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By Paul Bradley  /  
2009 October 5 - 12:00 am

Green Data Centers Focus of New Degree Program

How important is it to make data centers more energy efficient? Important enough that at least one college has elevated it to a degree program.

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Starting in December, Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Neb., in collaboration with IBM, will begin offering courses to give students the technical and business skills to prepare them for careers in the design and management of energy efficient data centers. It is apparently the first of its kind in the country.

“I really think that this is the next new wave in information technology,” said Tom Pensabene, the college’s dean of information technology. “We’re seeing a dramatic increase in demand here in Nebraska for specialists who understand how to help companies reduce the costs associated with running an energy-intensive data center.”

The new degree comes at a time when community colleges are being called upon to lead the way in preparing the future workforce with innovative new skills to help boost the sagging national economy. In July, President Obama launched the American Graduation Initiative, a
10-year, $12 billion plan to provide community colleges nationwide with funding for new scholarships and online classes for students and to modernize aging facilities and infrastructures.

The college’s program will be housed in a new instructional data center, now under construction at the college’s Freemont Area Center and funded through a three-year, $1.8 million U.S. Department of Labor grant. Pensabene said the center will replicate what real-world data centers have; Anyone wanting to enter the outer part of the center will need to swipe an ID card and have his or her palm scanned. The inner door of the call center will require a retinal scan to gain access.

As part of the new degree program, students have the opportunity to learn virtualization and server consolidation, energy efficiency, business resiliency, and security and compliance skills through a new, real-world enterprise data center on campus.

MCC developed the curriculum for the 36-credit degree program with help from the IBM Academic Initiative, a program that now provides nearly 4,000 colleges and universities worldwide with no-charge access to online skills resources including tutorials and courseware. Courses will be offered both on campus and online and include:

  • Hardware, disaster recovery and troubleshooting. Students will be taught how to identify and follow best practices when working with hardware components and systems found in an enterprise environment.

  • Introduction to data center management, which will teach students about data center design, support, management and maintenance while working in a server environment. Topics also include daily operations of a data center, such as monitoring power requirements and safety regulations.

  • Virtualization, remote access and monitoring. Students will be introduced to both hardware and software methods used to implement virtualization and the server specifications required.

  • Building a secure environment. Students will explore methods to mitigate vulnerabilities of Internet/Intranet applications while maintaining web servers and workstations based on installation. Discussion will center on best practices and a variety of methods to build, test, and defend all computers in the enterprise environment.

  • Applied data center management. Students will define project requirements, research issues and design a data center project that meets the goals. Projects include all aspects of the Data Center such as facilities, infrastructure, servers and security.

  • Networking security. Students will be provided knowledge of network security and the skills necessary to install, configure, manage, monitor and troubleshoot security services/servers on multiple platforms in an enterprise environment.

  • Data center internship. Students will be provided with the opportunities to apply their knowledge and get hands-on experience managing a data center.

Pensabene said the program responds to an increasing need for Green IT professionals in Nebraska. Microsoft has a data center in Des Moines, Iowa, Google has one in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Yahoo! has a center in LaVista, Neb. At the same time, because of financial and environmental concerns, more data center operators are taking steps to cut energy use.

Responding to business needs is also the underpinning of the Convergence Technology Center, a Texas-based initiative aimed at promoting Green IT by training specialists to work on the integrated networks, those that embody voice, video, data and images. The center is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Principal investigator Ann Beheler is a former dean at Collin College and is vice president for academic affairs at Porterville College near Los Angeles. She helped found the center and still manages it remotely outside of her normal work week. She said the goal of the center is to create convergence degrees and certificate programs, provide professional development for faculty, recruit underserved students and disseminate materials to the 12 colleges in seven states that the center is mentoring.

The center emerged from the dot.com bust, she said.

“As a result of 9/11 and the
dot-com bust, the enrollments in IT programs nationwide went way down,” she said. “But it seemed intuitively obvious to me that IT is not going away. It was going to come back, but in a different way. At the center, we worked tightly with the business community and decided how we needed to redirect the IT courses and programs. We did so, and now the IT registrations are up in Texas at Collin County Community College by 55 percent – more than 200 people more now than there were.”

“We are business driven in all that we do. We need to provide students that fulfill the needs of
high-tech industries.”

Beheler is also working with Porterville and the two other colleges in the Kern County Community College District to promote a Green IT program, perhaps expanding the convergence center there.

“I think Green IT will dovetail with the emphasis in the district on clean energy through solar and wind,” she said.

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