December 14, 2016
DALLAS (SMU) – Communications company AT&T and higher education leader SMU are collaborating in a unique new research center that will deliver solutions to critical industry needs, educate the next generation of virtualized network technology experts and support Dallas’ emergence as a global information technology hub.
A $2.5 million contribution from AT&T to SMU will endow the AT&T Center for Virtualization and fund its research to support the fast, reliable cloud-based telecommunications necessary for global connectivity.
Virtualization is a concept most people are familiar with, even if they don’t realize it. Through virtualization, functions that once required specialized hardware devices are now performed with software running on general purpose hardware. Streaming music and video, as well as communicating via social media, depend on virtualization. The world is making the transition from hardware to software for connections that enable things like telemedicine and even autonomous cars and that, too, requires reliable transmission of huge amounts of data through virtualization.
“SMU students will see tremendous advantage from participating in the interdisciplinary research of the AT&T Center for Virtualization,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “Employers are looking for graduates who understand the technical, business and consumer environment. We are very pleased that this Dallas-based, global company has chosen SMU as its partner to advance research on cutting edge technology.”
The telecommunications industry is racing to prepare for a connected future, but industry experts know that cranking up connection speeds isn’t enough if the underlying network isn’t flexible, responsive and resilient enough to handle the traffic. In the old days, telecommunications companies built networks by sending out trucks every few months or years loaded with new switches, routers and other gear. It was cumbersome and slow, but reliable.
“We don’t have that luxury anymore,” said Andre Fuetsch, President, AT&T Labs, and Chief Technology Officer. “We’re virtualizing those specialized network appliances and turning them into software running on servers and other standard hardware. You can add, shift and upgrade capabilities at Internet speed. It’s the future, and this new AT&T Center for Virtualization will help us get there faster.”
The Center also offers an opportunity to draw and encourage more women to engage in technology. While women’s participation in STEM fields continues to decline nationally, SMU has been a leader in successfully enrolling women in engineering studies. Within the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering, women have averaged more than 30 percent of incoming undergraduates since 2005 – exceeding the national average of about 20 percent.
“We believe innovation increases when there is diversity in the workforce. This new research center not only helps advance the latest technology solutions, but it also presents a way to tap a critical segment of tech leaders: women,” said Brooks McCorcle, President, AT&T Partner Exchange. “Like AT&T, SMU is committed to building and expanding the base of technology talent. AT&T’s endowment is a call to mobilize and activate the next generation of female technology leaders through educational opportunities, innovative research and mentorship.”
“The AT&T Center for Virtualization will take on interdisciplinary topics related to scalability, security, performance and reliability, so that the virtualization infrastructure can enable everything from big-data analytics, to the network connectivity of everyday objects ranging from cell phones to coffeemakers,” said Steven C. Currall, SMU provost and vice president for academic affairs. “The center will engage academic disciplines across SMU to address social, educational and scientific issues associated with virtualization.”
The AT&T Center for Virtualization will be directed by longtime SMU faculty member Suku Nair, professor of computer science and engineering in the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering. Nair is an internationally recognized authority on cyber security and reliable computing and communication, and founding director of the HACNet (High Assurance Computing and Networking) Lab at SMU.
“AT&T is a leader in providing connectivity for a wide variety of resources, both on and off the cloud, requiring deployment of hundreds of thousands of complex, expensive routers,” Nair said. “The cost comes down and the system becomes more agile and efficient if the routers can be simplified by putting the intelligence that makes them work on the cloud.”
Through the AT&T Center for Virtualization, students will leave SMU not just with textbook knowledge, but with knowledge earned through hands-on research carried out in partnership with industry. Equally important, the center will be a critical resource in Dallas as the city continues to evolve as a global information technology hub.
“SMU has teamed up with AT&T before, and we find that our collaborations always provide great opportunities for our students and faculty,” said Brad Cheves, SMU vice president for development and external affairs. “We are grateful for this important gift, and look forward to the continued good work we do together.”
SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls more than 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.
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ABOUT PHILANTHROPY & SOCIAL INNOVATION AT AT&T
AT&T Inc. is committed to advancing education, strengthening communities and improving lives. Through its community initiatives, AT&T has a long history of investing in projects that create learning opportunities; promote academic and economic achievement; or address community needs. AT&T Aspire is AT&T’s signature philanthropic initiative that drives innovation in education by bringing diverse resources to bear on the issue including funding, technology, employee volunteerism, and mentoring. Through Aspire, we’ve passed the $250 million mark on our plan to invest $350 million in education from 2008-2017.