Data Centers Go to College: New Masters Degree Offered By SMU

A new master's degree program in data centers at Dallas' SMU and a course at Northwestern are two examples of academia finally embracing the importance of the data center, and potentially trailblazers for data center-specific programs going forward.

Jason Verge

March 7, 2014

4 Min Read
Data Centers Go to College: New Masters Degree Offered By SMU
Inside the aisles at the data center supporting the Super Bowl.

It’s hard to find skilled staff, but the education system might finally be catching on to the importance of the data center. Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas will begin offering a master's degree in data center systems engineering, while Northwestern University in Chicago is offering a graduate level course on data centers this semester.

Two industry leaders are helping establish these efforts, as Compass Data Centers CEO Chris Crosby is helping SMU develop its curriculum, while Ubiquity Critical Environments CEO Sean Farney is teaching the course at Northwestern.

It’s surprising there aren’t graduate programs tailored to the data center, considering that the workforce associated with data center operations tops 4 million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That number is growing, with an expected increase of 800,000 by 2016, and 2 million by 2018. Approximately 70 percent of these workers have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Thus far the primary college-level curriculum has been on online course from the Institute for Data Center Professionals at Marist College.

Starting this fall, SMU will offer a new master’s degree in data center systems engineering. This is the first program in the United States to offer a multidisciplinary graduate degree specific to the data center. The program is focused on preparing professionals for a leadership role in this field as technical contributor or manager.

"Diverse Combination of Highly Specialized Skills"

“Our society has become intimately linked to a variety of digital networks including social media, search engines, e-commerce, gaming and big data,” said Marc Christensen, Dean of the Lyle School. “Data center design is a fascinating challenge due to the millions of dollars lost per second of outage.  The proper management and design of these datacenters require a diverse combination of highly specialized skills, and SMU Lyle is uniquely positioned to offer a degree that will connect all the needed technical disciplines.”

Dallas is a fitting background for the program, given the abundance of data centers located in or near the city. Approximately 50 data centers exist within the greater Dallas area.

The Master of Science in Datacenter Systems engineering is built around 5 core courses, broadly covering the industry. Elective specializations are found within three technical areas:

  • Facilities, Infrastructure and subsystems

  • Data systems engineering and analytics

  • Computer networks, virtualization, security and cloud computing

Enrollment is expected from current professionals in industry and government, as well as undergrads in engineering, science, mathematics and business preparing to enter the data center field for the first time.

"A Long Unfulfilled Need"

Compass CEO Crosby is volunteering his time to help build the curriculum and do some guest lecturing to students when classes start this fall. He's also helping SMU raise awareness of it in the industry so that the inaugural class of graduate students is as strong as possible.

”SMU’s Master of Science in Datacenter Systems Engineering program addresses a long unfulfilled need in the datacenter industry,” said Crosby. “Its comprehensive, cross-disciplinary curriculum provides the breadth of knowledge professionals need for success in this complex industry with numerous interdependencies.”

Data centers on the whole have hit prime time. The program is open to both full and part time graduate students and is available on the Dallas campus, as well as through distance learning via the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering’s distance education program. All of the Lyle School courses are broadcast live with recordings available afterwards to students.

More information about SMU’s Master of Science in Datacenter Systems Engineering is available at the SMu web site or by contacting the Lyle Graduate Programs Office at 214-768-2002.

Northwestern Examines Impact of Data Center Business

The course at Northwestern takes a look into the data center's impact in the work around us. Farney covers history, development, tech, and financials.

"Data centers are no longer just the purview of the data center technician," said Farney. "We’re now in a 'data centered' economy. You can’t get through a day without somehow using a data center service."

Farney points out that 43 percent of the market cap of the top 50 global companies is related to data center infrastructure. The data center is impacting everything we do in the background while we use our phones, tablets and computers, and more. The course examines data center outsourcing and consolidation and is targeted to  first year grad year students.

"I have students ranging from highly technical to more business focused," said Farney. "So I have to have a broad appeal. First, I define what is a data center - mechanical, electrical, big robust buildings. I talk about what they look like and what they do. Then I talk logically about data centers."

Farney believes it's time to increase the focus on data centers in education.

"We need to look at this industry in graduate programs," said Farney. "The massive amount of capital spend going on in the industry. We are spending in the data center, it's creating jobs; business schools should be paying attention going forward.I hope educational institutions will get on board with how important data centers are. "

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