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SinfoniaRx Improves Patient Services by Moving to IBM z Systems and Linux

By scaling up on the mainframe instead of out on another platform, SinfoniaRx CIO Kevin Barber says the company is now well-positioned to meet increasing demand. Photo by Chris Hinkle


Customer: SinfoniaRx
Headquarters: Tucson, Ariz.
Business: Medication therapy management
Challenge: Deciding whether to scale up or scale out to meet increasing application demands
Solution: Moving from an Apple Mac Pro environment to an IBM zEnterprise 114 to better meet requirements for future growth
Hardware: An IBM zEnterprise 114 hosting four IFLs
Software: SinfoniaRx’s RxCompanion, DB2, SUSE Linux

To IT managers, company growth also means scaling. The question is whether to scale out (horizontally) or scale up (vertically). Each has its merits depending on the existing system architecture, but it appears that recently, scaling up has become more popular.

This is in large part due to virtualization technology, which allows organizations to put more into less. This may sound contrary to common sense, but applying more resources to a single node or box can produce enormous benefits. For example, licensing fees, which are often priced on a per-core basis, can be greatly lessened if virtualized instances of databases can be virtualized to a single core. Similarly, running one machine to host many virtualized applications and operating systems results in decreased energy consumption. When scaling out, adding more machines to accommodate additional workloads makes these benefits disappear.

That’s why many organizations are taking a second look at systems such as the IBM zEnterprise* platform when projecting future growth. It allows for hundreds or thousands of virtualized servers to run within a single computing footprint. As the Tucson, Ariz.-based SinfoniaRx discovered when it moved to an IBM Enterprise Linux* Server, this type of scaling is a boon to organizations on the cusp of or already experiencing tremendous growth.

Increasing Application Value

Created when Sinfonia HealthCare Corp. acquired key technology and personnel from the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy, SinfoniaRx runs a program called the Medication Management Center (MMC). Its goal is to offer personalized, pharmacist-run medication therapy management (MTM) services to both improve healthcare and reduce healthcare costs.

“We have about 80 pharmacists, pharm techs and students from the college of pharmacy who call primarily Medicare patients—although we also work with some commercial insurance providers—who may have medical drug issues. We may suggest they add a medication, stop taking a medication or maybe change their medication. In support of that, we developed a call-center application that documents the calls,” says Kevin Barber, current CIO of SinfoniaRx and former associate director of MTM Center, University of Arizona College of Pharmacy.

MMC has around 5.5 million members and is expected to grow to more than 10 million over the next few years. The back-end call-center application, RxCompanion, tracks medical records, medication information and claims for each of these members. The capability to analyze and update patient data is critical to the program’s success.

“A large part of what we do is loading analytical data concerning the medications patents are taking and then every time that clinical data changes, reanalyzing it to produce recommendations the pharmacists can act upon. So we’re conducting a lot of data analysis—mining, reanalysis—as claims change for patients,” Barber notes.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at

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