal thunderstorms would discharge rounds of high-voltage electrical spikes through the hospital's power grid. These surges would damage thousands of dollars in computer equipment each year and send the data center staff scrambling to restore critical healthcare applications and users on the network.

But not any longer.

Ever since the hospital replaced its older, copper-based computer network with fiber-optic cable, the only trouble the lightening now causes the data center staff is a few restless nights.

Many organizations like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital are increasingly turning to fiber-optic technology to solve a variety of previously unsolvable network problems.

Whether the network is Ethernet, token ring or some other protocol, these companies are finding that--despite higher cabling costs--fiber is actually a more cost-effective solution. It gives them distinct benefits, such as data security, reliability, flexibility, longer distances or migration path to FDDI.

"We were able to cost-justify fiber on its storm protection merits alone," says Al Herrington, communications manager at St. Jude.

"Because the facilities are built on a terrible electrical grid, our buildings would get knocked out at least three to six times each spring. Each lightning strike would tear through the data lines, disabling $ 25,000 to $ 75,000 worth of terminals and PCs.

"Since fiber transmits only optical signals instead of common mode signals, lightning is no longer a problem."

Life support on fiber

St. Jude's, one of the workd' s premier centers for research and treatment of catastrophic diseases in children, began installing a fiber-optic network from Chipcom Corp. in 1990 as part of a $125 million expansion program.

When completed, the hospital will have doubled in size to more than 700,000 square feet. The construction program includes a new five-story research center and 1,000-vehicle parking facility, as well as a four-story patient care building scheduled to open in 1994.

According to Herrington, each new cable laid during the projects has steadily reduced to zero computer equipment damage due to electrical surges. But electrical isolation was just one of several network brroblems he was able to solve using fiber optic technology.

"The flexibility of fiber was another benefit that became extremely important during the new construction," Herrington says.

"Just befoere we brike ground for the new hospital building, the contractor suddenly told us we had 30 days to move all the existing network conduit so they could excavate the hole for the foundation. That required pulling all new cable from the data center to the research center more than 2,000 feet away.

290 cable pulls

"If you've got 290 devices networked with hard wire, then you've got to pull 290 new cables."

For the data center staff, fiber-optic cable was obviously the easier and more practical solution. Herrington could span the distance and provide all the hospital's connectivity needs with a small, 48-fiber cable between the two buildings.

But after pulling the cable and making the connections to the Codex V.35 multiplexers and token ring and over 290 end nodes, the building contractor informed Herrington that he put the cable in the future location of another hospital building.

"So we had to move the cable again. But what would have been a nightmare with copper was no problem at all with fiber-optic cable. All I had to do was pull it out and stick it in the new conduit for the building's telephone data and electricity.

"Fiber made it easy to move a whole trunk of cable capacity from one location to another. One cable handles all our Ethernet, token ring, V.35, Twinax and ARCnet communications," Herrington says.

"Our rule with the new network was 'no copper risers at all.' When the project is completed, the entire network--all our risers and laterals--will be fiber."

To further complement its fiber-optic advantage, St. Jude Chidlren's Hospital has a unique fault-tolerant fiber-optic network capability to eliminate network downtime. It includes fault-tolerant fiber transceivers, redundant fiber-optic cables and backup power supplies in all wiring hubs.

"Fault tolerance is important to us because the welfare of patient depends on quick access to information. It is particularly critical that our network does not fail," Herrington says.

For example, a new clinical pharmacy application running on the network enables physicians to tabulate within minutes the types and amounts of drugs a patient has received. This level of real-time information is particularly critical to St. Jude's staff of physicians, who treat about 3,500 active patients.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Fiber-Optic Networks; St. Jude Children's Research Hospital; Chipcom Corp.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Words:767
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