Scientists use unified comms, open source to probe brains

Siemens OpenScape UC Server platform to be phased in for Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute.

The Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute (POWMRI) will replace its PABX with a 1000-seat communications platform to connect roaming staff and monitor its tissue preservation freezers, and physical security network.

Research at the Sydney-based institute delves into the actions of the brain and nervous system, and covers cells, genes and molecules through to how the elderly walk to the control of breathing.

The Institute’s IT manager Andrew Cartwright said the parts for its Siemens Time-Division Multiplexing PABX would become rare and expensive after it was discontinued.

“The old system runs on the Siemens HiPath Openscape 750 sever which reached end-of-life, so we upgraded because parts would become expensive and difficult to get,” Cartwirght said.

The new Siemens OpenScape UC Server platform will be phased in with an initial trial of 30 handsets using a gateway to allow it to work alongside the existing PABX. A further 600 handsets will be purchased over the “short term”, depending on demand, with a further 500 planned by the completion of the institutes' new six storey research building by 2014.

He said the high-end handsets with Web video capability will be used to monitor temperature fluctuations in the laboratory freezers that house human tissue.

“The freezers hold priceless brain tissue at about minus 80 (Celsius). If there is a problem, the temperature will rise straight away and we can detect this on the phones,” Cartwright said.

Information from the freezers, which are considered nodes on the network, can be fed in real time into the phones and alerts can be triggered to call handsets when a problem occurs.

“The smallest increase in temperature can signal a problem, so the sooner we know about it, the better.”

The liquid nitrogen tanks can also be monitored and controlled from the phones using an LCD touch screen.

He said POWMRI security will be able to monitor CCTV feeds on the IP phones, and reception will have visibility on deliveries and visitors.

The institute operates entirely on open source platforms. The Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner uses open source software, and mailing and collaboration is handled by aZimbra sever.

“There isn't any Microsoft or corporate software in sight. The Zimbra suite works with everything, iPhones, [Microsoft] Outlook, Linux, MacMail and Ajax,” Cartwright said.

“We can tweak and add functionality with open source which is vital in the laboratory environment because no two requirements are the same. There is no cookie-cutter approach.”

POWMRI uses Apache servers and the Drupal content management system. Cartwright said the institute uses open source because it relies on standards to avoid interruptions to research and vendor lock-in. He said the user-friendly Drupal interface allows some responsibility of content management to be pushed back to users.

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Darren Pauli

Computerworld
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