Monday, June 02, 2008

PACS Synergy Takes Energy

My fellow author Erik Ridley (OK, Erik, you can stop laughing now) reports today on about the use of Synergy, an open-sourch program from SourceForge, to control multiple PACS apps from one computer. This was based on a SIIM presentation by Stuart Pomerantz, M.D., from Mass General.

"Many of the ergonomic benefits of a 'one-box' radiology solution can thus be achieved in a multi-PC environment with keyboard-monitor software at no additional cost," Pomerantz said. He discussed the MGH researchers' experience with an open-source, virtual "one-box" system during a scientific session at the meeting.

A "one-box" approach with all applications running on one workstation would offer ergonomic advantages, allowing users to use a single PC (and keyboard and mouse) to drive all applications, he said. A virtual, network-based "one-box" model would also have this benefit, yet it would retain the flexibility to split into two separate simultaneous input modes for two-person navigation and data entry, according to Pomerantz.

"It's important that the virtual 'one-box' is not through a switching device, through a manual switch where one keyboard and mouse controls a different on-screen connection to one PC or the other, but rather a fluid connection across all PCs with simultaneous control," he said.

This is an interesting idea, and actually one I have encountered before. One of my partners bought a second computer, and connected it to the same monitor, mouse, and keyboard as his first computer via a hardware KVM switch. He did this to allow different (and at that time somewhat incompatible) PACS clients
to run on the different computers, but to still be controlled from the same perch in his office. Personally, I thought it was overkill for the purpose.

Pomerantz's approach does not use hardware KVM switches, but rather networks control via the Synergy program.

With synergy, all the computers on your desktop form a single virtual screen. You use the mouse and keyboard of only one of the computers while you use all of the monitors on all of the computers. You tell synergy how many screens you have and their positions relative to one another. Synergy then detects when the mouse moves off the edge of a screen and jumps it instantly to the neighboring screen. The keyboard works normally on each screen; input goes to whichever screen has the cursor.

In this example, the user is moving the mouse from left to right. When the cursor reaches the right edge of the left screen it jumps instantly to the left edge of the right screen.

OK, this has potential, but for many of us, the potential is that of confusion. I would be rather concerned about realizing which computer it is that I'm operating.

Is this all really necessary? I'm not so sure of that either. Most desktop workstations have the horsepower to drive the PACS client, SR window (if you are so unfortunate as to need one), RIS client, and some level of advanced visualization software. If you are using an integrated thin client, there is relatively little impact on your CPU.

I'll probably try this at home, and amuse my wife and son no end as I scoot my cursor over to their screens while they are trying to do something productive. I might have a different opinion of the efficacy of using this with PACS if I were to see it in action at Mass General, but short of that, this seems to represent about the same level of overkill as the old KVM switch idea. Just my humble opinion, of course.


Anonymous said...

Doc.. As an IT guy, Open Source fanatic, and avid reader of AM feeds, I'm (1) surprised I didn't know about this before, and (2) didn't spot it from AM, so thanks.

I don't think there's potential for any more confusion than with any multi-monitor configuration, but I can think of a monster benefit straight out of the box - Synergy (claims to be) is platform independent - so you can have your Windows-based PACS client driving a couple of 5MP monitors in the same visual session as a Mac running the (free) and much-better-than-just-good-enough Osirix

OR.. have the 'control' screen on a multi-monitor workstation running Linux but driving the big monitors remotely.

It may not seem much further beyond the KVM route, but usability is a confluence of many small tributaries.

Hell I'm going to go build a barco workstation now & test it out. I can see value in this. Indeed, almost as much innovation as Seimens in discussion with Disney, What? ;-)

Unknown said...

I've been using Synergy for quite sometime at home between my laptop and workstation. It doesn't require me to go out and purchase a docking station and allows me to view files (or Outlook) on my laptop while doing the majority of my work on my workstation.

If you need help with determining what system you're using, there's a background detailer called BGInfo (now owned by M$) that is great. I actually set that program up on all servers I install, so that I know which one I'm on when things get crazy.


Geoff said...

I've been using Synergy for a number of years myself, and it is a great tool. Put together properly, a Synergy desktop is nearly seamless, and if you can use the SynergyKM gui for the Mac, easy to setup as well. The only downside to Synergy is that no one has updated it about 2 years, and sooner or later it will run afoul of some new version of Windows or OS X.