Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust has around 1,000 inpatient beds, employs more than 8,900 full and part-time staff and provides planned and emergency hospital services for almost 603,000 people in Hull and the East Riding. A Major Trauma Centre for the region, the trust provides critical care services, with beds for intensive care and high dependency at both Hull Royal Infirmary and Castle Hill Hospital. It also runs the Eye Hospital and Hull Women and Children’s Hospital, which includes a 26-cot neonatal intensive care unit.
The Trust, which welcomes around one million patients through its doors every year, has seen numbers swell during the ongoing COVID Pandemic. Yet behind the scenes, the need to maintain social distancing for staff while still giving access to critical clinical and administrative systems has required more use of virtual private network (VPN) access.
As Mike Barnett, Technical Services Manager for Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust explains, “We have always had some capacity for remote working – maybe 40 to 50 staff but COVID’s requirement for more home working forced us to increase our capacity quickly to roughly 10 times that number.”
However, the Trust’s existing solution based on equipment from Juniper Networks and Pulse Secure which has been running for around 7 years was not powerful enough to handle this increased workload. The system was also not as user friendly as the Trust would have liked, and the upgrade would also allow it to deploy a certificate-based authentication system that is not only more secure – but also easier to manage for IT staff and remote users.
With time of the essence, the Trust contacted ANSecurity, an Elite level Pulse Secure partner. ANSecurity had previously designed and successfully implemented the original VPN as well as a major Multi-Factor-Authentication project for the Trust several years previously. To meet the initial spike in demand, ANSecurity arranged a rapid deployment of an “In Case of Emergency” (ICE) licensing plan that allowed the Trust to temporarily expand the number of VPN users on the platform to around 400.
Yet with the number of remote users expected to grow further, it was decided that the hardware appliances where not up to the task. ANSecurity then created a migration plan to help the Trust deploy newer appliances and deliver a seamless upgrade – crucially – without any downtime.
“We have used the Pulse VPN for a substantial amount of time,” explains Barnett, “It’s built into our Outlook Web Access, Microsoft exchange and as a proxy and front-end for our web servers. Over the years, we have made quite a few customisations, so it was essential that the migration retains all our integrations and not force us to have to reconfigure all our backend systems or client devices.”
The IT Services wide project defined the scope of work and the new design was also validated by senior ANSecurity technical architects to ensure the VPN capability would meet the needs of the Trust – with room to scale if demand increased further. ANSecurity worked closely with the Trust’s network and server teams that where critical to the deployment along with the helpdesk and first line teams to ensure that the project was carried out successfully from an end user perspective.
To meet social distancing rules, the joint effort was carried out via remote access to configure the new VPN appliances – taking care to ensure that all the customisations were rebuilt and tested to ensure a swift migration. The upgrade, which took place late one evening, required getting both the new and legacy VPN appliances running in parallel along with equivalency testing to ensure all features were working as planned. A minor configuration change in the Trust’s firewall settings – and the switchover was complete. “ANSecurity helped to ensure the changeover was painless, and we didn’t get any helpdesk support calls from remote users – which is always a plus,” says Barnett.
The new VPN with its upgraded hardware has helped the Trust to seamlessly provide secure, remote connectivity to more users. The higher capacity appliances have been valuable for allowing larger data sets such as X-Rays and CT scans to be reviewed by external consultants, and Barnett adds, “The entire project was delivered by ANSecurity in a timely fashion without any issues.”
In terms of the ongoing partnership, “We have a good working relationship with ANSecurity,” says Barnett, who has been with the Trust for 17 years. “Like any relationship, there are good parts and a few problems, but the important thing is that any issues we have had have always been resolved professionally with the support of ANSecurity.”