Netherlands Cancer Institute: ‘VDI by day, compute by night’

Posted on 29/10/2020 by vmwareemeasmt

The Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI) is among the top 10 cancer centers in the world, combining a cancer clinic with a research institute. The NKI plays an important role as a national and international
center of scientific and clinical expertise, development and training.

The Netherlands Cancer Institute was established in 1913. The founders wanted to create a cancer institute ‘where patients suffering from malignant growths could be treated adequately and where cancer and related diseases could be studied’. The clinic had room for seventeen patients, while the laboratory could accommodate a maximum of ten scientists. Nowadays, the NKI accommodates approximately 650 scientists and scientific support personnel.

IT department crucial for research

The IT department is crucial to facilitate the researchers. Whether people are conducting research or providing care, NKI employees should be able to do their job, with easy access to their tools and apps. Roel Sijstermans, head of IT at NKI: “The challenge for our IT department was to implement much more of a self-service model for our users, because people often have to wait for IT.” That is why NKI had to modernize its Digital Workspace environment; it had to become easier to share (more) data and to conduct research. This would result in more time for patients, because employees would not need to waste time on constantly logging in. Security is also very important, because a hospital and research center has a lot of personal and valuable research data.

Using extra computing power at night for research

Thus, the Digital Workspace environment had to be improved. With the new VMware Digital Workspace solution, the NKI has much more processing power. But it would be a waste of resources to only use this extra power during working hours. That is why the NKI decided to make this computing power available for research, so that researchers have the necessary computing capacity to make discoveries faster, 24/7. By also using the VMware Digtial Workspace infrastructure at night and by analysing and recognising cancer cells using deep-learning software, the institute uses its Digital Workspace as a force for good. They call this approach: ‘VDI by day, Compute by Night’.

Bram van den Broek, Senior Postdoc at NKI: “Curing cancer is a very long chain of small discoveries. What happens is that researchers collect data during the day and create images with microscopes. They then place them in a row where other data is waiting for analysis. By night, virtual machines process and analyse the data and images. When you return to your work in the morning, the data has been analysed.” This allows the NKI to provide patients with a diagnosis more quickly. Sijstermans: “VMware offers the technology, but also the knowledge to create an ultra-modern infrastructure and workplace for our healthcare providers and researchers.” The researchers can analyse data in days – instead of weeks – because they use the extra computing power at night for automatic analysis. This accelerates breakthroughs in cancer research.

Read more about this customer case here.

Result and the future

Mark Platte, IT Architect at NKI: “We now have an entirely new environment with VMware technology and instead of lagging behind in the market, we are now at the forefront.” First of all, with VMware Workspace ONE, employees have easy, fast, and secure access to patient records. They can log in faster, share files securely and collaborate more easily. Furthermore, patient care has been improved because medical staff can spend more time at the bedside with patients. Researchers can conduct research faster because they have more computing power. Secondly, security has been improved by implementing VMware NSX with Horizon, creating a microsegmentated environment in which traffic is only allowed between validated servers (preventing East-West traffic). This was very important, because the NKI has a lot of personal and valuable research data. Finally, the improvements in IT ensure that business goals are better supported. Sijstermans: “I think that large data sets and computing power are very important for research and to accelerate breakthroughs. Maybe someday we will solve the problem of cancer and turn it into a chronic disease. That will be the focus of our institution in the coming decades.”


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