College Creates Green Data Center Program

This quarter, Metropolitan Community College (MCC) in Omaha, Neb., will become the first two-year academic institution in the United States to offer an undergraduate degree in the design and management of energy-efficient data centers. The program will serve the approximately 1,000 students enrolled in our IT courses, as well as businesses that need to train current workers and students from around the world who are pursuing a virtual education.

This two-year program was developed in response to a dramatic increase in demand for specialists who can help companies reduce the costs associated with running an energy-intensive data center. Until now, there hasn?t been a comprehensive, real-world learning environment in which students can get a cohesive skill set that includes sustainability, business analytics and IT training that specifically targets the data center.

Our two-decades-long partnership with IBM helped us reach what we believe is a benchmark in education. As we take the leap into this new world of skills-based education, we aim to be a model for other institutions that want to prepare students for the sweeping technological changes now under way around the world.

Several entrepreneurial faculty members who strive to stay current and meet emerging industry needs have been preparing students for the technology of the future. For example, since the dot-com bubble burst, these individuals have made it a priority for our students to learn all aspects of the Web: scripting and design, the operations of the backend databases and the programming that connects them, networking, security and, most importantly, the business of business.

It all started in April 2008, when MCC was awarded a community-based job training grant from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to increase the quality of the IT workforce and to make IT education more work-relevant. We were then approached by several local chambers of commerce and the Nebraska Department of Economic Development to develop a degree in data center management.

In response, MCC President Randy Schmailzl challenged us to have a data center management degree in place within six months. Because the Omaha area is home to data centers for Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Microsoft, First Data and ConAgra, among others, we were able to tour these local data centers and ask a lot of questions. Our interviews with these data center administrators reinforced one point we firmly believe: IT has become an enabling profession.

Consulting services were provided by MSI Systems Integrators, a partner on our DOL grant. The company helped us realize the importance of ?going green? to decrease BTUs, enhance efficiency and, ultimately, reduce bottom-line costs.

As part of the development process, faculty members researched existing curricula and found some online technical courses. Then a rapid prototyping process began, as we considered the skills employers would require, what we currently offered, what gaps existed and how we could best bridge those gaps.

The faculty knew we would need to be green, and the college?s previous virtualization work fit nicely into the mix. We had several other courses in place, including a solid netcentric core, and developed four new courses to complete the Associate Degree in Informa-tion Technology-Data Center Management.

All students who complete their capstone project?regardless of Web, database, networking or programming options?will work in the college?s new data center, a state-of-the-art, 1,900-square-foot facility with biometric security, power management and generator backup, and remote access.

Strong industry-academic partnerships, along with public funding, will ensure that skills training surpasses the demands of businesses in the growing area of energy efficiency and sustainability. To achieve that goal, colleges and universities will have to be willing to collaborate, learn and, at times, pull from a wide spectrum of disciplines.

By doing that?and working with companies that lead industry transformations with technology?we?ve been able to rethink and redesign our IT curriculum to arm students with the tools they?ll need to succeed in their careers.

Tom Pensabene, dean of information technology and e-learning at Metropolitan Community College, is completing a dissertation in instructional design for online learning. He has worked at every level of public and private education.