KPWHRI Accelerates Advanced Research and Analytics

Virtual desktops running on hyperconverged infrastructure are a performance game-changer for clinical research.

At a glance:

  • Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) conducts practical research that helps people around the world stay healthy.

  • When KPWHRI began building a program to assist in the clinical trials of various COVID-19 vaccines, a legacy infrastructure couldn’t deliver the required performance. That led KPWHRI to virtual desktop infrastructure and a Dell EMC VxRail configuration with Intel® Optane™ technology.



In 2020, with the race to develop vaccines in full swing, Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI), a large national healthcare provider and clinical research organization began building a program to assist in the clinical trials of various COVID-19 vaccines being developed by leading pharmaceutical and research institutions. The initial trials were designed to provide information mined through advanced research and analysis techniques to help support a wide range of related activities, from contact tracing to tracking symptoms, the virus’s evolution, drug efficacy, and side effects. The outcomes from the trials are also intended to help guide future studies and research projects around prevention, screening, and treatment.

Aging Infrastructure Hinders Trials

KPWHRI recognized that it needed to cost-effectively unify its standard desktop experience to meet the infrastructure requirements necessary to successfully execute the trials. But with a legacy infrastructure that couldn’t deliver the required performance, KPWHRI began to explore solutions that could meet several key criteria:


  • Deliver near-real-time access to a shared database for KPWHRI’s regional providers
  • Scale to accommodate and manage a fast-growing, massive database
  • Meet the performance demands of big data analytics and machine learning (ML)
  • Perform all these tasks cost-effectively, in a data center with limited space, while using hardware that works synergistically with the proposed VMware virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI)

That led KPWHRI to VDI as the best solution to reduce management overhead and simplify its systems. KPWHRI also needed powerful new servers with the latest technologies to support its requirements.

Around the same time, as part of its $50 million pandemic-response technology initiative, Intel reached out to the institution to see how it could support the trials with its technologies.bat Coronavirus.” Intel and VMware had already collaborated on hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) in the past, along with Dell, so the three companies decided to work together to develop a solution roadmap for the research data.

HCI Delivers Cost-Effective Performance 

Initially, the Intel, VMware, and Dell teams demonstrated the value of the proposed solution simply by migrating KPWHRI’s existing workloads to the new servers that had been selected for the project. With the accelerated performance provided by these new systems, KPWHRI was already impressed. Then, working together, the teams decided to tap into the benefits of HCI while improving the performance of the hardware and software stack and cutting costs by using Intel and Dell hardware and VMware software.

The resulting solution met all of KPWHRI’s requirements with a Dell EMC VxRail configuration. The solution also provided additional enhancements by employing a VMware stack built on VMware Cloud Foundation 4.0.1, including a hypervisor, software-defined storage (SDS) with VMware vSAN, VMware Horizon VDI infrastructure, and software-defined networking (SDN) with VMware NSX Data Center. The VxRail solution was built on 2nd Generation Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors, Intel® Optane™ persistent memory (PMem), Intel Optane Solid State Drives (SSDs), and Serial ATA (SATA) Intel® SSDs.

New Technology Becomes the Standard

With the migration of workloads to the new servers, KPWHRI realized a new level of agility because it could simply migrate existing code to the new system. In fact, with Intel Optane PMem in the memory tier, and Intel Optane SSDs providing a powerful caching layer, the solution delivered substantially faster boot times for virtual desktops. One consultant architect was able to spin up 300 VDI sessions in less than a minute, and the solution runs about 80 sessions per server on average.

The migration from desktops to a standardized server infrastructure also delivered improved resource-allocation capabilities and greater compute availability. Ultimately, the solution was able to generate the high-value, big-data-based analytics needed for the clinical trials. As a result, the full VxRail system with Intel Optane technology has become the standard for all of KPWHRI’s VDI data centers and edge locations, in addition to its more than 40 remote hospitals and clinics.

“Once we loaded the stacks, we knew that the solution was a game changer because KPWHRI quickly achieved their goals for resource allocation, performance, and availability. We used [Intel Optane technology] for persistent memory, as well as the caching layer, and that was icing on the cake for us because you could clearly see the performance improvement. The solution also delivered better value to the customer.” —Senior Solutions Engineer, VMware

Results Open New Research Horizons

The flexibility and performance that Intel® products delivered were critical to the project’s success. With improved scalability, resource utilization, and performance, plus the ability to scale efficiently at a reduced total cost of ownership (TCO), KPWHRI was able to use the technology to drive new initiatives and innovations, including:


  • Using predictive analytics to identify members at the highest risk of serious illness, and proactively communicate with those members for care and support
  • Tracking hospital and intensive-care unit (ICU) utilization statewide using database management linked to the state’s COVID-19 response database
  • Developing a “virtual-first” case model for telemedicine for rapid COVID-19 response
  • Using relational database technology to quickly review scientific evidence related to COVID-19 care 

KPWHRI expects the solution to continue to add value as it supports the organization in its mission to execute important clinical research.

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