In its recent study, Datacenter Dynamics found that 60% of data center operators are concerned about an industry-wide skills shortage. As with most things in life, there are two ways that we can look at this situation:
  • Pessimists may look at this skills shortage as a potential drag on industry growth
  • But those of us who have been part of the data center business over the years might see this in a much more positive light as yet another growth milestone in our evolution.

I fall into the latter camp, and I see this as a positive milestone and a sign that our industry has reached a key moment in our history. This need for workers with more data center centric skill sets is a reflection of the fact that the planning, designing, building, and operating facilities has become a discipline unto itself.

Writing about the need for formalized programs to aid in the development of data center personnel, Ambrose McNevin, editor of Focus magazine, described this requirement as follows: “… a clear framework for professional development is required. Understanding the foundation factors of data center design concepts associated with many disciplines and their interdependencies is key.”

McNevin’s assessment is correct. Today’s data center professional functions in a multi-disciplinary environment that typically requires a combined knowledge of engineering, IT infrastructure, finance, accounting, and real estate. In many industries that have reached this critical stage of development, the academe has stepped in to address similar requirements and train both current and future generations of industry professionals. The first of these types of programs has recently been announced by Southern Methodist University (SMU) with their establishment of a new Master of Science in Data Center Engineering program.

Beginning this fall, SMU’s program represents the combined efforts of members of both the university’s Lyle School of Engineering and an advisory board of industry professionals representing all aspects of the data center industry. Along with its core classes in the engineering aspects of the data center, the curriculum will also include courses in real estate and finance to provide students with the comprehensive skill set that today’s data center organizations require. All courses will be available in either a classroom setting or online to provide prospective students with the highest degree of flexibility possible.

Today, the offerings for data center education are very training focused, analogous to a trade school. While practical application is a necessity in the data center life cycle, the area that we have been lacking as an industry is how to think about the myriad of disparate disciplines, their interdependencies, separate asset life cycles, and the challenges and opportunities that they present. The SMU degree will help teach its students how to think about the data center as a system, instead of just disparate parts, pieces, and separate disciplines. It is through this ability that the next generation of leaders and innovators will be born.

Although SMU is the first school to recognize that the unique needs of the data center industry call for a structured course of study, I dare say that they will not be the last. The development of this, and future programs, is a natural and positive result of the continued evolution of our industry. Data centers provide the foundation for our knowledge based economy and programs like SMU’s will only aid in our industry’s growth.