A modern hospital running without computers is unthinkable. Computers run everything these days–equipment (medical/surgical/radiological), clinical laboratory instruments, medical record systems, administrative operations, and patient/family entertainment. Usually (though not always) this involves in-house servers, and the neat thing these days is how small they can be. (Putting it in context, I'll never forget my visit to a St. Louis science and technology museum, where I saw a spacious, early-1960s CPU with machines the size of shipping trunks using power I now had available in my pocket.) Of course, when servers get small, you can cluster more of them together in a relatively small space. And that can be a problem.

Several months ago, I read with fascination in the excellent IT magazine Information Week the story of Pomona Valley Medical Center, a 426-bed facility that had been centralizing its servers for more efficiency. As the servers were brought together, the heat they generated rose to the point that two five-ton air conditioners couldn't keep up, while box fans hanging from the ceiling gently wafted the hot air. When the room temperature eventually hit 102 degrees, several computer drives and an entire laboratory system went down, the latter having to be rebuilt at a cost of $40,000.

Pomona Valley solved its problem with a high-tech fix, one of the ingenious new data center cooling systems that have reached the market in recent years. The point here, though, is to ask, how many healthcare designers/planners think about the environment created by modern information technology?

As it turns out, there's a lot more to designing modern data centers than knowing about and installing the latest cooling equipment–floor to ceiling height; the physical placement of servers; location of air circulation inlets, outlets, and pathways; space for cooling and fire suppression equipment; square footage needed per watts generated; provisions for redundancy; and calculated space needs for growth are some of the other factors involved in providing workable space for modern computer technology.

HEALTHCARE DESIGNhas an article in the works covering much of this, and you should see it within the next couple of months. Meanwhile, the saga of the modern data center is a fitting reminder of the old truth: The technology that is so helpful and, indeed, essential to our lives can rise up to bite us if we don't plan for it intelligently. We go to great lengths these days to help our patients feel comfortable. Apparently, the same care has to be applied to our computers, as well. HD