Intel’s CIO offers an insider’s perspective

At this year’s Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, much of the hype focused on Intel’s next-generation micro-architecture for desktop, mobile and server platforms aimed at business and consumer markets. Intel is looking to gain a competitive advantage over its chief rival, Advanced Micro Devices, with a strong message around dual-core computing and architectural enhancements that offer improved chip performance and power savings benefits.

Intel’s chief information officer John Johnson took some time to sit down with at this year’s IDF to discuss what issues he personally faces managing Intel’s IT infrastructure and how the industry as a whole is working together to address customers’ pain points.

ITBusiness: What are some of the IT-related issues Intel faces which are similar to that of your customers in the enterprise?

John Johnson: In managing IT, there are a lot of moving parts. Every CIO I’ve ever talked with has said there’s always an element of a job in which the challenge is trying to keep the overall operating costs under control. We’re no different in that regard.

The reality is if you look at my mission statement, it’s two-fold. We have to keep Intel running — all the telecommunications, all of the data centres, all of the different things that we support — we have to keep that environment running.

The second part of the mission is to keep the support and to keep Intel growing. As Intel expands, our organization has to be able to support that growth in headcount, growth in site, growth in sales offices and growth in factories.

In our silicon development we have large team that supports the engineering communities at Intel. We have over 50,000 servers in direct support of that engineering area. That’s a big chunk of my server and data centre space.

We have a lot of servers and a lot of different data centres that are typically co-located with the design communities. Managing that environment both in terms of its operating costs as well as mapping to the growth and computing cycles is a big challenge for us.

We also have a very large focus in improving productivity in the company. We set out on a mission about a year ago to give a day back per week per employee in terms of improving productivity. We’ve realized that there are some opportunities because we look at how people work. A lot of people spend a lot of time looking for information. We realize with technology there are opportunities to tack that aspect of how people work.

We also know that people are working on teams that are typically multi-site, multi-continent. That introduces a different set of problems for teams to be able to collaborate and then just business analytics and getting information to people.

We think that current and emerging technologies offer some opportunities to go out and do that. Handhelds are particularly interesting. The combination of PC as well as handheld devices like Trios or Blackberries offer opportunities because they’re always connected. Voice over IP is another area. Our sales offices tend to be small sites and that’s a good entry point for us to introduce more VoIP capabilities in the environment.

ITB: With the rising cost of energy putting a squeeze on IT managers to conserve power, how is this affecting your role in managing Intel’s infrastructure?

JJ: As we look at using blade server technology, you end up with a high concentration of servers in a rack and when you do that with the power they need, you have to provide a fair amount of electricity to support them and then you’ve got to cool them. You’ve also got to have UPS or backup power capabilities in place.

We’ve got to provide the compute cycles needed. At the same time, we’ve got to deal with the change in the physical elements of providing the necessary power and cooling to manage the environment.

The technologies like Woodcrest, I need that in my data centres where we have high compute capacity requirements. That’s 40 per cent increase in capability in terms of performance and a 40 per cent reduction in power utilization. That’s significant for us and we’re counting on that as part of being able to provide at a reasonable price our operating costs.

ITB: Some IT managers might see bringing multi-core processing capabilities into their environments as adding complexity from a manageability standpoint in terms of managing systems that are single and dual-core. How can Intel make this transition easier for them?

JJ: We have to as we introduce the new capability make it easier to use. We want to reach a point where managing that complexity gets easier and more effective. As an IT manager I know that I’ve got to make sure my environment is safe and secure. We worry a lot about information security issues in terms of protecting the data, maintaining privacy and also letting the virus and worm type of scenarios get into our environment and disrupt our operations.

It’s incumbent on Intel and the industry to build a more manageable environment. That’s part of what we’re doing. When you look at virtualization technology, it starts to solve some of the issues in hardware. It simplifies and standardizes the virtualization model. AMT brings some new capabilities into it as well that will definitely help with managing the environment. For example, being able to talk to a machine that’s hard down and I can still get to it virtually or it’s locked up and I can go in deliver a patch for the operating systems and I can do that remotely.

ITB: There hasn’t been much talk of Apple at this year’s IDF, despite the fact that Intel’s Core Duo processor is now used in Apple’s machines and that there’s a large focus on the consumer market at the show. Why haven’t we heard more from Intel on this partnership?

JJ: I think they’re cool. From an IT perspective, we’re using a little bit of their capability to support our sales team. I haven’t really had much exploration with them. They challenge things and I like what they do. I think it will be interesting to see how they progress over the next couple of years. It’s been exciting watching them go through the transition.

ITB: At this point in time, Intel’s chip is still not native to Apple’s system design. How will that change going forward?

JJ: I probably shouldn’t speculate on what’s going to happen in that space. I’m an iPod user like many of us are. I think it’s exciting that they’re making this conversion this year into the Intel architecture. I think it’s a very innovative company and they’re going to press the industry a little bit with some of their ideas on Intel architecture.

ITB: There is some speculation starting to build around who will replace Paul Otellini when he hits his mandatory retirement in 2009, 2010. Some potential candidates include Sean Maloney, general manager of Intel’s Communication Group and Pat Gelsinger, who delivered IDF’s opening keynote. What can you say about this at this point in time?

JJ: I learned a long time ago if it’s a rumour it’s probably not true. We had a change yesterday that you may have seen. I work two in a box with Stacey Smith and have for the last year. Stacey was promoted yesterday to our management committee team and is now assistant CFO. I’m very happy for him, happy for Intel and disappointed because he’s a great partner. Stacey’s moving into the new role pretty rapidly and we’re going to have to figure out who we’re bringing in.

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