A Healthy Regimen: MPP, MapReduce & In-Database Analytics

As I wrote yesterday, Milwaukee-based Aurora Health Care is a forward-thinking, patient-centric, not-for-profit aggressively working to manage the business of caregiving based on its data. Proof of success: Business users across the organization now expect daily refreshes of metrics when not so long ago monthly reports suited them just fine.

It's been an evolutionary process that has seen the spread of analytics' influence from care management into finance, marketing, supply chain management -- really throughout the provider's entire ecosystem, Dave Brown, senior director of Aurora's enterprise BI team, told me in a recent interview.

"We're helping everybody understand the data they generate and how they can leverage that information in their decision-making processes, and we're pushing forth a key-performance-indicator approach to managing specific parts of the business," Brown said. "Doing that, of course, requires data and a process for feeding them that information on a regular basis."

And that required Brown's team to reconsider its enterprise BI stack, which had been "legacy Oracle through and through." That environment comprised Oracle Warehouse Builder on the front end, for pulling data from Aurora's transactional systems; Oracle Database 10G, for housing the data; Oracle Business Intelligence Discoverer, for reporting; plus lots of Unix scripting and hand-coded batch jobs.

The team made a "conscientious decision" to reevaluate that aged stack and, in doing so, determined that a massively parallel processing (MPP) architecture was the best option for carrying Aurora into the future. "MPP technologies really hold out a lot of promise for us in dealing with types of structured and unstructured data that our organization generates," Brown said.

It decided on Aster nCluster, now Teradata's Aster MapReduce Platform, and became one of the first organizations Teradata Aster worked with on pushing an entire enterprise data warehouse (EDW) and data marts into a sole repository. The Aster MapReduce Platform features embedded analytics and supports SQL as well as MapReduce, enabling creation of a hybrid enterprise BI environment, as shown below.

For Aurora, cost was the No. 1 motivator, with linear scaling across commodity hardware allowing a significant savings over a traditional symmetric multiprocessing environment. The new platform costs about one third less than the legacy environment, but processing on any query mix is roughly 25 times to 35 times faster -- "and that's really exciting," Brown said. "For less money we get better performance and capabilities and move into a richer analytics space as well."

Because, as great as the reduced spending is, Aurora needed to look at those future capabilities, too. "Certainly, we also see the technology enabling us to look forward and get us where we need to be with real-time analytics across our datasets so we can do really hard-core analytics across some of our hardest problems -- hospital readmissions, length of stay, and fraud detection."

As I discussed yesterday, Aurora has created a master patient index, where all activity related to an individual from across all its systems gets compiled in the EDW. This patient data sits on top of the MPP platform, and MapReduce gives Aurora the ability to churn through its data "at a much higher order in an approach that's cost sensitive to our healthcare budget dollars," Brown said.

And that's a good thing, given that the business has indeed caught on to the value of data-driven decision-making.

"We can barely keep up with all of the requests that are coming in. We're constantly hearing, 'We heard you were doing this project with readmission analytics, we'd like you to work with length-of-stay analytics,' or 'We heard you were working with our inpatient folks; we'd like to work with our clinics and really understand our physician referral patterns and how we might better manage that process,' and so on."

How does your organization, healthcare-related or not, compare to Aurora in terms of business user acceptance of analytics? Share on the message board below.

Beth Schultz, Editor in Chief

Beth Schultz has more than two decades of experience as an IT writer and editor.  Most recently, she brought her expertise to bear writing thought-provoking editorial and marketing materials on a variety of technology topics for leading IT publications and industry players.  Previously, she oversaw multimedia content development, writing and editing for special feature packages at Network World. In particular, she focused on advanced IT technology and its impact on business users and in so doing became a thought leader on the revolutionary changes remaking the corporate datacenter and enterprise IT architecture. Beth has a keen ability to identify business and technology trends, developing expertise through in-depth analysis and early adopter case studies. Over the years, she has earned more than a dozen national and regional editorial excellence awards for special issues from American Business Media, American Society of Business Press Editors, Folio.net, and others.

Midmarket Companies: Bring on the Big Data

The "big" in big data is no reflection of the size of the organization embracing its potential.

Push Yourself to New Analytical Discoveries

Take inspiration from Christopher Columbus as you pursue your analytical journeys.

Re: Usage
  • 7/24/2012 10:13:02 AM

@Maryam, that's definitely the danger. I would suspect this issue will crop up time and again as companies get deeper and deeper into their modeling capabilties.

  • 7/23/2012 11:32:27 PM


Beth, I think proactive medicine is awesome just as long as it is not used by insurance companies to adjust premiums for those with perceived higher risk for diseases. There are so many variables that can affect the severity and manifestation of a disease, penalizing someone based on a model would be a travesty.

Re: Aster MapReduce Platform - a good option
  • 7/20/2012 3:59:21 PM

So true, Hospice. Perhaps people should start learning MapReduce skills. Here's someplace to start.

Aster MapReduce Platform - a good option
  • 7/20/2012 12:49:10 PM


Many organizations are taking advantage of the power of MapReduce to tackle their unstructure data challenge. But they often lack Mapreduce skills in their IT team and projects are delayed  for that reason. Things will certainly be much easier when they alreaby have a ready-to-use MPP tool such as Teradata's Aster MapReduce Platform at hand.

Re: Data of the Future
  • 7/20/2012 12:32:16 PM

@Data Diva,


Database security is certainly not an option; it is mandatory, especially when an organization is working with sensitive data such as patients health information. Data   encryption do offer a much secure level of protection (associated with a good access control and authentication), and Aurora can certainly get good security recommendations from a relevant database system and sofware vendors such as Oracle.

Re: Data of the Future
  • 7/19/2012 1:51:43 PM

I wish we were given a chance to read our own medical records before we left the physician's office. At least that way we'd know what kind of dirt could surface in the event of a breach. Or we could embrace the damaging things proactively, like "Crazy? You bet!"

Re: Data of the Future
  • 7/19/2012 1:09:54 PM

Hi Data Diva. During our call, Dave and I did not get a chance to talk about privacy and security concerns with the quick exception being how the company is working with de-identified data as part of its participation in the Oracle Health Sciences Network, which I wrote about earlier. I did notice, however, that Teradata Aster platform Aurora uses is compatible with Quest Authentication Services

Data of the Future
  • 7/19/2012 12:27:01 PM

Seems like a really forward-looking solution that will take advantage of Big Data's power to give Aurora an edge in treatment.

I DO associate Oracle with the best encryption and privacy, though.  Always a worry if that's being given short shrift with medical records...