Virtual Hands-On Learning Delivers
Real-World Outcomes

Founded in 1968 as a separate division of its 125-year-old parent company, Roche Diagnostics manufactures instruments designed to detect and analyze diseases such as cancer, COVID-19, diabetes, HIV and others. The company provides solutions in clinical settings from the doctor’s office to the hospital to the laboratory, in configurations that range in complexity from simple handheld test strips, to digital diagnostics systems powered by AI, to car-sized automated analysis modules.

Roche Diagnostics instruments provide medical testing in critical healthcare settings around the world, so each instrument system in operation, no matter its vintage, is crucial to the well-being of millions of people. Keeping these systems running properly—and the technicians who operate them properly trained—is essential.

Creating a global community of healthcare experts 

Roche Diagnostics sustains an unswerving commitment to maintaining the expertise of all stakeholders: customers learning new instrument models and versions; employees who must train and support the hospital, laboratory and healthcare professionals; and technicians who must troubleshoot real diagnostic instruments often located far from their bases of operations.

Introduced in 2009, the company’s flagship diagnostic platform—cobas® 8000 modular analyzer series—comprises a sprawling portfolio of high-tech modular components that can process up to 9,800 clinical chemistry tests per hour. Built on advanced technologies as complex as modern aircraft instrument systems, Roche Diagnostics solutions require users to acquire specialized expertise on proprietary technology and software, learning that can be achieved only through extensive hands-on, or simulated hands-on, training.

And because the company has been manufacturing testing solutions for more than 50 years, it has tens of thousands of units—many new, and many aging, yet still hard at work—in myriad clinical settings all over the world. Thus, Roche Diagnostics is fully committed to supporting its customer training needs as long as its instruments are still in service.

Flexible training options delivered anywhere, anytime

While the company delivers onsite training at locations around the globe—including at Roche Diagnostics University or RDU, in the U.S.—international travel for learning these complex systems in person can be impractical for many. Constrained by demands from tight budgets to travel restrictions—like those forced by the COVID-19 pandemic—many learners require flexible training options that can be accessed remotely. This need has never been more crucial than during the ongoing pandemic.

To make its learning solutions accessible to a wider audience, in 2013 Roche Diagnostics launched the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) Simulators Platform, a remote learning solution that delivers an expansive portfolio of fully functional, virtualized instances of the software systems that power Roche Diagnostics instruments. The platform serves virtualized training to around 6,500 learners, all working on thousands of different simulations that replicate the unique software configurations that technical clinicians encounter in real-world laboratory settings.

“VDI for specialist equipment is a world away from VDI for corporate or personal devices,” says Matthias Gräf, platform owner, Roche Diagnostics. “Instead of logging into a list of workplace apps, every simulator is set up as its own VDI. Each customer gets a personalized dashboard with a list of simulators that match the products they own.”

The solution employs VMware Horizon to deliver hundreds of virtualized simulators in as many as 10 different languages. Learners in 80 countries can access instrument software scenarios running on a variety of operating systems from the oldest to the most recent versions of Windows. And while the solution is invaluable for training new users on the company’s latest products, it really proves its worth for those who must keep older equipment operational where purchasing the most advanced solutions isn’t feasible. If a customer is running an older version of Roche Diagnostics software on a compatible machine, the company can deliver the appropriate simulator until that instrument is no longer in service.

Developing real-world proficiency through virtual simulation

The platform’s on-premises iterations—VDI Online and VDI Offline—run exclusively in an on-premises environment built on VMware vCenter, VMware ESXi and VMware Horizon, with identity management provided by VMware Workspace ONE Access. VDI Offline, the non-connected version, replicates the same offerings as its online counterpart and is supported by VMware Flex Server.

The Roche Diagnostics VDI Simulators can be accessed by internal users from a variety of platforms: from devices issued by Roche, like laptops and tablets with an RCN connection through VDI Online, or without the RCN on VDI Offline. And they can be accessed by customers from devices not issued or managed by Roche on the cloud through the VDI Simulators eService. And though these three delivery modes—two on-premises deployments and one in the cloud—are not currently connected, Roche is moving toward integrating all three in a seamless multi-cloud implementation. The company currently delivers remote learning to more than 6,000 learners through its on-premises solution—consuming more than 15,000 virtual machines per month, a staggering 165,000 per year. And as its user base grows, Roche will add more learners to the 800 it currently serves through the cloud.

Expanding learning through a multi-cloud configuration

As Roche Diagnostics responded to the growing demand for remote training on its vast portfolio—more than 2,600 products—its technology footprint expanded accordingly. By 2019, the company made the decision to extend its offerings to the cloud in the U.S., seeking options where possible to expand beyond its vital but resource-intensive on-premises infrastructure. Gräf worked with Cesar Rex, senior solution architect, to plan, create and implement the design of the VDI Cloud setup.

“Our on-premises data centers mean we can keep sensitive data secure in line with region-specific regulations and ensure the in-house training solution is responsive and highly available,” says Gräf.

When regulations on data privacy and sovereignty allowed, Roche extended its cloud investment, launching its cloud-based U.S. Customer Access Project and its VDI Instrument Simulators Dialog eService. The company chose VMware Cloud on AWS to support a solution that utilizes resources in an AWS data center in Ohio using three VMware Cloud on AWS hosts running ESXi, managed by a dedicated vCenter server with AWS Application Load Balancing with VMware Cloud™ on AWS.

Continuing to grow its cloud estate, in 2021 Roche Diagnostics expanded to Europe, with the addition of three new VMware Cloud on AWS hosts in the Frankfurt AWS data center, including two new AWS Virtual Private Clouds (VPC), an AWS Transit Gateway, six AWS VPNs, one AWS Lambda Function, and the AWS Firewall Rules Setup.

“A scalable cloud platform like VMware Cloud on AWS supports company growth and peaks in demand. We had 20 percent more users sign up during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example,” says Gräf. Client enthusiasm proves the solution’s value.

“This is one of the most valuable tools in our technical support arsenal,” said one VDI Simulator user. And despite the complexity and sheer volume of content the solution delivers, the entire platform is maintained by a staff of two.

“I am proud to have so many active users. We hope to connect the cloud and on-premises infrastructure to continue with a hybrid cloud setup this year, and also onboard Singapore to the cloud platform,” says Gräf. “Our mission at Roche is to support patient outcomes. With VMware, we’re making it easier than ever for customers to train clinicians how to use life-saving medical equipment anywhere in the world—doing now what patients need next.”

Link to published article (ghostwritten for colleague byline): Virtual Hands-On Learning Creates Real-World Outcomes