Hospital IT managers dread system chaos with introduction of embedded NT

London 01 March 1999 Microsoft is planning to ship Windows NT Embedded 4.0 by the end of the year. The prospect of having NT embedded into non PC devices has raised quite a bit of uneasiness among the British IT managers of the National Health Service (NHS), because these experts seriously worry that such a delicate type of software integration could cause tremendous chaos on existing hospital networks.

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Microsoft is planning to ship Windows NT Embedded 4.0 by the end of the year. The prospect of having NT embedded into non PC devices has raised quite a bit of uneasiness among the British IT managers of the National Health Service (NHS), because these experts seriously worry that such a delicate type of software integration could cause tremendous chaos on existing hospital networks.

At London's Charing Cross Hospital, the staff already started to negotiate with its hardware supplier 3Com to solve the issues related to the NT embedding transaction which the networking company is envisaging for its hardware product line. Matt Williamson, who is head of networking and IT at Charing Cross Hospital, expressed his concerns about 3Com's plans to embed NT, since the hospital information system (HIS) almost entirely runs on 3Com equipment. Williamson entertains some serious doubts about the reliability of Windows NT in hospital environments where the patient's safety should have absolute priority.

Last February, Windows NT Embedded 4.0 for non PC devices went into the beta testing phase. The product will be used in a broad range of applications for telecommunications services, in retail point of sales devices, high speed copiers, manufacturing and office automation programmes, medical patient systems and network equipment, such as routers. Microsoft Company has already responded to the concerns of the hospital IT managers by claiming that Embedded NT has exactly the same Application Programming Interface (API) specifications and kernel as Windows NT. Only the power usage and reliability for embedded systems are different.

Microsoft just wants to meet the overall market demand of the consumers, who urgently require the full integration of devices like PBXs, copiers and other equipment into their networks, as not to have to use these machines in an isolated setting. Andy Mulholland, who is technology markets director at Cap Gemini, refers to the architecture as the major problem. According to this expert, Microsoft all too readily believes that its approach of "one system fits all give or take a few lines of code" will function in a perfect way but the end users are a bit more suspicious.

In fact, Andy Mulholland has discovered a deeper motive for Microsoft's push for embedded NT. The company has the ambition to incorporate the NT code into a whole series of various mobile devices, such as telephones, PDAs, and digital systems like medical support monitors. Quantitatively, these types of installations largely outperform the number of servers running in offices and institutions. If Microsoft subsequently succeeds in getting its code into these boxes, there is a greater chance that the server at the other end will also use embedded NT, as Andy Mulholland suggests.

In the meanwhile, Charles McClelland, who is European marketing manager of 3Com, is trying hard to appease the fears and concerns, which live among the hospital IT managers. If any doubts should exist with regard to the safe functioning of Windows NT Embedded 4.0 version as a completely error-free operating system, then why not turn to Unix?


Leslie Versweyveld

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