Students from Crook County High School explore the innards of servers from a Facebook data center in nearby Prineville. (Photo: Crook County High School)

Equipping The Next Generation of Data Center Professionals

As Google and Facebook expand their Internet infrastructure, they are building massive data centers far beyond Silicon Valley. In towns like Council Bluffs, Iowa and Prineville, Oregon, these companies are bringing more than just servers into the community. They’re providing local teenagers with hands-on experience with server hardware and data center environments.

As data centers become more complex, the task of training a new generation of professionals to staff them becomes more important. Recent news stories illustrate several initiatives in which the Internet’s largest companies are building interest in data center careers.

Student-Run Data Center

In Iowa, students at Abraham Lincoln High School are operating a $67,000 data center, which was funded through donation by Google (which operates a data center in Councile Bluffs) and Echo Group, a local IT company. The working facility houses medical research data from the University of Washington, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany and Stanford University School of Medicine, as well as providing IT support for the Council Bluffs Community School District.

The facility, which opened this week, was profiled in the Daily Nonpareil, a local newspaper. Students in the district’s Emerging Technologies Academy monitor the servers at the data center, which took about six months to build.

Chris Russell, an operations manager for Google in Council Bluffs, said the data center exposes students to real world experience and gets them interested in technology careers. “The real benefit for kids is to work in a real world with high expectations,” said David Fringer, the district’s chief technology officer.

Google has awarded $820,000 in community grants to organizations in the Council Bluffs area in 2009.

Servers at School Spark Enthusiasm

In Oregon, Facebook’s old servers are seeding innovation among teens near the company’s facility in Prineville. Facebook recently donated 15 used servers to Crook County High School, which spurred the creation of a computer technology club where students are learning about server components. Assistant Principal Joel Hoff sees this as the nucleus of something big.

“In five to 10 years, we hope to have a full Computer Science major,” Hoff told the Central Oregonian. “It would be great to provide opportunities for our students to be eligible for good, high-paying jobs right out of high school.”

Facebook provided $8,000 in funding for the high school science department and tech club as part of its larger Local Community Action Grant program in Prineville, where the social networking company last month awarded $105,000 to 21 different local programs. That brings the total volume of Facebook grants in Prineville to $415,000 since 2011.

A group of the grant recipients recently had a tour of the Facebook Prineville data center, including a visit inside the server hall. Here’s a photo via the data center’s Facebook page:


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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. bob earhart jr

    Lovely Interesting intro picture... NO Anti-Static Wrist Straps - A sock cap and long sleeves, invite static discharges.... And no Safety Glasses! Students should FIRST be taught proper work site safety around technology gear. Does not appear to have any anti-static mats on work bench either.

  2. As a CCHS alumni, this actually makes me pretty happy to hear. While tinkering with the hardware side of things is interesting and educational, I feel like there's a lot of potential there for a lot more practical IT education too. (The hands on stuff helps for understanding, but no one actually works with it - it's like a distribution cap in automotive class... it helps to know how it works, but you probably won't ever need to build one. Same with swapping server parts.) If CCHS wants a decent CompSci program, I'd say slap VMWare on several of those donated servers, show the kids how to spin up a new VM in a sandbox, install linux (or maybe spring for a windows datacenter license for one), show them how to set up various services (ssh, ftp, a web server, a tomcat app server, etc), show them how to program a bit, and let 'em loose. If they get really ambitious, point them to AWS's free tier and let them play in the real world. Just my $0.02 about the possibilities I wish I had back in HS.