Embedding sustainability into everyday actions

Chris Peters

Chris Peters is an IT director with Intel IT’s Industry Engagement Group. Peters applies an integral knowledge of Intel IT operations as he works closely with strategic IT decision makers worldwide to share IT best practices. His goal is to deliver better business value from IT innovation and investment. Intel IT provides the infrastructure and services required to design, manufacture, supply, and market products for one of the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturers.

In this interview, Peters discusses how IT at Intel is greening the data center and embedding sustainable actions in everyday activities.

Chris Peters explains the role Intel IT plays in embedding sustainability within IT and business.

Interview conducted by Vinod Baya and Bo Parker

PwC: What role is Intel IT playing with respect to the company’s overall sustainability initiatives?

CP: IT plays a very critical role in being able to support Intel’s corporate sustainability initiatives. Sustainability and corporate responsibility are about more than simply good citizenship. Sustainability involves reducing waste, energy, and water consumption, and making the business more sustainable in the long run.

In addition to reducing our own IT carbon footprint, Intel IT can also positively reduce Intel’s carbon footprint, by delivering services to our employees such as videoconferencing, power management practices, and green printing services. All these initiatives bring a very tangible impact to the corporation. Making IT green is a means to an end, the end of making Intel’s business more sustainable and cost efficient.

PwC: What key actions did your IT organization take to support sustainability?

CP: One of the first things we did was create a dedicated IT sustainability program office. We formally appointed a senior IT manager responsible for defining and putting the necessary metrics, strategies, and processes in place internally. We decided to focus on a core metric of carbon footprint (CO2) reduction as well as reducing water, energy, and other resource consumption, and we adopted internal IT goals to manage our IT energy footprint and contribute to Intel’s energy reduction of 5 percent per year from 2007 to 2012. We have been able to deliver on these goals in the past several years. Additionally, we participate as active members of Climate Savers and Green Grid.

Moving forward, a key role and challenge for the Intel IT sustainability program office is to start embedding sustainability-oriented decision making, activities, and best practices throughout our daily business activities, so we can transition sustainability from a program to a mind-set.

PwC: How can IT play a role in embedding sustainability-oriented activities and mind-set?

“We have reduced our server count from 100,000 down to 75,000. The business capability in that time from a network, storage, and compute standpoint has grown 35 percent to 50 percent annually.”

CP: We know we can measure and impact the things that we absolutely control in IT, such as lowering data center power consumption, increasing server utilization—and our initial focus was on these controllable metrics. The challenge is how do we embed new behavior throughout all of our IT organization and throughout the business?

In IT, we have an opportunity to partner with our business leaders, understand workflows, and then work to apply new technology solutions that can give employees and business leaders the opportunity to make better, more sustainable decisions during their daily work environment. For this reason, Intel IT places an emphasis on Lean Six Sigma certification and business process change management as a core skill set for IT employee development. I will use an example: a daily activity like printing paper. If, as individuals, we automatically send print jobs to the local printer but never pick the job up, we’re just wasting paper. We implemented a solution we call greenprint, so that the job prints only when the user enters a PIN code at the printer. Now nearly everything that is printed is picked up, and there’s less resource waste.

In this way, IT can reduce business waste beyond managing our own IT footprint. That’s the end state we’re trying to get to.

PwC: What are you doing to raise awareness about sustainability and what everyone can do?

CP: We are committed to raise awareness among employees both inside and outside IT, and there are a few things that we have done. One is through Intel’s employee bonus program. For the last three years, there’s been an IT sustainability component in the corporate formula that determines the year-end bonus amount that employees get; this ties sustainability goals to existing mechanisms of employee compensation. Additionally, we have created an internal Environmental Excellence Award that incentivizes employees to generate efficiency ideas in support of sustainability. Employees can submit ideas competing for financial grants to fund localized activities; the best ideas also get recognized and shared.

We also use existing communications mechanisms to make employees aware of the importance of sustainability. Intel IT develops an internal newsletter called Digital Edge that goes out to employees about services that we provide. We have used this newsletter to communicate our goals for sustainability and the progress we are making. We also push information about new initiatives, such as tips on PC power management settings and greenprint, and we let employees know about the availability of new services, encourage them to use these services, and provide tips on how best to utilize these services in their daily activities. Through this process, we let employees know how they can directly contribute toward achieving corporate sustainability goals.

