US school offers first-of-a-kind graduate degree in data center engineering

The course was developed with input from HP and other industry players

Plenty of people have engineering degrees but not many have one specific to data centers. A university in Dallas is offering what it says will be a first-of-its-kind graduate degree in data center engineering.

The program at Southern Methodist University includes five core courses covering data centers broadly, then draws on various departments so that students can specialize in areas like facilities and infrastructure, data analytics, virtualization and cloud computing.

SMU developed the program after it was approached by Hewlett-Packard about two years ago, said Edward Forest, program director for SMU's Lyle School of Engineering. It worked with HP, Compass Datacenters and others to put the program together.

Students can attend part time or full time and study on campus or via distance learning. The program is aimed at professionals already in the field as much as graduates getting into data centers for the first time, Forest said.

He doesn't claim all the content is unique. "There are programs out there that emphasize one or more of these specialties," he said. "What you don't get is the broadness of the core classes and the ability to combine that with specialties from other departments."

The design and operation of data centers has grown increasingly complex, as technologies like virtualization and cloud computing become more widespread and as companies employ new types of equipment to reduce energy use. SMU's Masters of Science in Datacenter Systems Engineering addresses "a long unfulfilled need in the data center industry," according to Chris Crosby, CEO of Compass Datacenters.

Citing figures from the U.S. Department of Labor, the school says there are 4 million people working in data center operations today, and the department expects the figure to reach 6 million by 2018.

Classes start this fall and SMU hopes to enroll around 20 students for the first year. Requirements include a bachelor's degree in engineering, computer science, one of the quantitative sciences or mathematics, and at least two years of college-level math, including a year of calculus. More information is on the SMU website.

SMU was founded in 1911 by what's now the United Methodist Church. It says it's nonsectarian and accepts students from all religious backgrounds.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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