Volume 18, Number 32 -- September 14, 2009

Training for the Future: An IT Degree in Energy Efficiency

Published: September 14, 2009

by Dan Burger

When it comes to IT skills that apply to jobs and careers for the future instead of the past, the makeover of Metropolitan Community College stands out. This educational facility, with its new enterprise-class data center and a recently overhauled curriculum, was featured in earlier this year in an article in The Four Hundred. Last week the school announced a new two-year associate degree program in the design and management of energy efficient data centers.

MCC, which is based in Omaha, Nebraska but which has worldwide reach through its online course selection, has a long and strong business relationship with IBM. A relationship that is , particularly with the AS/400 (iSeries, System i, and IBM i) platform, which remains prominent. It's IT education makeover also benefits from a U.S. Department of Labor grant that adds $1.8 million over three years to bolster the school's efforts to increase enrollment by developing a more progressive and pro-active curriculum in information technology while building a modern enterprise computing laboratory.

The first-of-its-kind green data center management degree coincides with great expectations for colleges and universities in this country to prepare the future workforce with the innovative skills that will take them far in an economy subjected to and dependent on more global forces than ever before. It falls into place with the American Graduation Initiative, a ten-year, $12 billion plan to fund community colleges for scholarships, online classes, and the modernization of aging facilities and infrastructures.

According to a Council of Economic Advisers report about the future of the U.S. labor market, jobs requiring at least an associate degree will grow twice as fast as jobs requiring only a high school education. The American Graduation Initiative is aimed at increasing graduation rates and strengthening the U.S. workforce, which has been losing its long-held educational advantage.

The green data center degree program will steer students toward technologies and real-world business strategies that involve virtualization, server consolidation, energy efficiency, business resiliency, security, and compliance skills. It mimics real world IT scenarios in that it includes technologies from IBM, competitors such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, and others, but IBM Power Systems servers running IBM i, AIX, and Linux environments are the central elements of the system.

MCC developed the curriculum with the help of the IBM Academic Initiative, a program that's been featured numerous times on the pages of The Four Hundred when educational programs relating to maintaining AS/400-specific skills in the entry-level workforce are coordinated between colleges and businesses seeking employees. The goal of IBM's Academic Initiative is to provide access to online skills resources including tutorials and courseware. The access to educational materials is free and the resources pertain to all of IBM's platforms.

"IBM's Academic Initiative will further help ensure that MCC students are developing technology skills that bring together computer science, engineering and sustainability," said Tom Pensabene, dean of information technology at MCC. "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. Now, our students are getting exposure to leading edge IBM technologies, increasing their chances of being hired for jobs in this growing area."

Enrollment in MCC's Associate Degree in Information Technology-Data Center Management degree begins in December. A minimum of 36 credit hours of coursework is required to attain the degree. The curriculum includes classes devoted to topics such as hardware, disaster recovery, and troubleshooting; an introduction to data center management; virtualization, remote access and monitoring; data center racks and cabling; building a secure environment; applied data center management; networking security; and a data center internship.

MCC plans to extend green data center management degree program, and other degree programs, to additional colleges through a virtual learning program, allowing off-campus students to gain the same skills as students on campus. Virtual access to the physical data center puts MCC within reach of a much wider population than its traditional greater Omaha metro area. Although MCC offers classes in numerous disciplines, it frequently ranks among the top 20 community colleges nationwide based on the number of IT graduates, and its IT curriculum is considered critical to the school's success.

Ted Tucker, an MCC instructor and a long-time AS/400 advocate, explained in the May article in The Four Hundred newsletter that the school's curriculum is reality-based on working conditions in a modern data center that includes heterogeneous systems from numerous IT hardware and software vendors. He also pointed out that the core system is IBM i, which has been the case for years. Until the data center revamp, there was a System i 525 running the institution's critical business applications. That unit has been replaced by JS12 and JS22 BladeCenter servers.

"We will be doing redundancy between the two blade servers," Tucker said. "The data center will be a classroom, but it will also support all of the school's programs. We will have our own UPS systems and a backup generator. We will be doing virtualization using VMware and PowerVM, and the students will see what it takes to monitor a data center including the power, the air conditioning, and the entire system."

Tucker describes the MCC program as a prototype in IT education, with nothing similar to be found at other colleges and universities in the United States.

For those with geographic or academic prejudices that lead to scoffing at such a claim, consider Omaha's geographic location at the intersection of both east-west and north-south fiber optic networks. And then take note of the proliferation of communications and information services companies--and their huge data centers--in the area. MCC pictures them as a conduit to jobs for IT-savvy graduates. There's a lot to be said for the right time and the right place.

Data center energy consumption is expected to double in the foreseeable future, so it makes sense that students who specialize in energy efficient data center management program will improve their job prospects. For more information on the MCC data center management degree, visit


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