We also create awareness for the importance of IT sustainability outside of Intel. Each year we release an Annual IT Performance Report directed at our industry peers, which includes information about the importance and business value benefits of sustainability initiatives.

PwC: What are some techniques that you are using to make data centers more green?

CP: We’re using new products and technologies in combination with a variety of innovative approaches to better manage power efficiency within our global data center network.

Proactive Server Refresh, a program we initiated in 2007 to refresh our servers on a four-year average cadence, has been the single biggest business value driver within our IT sustainability program for energy footprint reduction. Newer servers offer better energy efficiency—performance per watt—which allows us to meet 45 percent annualized growth in compute capacity with fewer servers, consuming less space and power. Additionally, the new servers draw less power for the same workload with a built-in capability to take power consumption up and down depending on the actual load on the server.

“A key role and challenge for the Intel IT sustainability program office is to start embedding sustainability-oriented decision making, activities, and best practices throughout our daily business activities, so we can transition sustainability from a program to a mind-set.”

Another approach we found especially beneficial in our facilities is airflow management. Innovations that can improve airflow management reduce the amount of power consumption dramatically, and they can be as simple as cable placement in the back of a server or as extensive as changing data center designs, like raised floor approaches that create hot and cold aisles for airflow isolation. Intel IT has been recognized across the industry for some unique innovations in chimney management—where we consolidated the backs of the servers together into an isolated chimney that gets vented uniquely; this approach prevents hot air recirculation without the need to reconfigure the facility for a raised floor.

We’ve also completed successful proof of concepts with free cooling—the use of untreated, external air to cool a data center. During a proof of concept in New Mexico, we found that 75 percent of the time we can cool our data centers without pre-treatment or pre-cooling input air. This approach offers significant savings of cooling systems, power, and infrastructure capability, which in turn expands available capacity inside those data center facilities.

PwC: Those are some good innovations. How much more potential exists to make data centers greener? Are we at the beginning, middle, or end?

CP: It’s a long-term commitment to make our data center greener and we remain committed to aligning our efforts and investments as they support efficiency within our business. We’ve reduced our data center count from 150 down to 90 in the last several years. We have reduced our server count from 100,000 down to 75,000. The business capability in that time from a network, storage, and compute standpoint has grown 35 percent to 50 percent annually. Our capability is growing dramatically while we’re shrinking our footprint, so efficiency is going up. We still have a long way to go, and we continue to see opportunities to reduce and drive further consolidation. We’re asking ourselves several questions around our data center facilities as we evaluate business needs and available technology: When do we consolidate? When do we retrofit? When do we upgrade? When do we retire our end-of-life assets? And we’re putting the decision metrics in place while enabling business goals, such as service quality, capacity, velocity, and cost efficiency.

Intel has been the largest purchaser of green power and renewable energy credits in the US for the past three years, illustrating our long-term commitment. We have 2.85 billion kilowatt-hours annually that are related to renewable energy sources or renewable energy credits, so it’s a big piece also with solar installations on our sites and things like that.

PwC: What are some examples of IT creating an impact outside of the data center?

“Newer servers offer better energy efficiency— performance per watt—which allows us to meet 45 percent annualized growth in compute capacity with fewer servers, consuming less space and power.”

CP: From an innovation perspective, I want to mention videoconferencing. Over the past several years, we’ve had a significant emphasis to incrementally deploy more video collaboration solutions. We’re finding that videoconferencing capability is significantly reducing the amount of travel required of our employees. Last year, just through these efforts, we estimate we saved about 57,000 travel hours. Our video capabilities have been increasing year over year, so what we saw in 2010 was about 27 percent over the previous year and we emphasize more capability going forward. While there is the bottom line cost savings of avoiding travel costs, we’re also helping the impact to the environment by reducing our carbon footprint. We estimate the associated travel avoidance resulted in expense savings of $26 million to Intel, and it also helped us reduce an estimated 22,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

PwC: From what you’ve been describing, this sounds like an opportunity for IT to demonstrate leadership as well.

CP: Absolutely. From an IT perspective, we’re extremely proud. We’ve been awarded the InfoWorld Green 15 for the last several years, and we’ve been recognized by Computerworld for some of our innovations inside our IT organization. We’re also very proud to have been recognized for supporting Intel’s sustainability efforts at a corporate level.