Q&A: Going Green Case Study

Green savings can be substantial. The trick, as one firm found, is to have all employees on board.

What if you could save one third on your energy bill and reduce paper consumption by eight million pages in just six months? That's exactly what happened at Fair Isaac. Yes, newer hardware and software were involved, but the key to the project's success came down to the employees. To learn more about the company's success, we turned to Christopher Rence, chief information and business transformation officer at Fair Isaac.

What drove your "green" project? (Were you trying to save energy costs, reduce the size of your data center, both, something else?) What savings did you anticipate?

The motivation behind Fair Isaac's Sustainable Enterprise Initiative is the double bottom line: addressing the interests of shareholders by reducing operational costs and addressing our responsibility to the environment by reducing our carbon footprint.

The drive to create this program actually emanated from across the company. At the same time leadership was considering the best ways to increase energy efficiency and system performance, employees were asking what more they could do in terms of recycling and other voluntary practices. In comparison to some companies, our implementation of this initiative has been quick and easy, with minimal disruption to business, because of the organic support we have from our employees.

Fair Isaac has established specific goals and metrics for this initiative to chart the company's performance and efficiency gains as well as its reduction in carbon emissions. By 2010, we plan to reduce the amount of power needed to run our IT systems by 50 percent and reduce our printing output by 80 percent. To date, we've reduced energy consumption by 33 percent and printing output by 50 percent, cutting our paper usage by 8 million pages.

What "green" aspects did your project include (e.g., faster hard drives, virtualized servers, offloading archived data to slower, "cleaner" media, etc.)?

Our initiative focuses primarily on three areas: improving the energy efficiency of the company's IT infrastructure; reducing employee commute miles through telecommuting; and decreasing the consumption of paper products.

We've undergone extensive greening of our data centers to lower energy consumption. We've consolidated 24 data centers into four, allowing us to dramatically reduce floor space and the energy required to maintain those technology environments. With that consolidation, we eliminated the need for thousands of servers, network devices, routers, PBX devices, standalone storage devices and CSUs/DSUs. As a result of fewer and newer facilities, we've been able to decommission and/or recycle six diesel generators, 24 legacy Freon-based HVAC systems, and 230 UPS systems. These actions alone have already delivered a 33 percent reduction in energy consumption.

We know it isn't enough just to deliver energy savings -- we need to deliver improved system performance. Fair Isaac is working with a variety of vendors, using their latest offerings to help us achieve both goals. For example, we employ HP's servers, blades, and management tools; use EMC-VMware virtualization; and are evaluating Microsoft's Exchange Online for global e-mail services via cloud computing. We have achieved about a 22 percent increase in productivity with the use of centralized tools over a distributed tool base. We have also seen a substantial increase in processing performance with HP's new blade technology and VMware version 3.x.

To support telecommuting, we had to build an infrastructure to support access to secure information through VPNs and higher bandwidth. We designed and implemented a full-range IPT/MPLS global network leveraging QOS. This provided a large cost savings and offers dynamic redirect capability. For example, supporting disaster recovery and business continuity needs in this way allows us to develop and support offshore services without hosting any environments outside of the U.S. or the U.K.

Finally, we've completely overhauled our printing practices by implementing PIN-controlled print management. If you want to print a document, you have to enter a PIN, an extra step to get everyone thinking about the actual cost of printing each item. We've also enforced double-sided, four-up printing and eliminated 14 full-scale printing units globally. These efforts have already reduced our printing output by 8 million sheets in just six months.

The entire initiative is supported by an internal green education program, a resource we're developing so that employees can learn more about green practices to use in their everyday lives, beyond the office. It also explains why Fair Isaac is making changes and the benefits of these changes to our company and the environment.

When did you begin the project, and how did you get started? What did you choose to do first, and why? Did you have to stage the improvements in some order, or could you undertake different aspects of the project simultaneously?

As part of our data center consolidation plan, we turned to new technologies that could reduce our energy consumption without sacrificing the efficiency of our business operations.

We started with the goal of virtualizing 80 percent of our environment using EMC-VMware. As a result, we've shrunk our server "sprawl" by about half -- from 5,000 servers to about 2,400. The project was developed to support tiers of change, including physical site consolidation, the re-architecture of technology (servers, software, networks, and tools) and the redefinition of how our company works. This was not only a technical change but a cultural shift in the way people worked.

With this state-of-the-art infrastructure in place, we then moved to empower our employees to make sustainability-conscious decisions, including telecommuting and reducing paper consumption.

What is the status of your project now? I understand that you've already seen benefits -- what are these benefits?

State-of-the-art data centers, increased telecommuting and reduced printing measures all have contributed to significant results. A majority of the IT energy savings -- 33 percent to date -- is due to having less equipment to power and cool. As for paper consumption, we've saved 8 million pages in just six months and reduced printing costs by 50 percent. This has contributed significantly to an operational savings of roughly $740,000 annually.

We have realized other significant savings due to data center consolidation – facilities, personnel, equipment purchases – but we focused on the savings that had a direct environmental tie for this initiative.

What is your expected ROI when the project is complete?

Our goal is to reduce the amount of energy needed to run our IT systems by 50 percent and reduce our printing output by 80 percent by 2010. At this juncture, we are well on our way to meeting that goal, having already realized a 33 percent energy reduction and 50 percent reduction in printing output.

Was this project easier or harder than you expected it would be (and why)?

Our employees' initial support of this program made it incredibly easy to implement. Having your employees on board for any large-scale initiative is key -- and it's even better when they are the drivers.

Given that you have already experienced payback for your efforts, are you planning to expand your original project in any way?

Yes, we are evaluating Microsoft's Online Exchange Cloud Computing service for our global e-mail, which is critical to our operations but not mission-critical to the growth of our business. By sharing resources "in the cloud," we would contribute to a larger pool of energy savings. We are also looking at using more post-consumer paper and working with thin clients, which consume much less energy.