Unique Datacenter Systems Engineering program prepares grad students for the future of digital infrastructure

ChatGPT gave the world early insights into the power of generative artificial intelligence (AI). As generative AI continues to expand, datacenters around the globe will continue to evolve to support new capabilities. At SMU Lyle, we’re preparing tomorrow’s engineers by offering the nation’s only master’s degree program focusing on datacenter systems engineering.

Dr. Klyne Smith standing in SMU data center

Advances in AI and the growth of cloud computing will create endless opportunities for graduates of SMU Lyle’s Datacenter Systems Engineering program.

The Master of Science in Datacenter Systems Engineering is the only one of its kind in the U.S.;  it prepares graduate students for positions as managers and technologists for the rapidly growing number of datacenters worldwide. The degree covers Datacenter infrastructure engineering from a multidisciplinary perspective and builds upon undergraduate degrees as diverse as computer science, electrical engineering, chemistry, business management, finance and other fields.

“There’s no cloud without the datacenter,” said Dr. Klyne Smith, clinical associate professor of computer science at SMU Lyle. “Datacenter engineering involves leveraging skills from most of the engineering disciplines, including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, sustainability engineering and civil engineering. On top of that, if requires facility management, economics, information technology and finance.”

The demand for datacenter systems engineering graduates continues to expand with the ever-growing need for more, bigger, better and faster datacenters globally. That’s why the SMU Lyle program focuses on connecting students to the datacenter industry using a combination of academic rigor and corporate experience. 

“We provide students with end-to-end knowledge for datacenter inception, architecture, implementation, and management,” Smith said.

Day-to-day problem-solving scenarios of datacenters require a continuous exercise in decision making based on academic training and real-world expertise, Smith said. Before now, no single degree offering from a university has attempted to tailor a student’s academic training to the needs that are often uniquely specific to datacenters.

Ideal candidates for the Datacenter Systems Engineering program fall into three categories: people with datacenter experience looking to move into a leadership role, professionals who want to diversify their skills profile, and seasoned professionals who want to change careers.

“We accept people from engineering school, business school, chemistry school – we're not picky on the degree you have,” Smith said. “You don't have to go down the data engineering path; you don't have to go down the computer science or A.I. path. You can go down the facilities path, the business management path or the operations path.”

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Weston Eardley, a 2022 graduate of SMU Lyle’s Datacenter Systems Engineering MS program, said his degree has given him a competitive edge. Weston is a full-time operations engineer for the datacenter operated by Verizon Communications Inc. in Southlake, Texas. He discovered his passion for mechanical engineering while serving in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear technician on the U.S.S. Florida nuclear submarine.

Eardley credits Dr. Smith, his advisor and professor, for teaching him countless new concepts and methods in datacenter management, which he says gives him an advantage in the fast-changing world of technology and computers.

“A lot of people are looking for guidance and mentorship, and that’s what I received from Dr. Smith,” Eardley said. “Thanks to my networking course and all the different computer security protocols and gateways, I learned many skills that are impactful in my career.”

In the future, Eardley wants to further expand his capabilities, learning more about the financial aspects of the engineering world, and, one day, become the director of a datacenter.

“I would love to progress in the ranks,” he said. “I would like to be at a director level in the next five to 10 years. I know that's a little aggressive, but I think I've got the ability.”

Datacenter systems engineering fits into what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics broadly categorizes as computer and information technology jobs, which are projected to grow by 15% annually through 2031, with more than 680,000 openings over the course of a decade. 

More than 10 years in the making, SMU Lyle’s Datacenter Systems Engineering program will attempt to bridge the gap between the need for datacenter talent and the small number of people qualified to meet demand.

Smith says current advances in human-decision-mimicking technologies and greater reliance on network-stored and processed data will only propel demand for well qualified datacenter systems engineers. And while AI advances are part of an engineer’s career going forward, AI is a software tool to help datacenters operate more smoothly and securely.

“A datacenter is a unique solution in which so many things must work together in order for it to survive,” Smith said. “We believe that we are satisfying the need for a formal structured interdisciplinary degree, to prepare the future leaders of the digital infrastructure with this program.”

About the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering 
SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, founded in 1925, is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest. The school offers twelve undergraduate and 29 graduate programs, including master’s and doctoral degrees, in the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Computer Science; Electrical and Computer Engineering; Engineering Management, Mechanical Engineering and Operations Research and Engineering Management. As a Lyle student, you have 24/7 access to the unique Deason Innovation Gym, which provides the tools and space to work on immersion design projects and competitions to accelerate learning, innovation and leadership. In addition, we have multiple student-led clubs, including Mustang Rocketry, Hilltop Motorsports, Society for Women Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers, and more. What sets Lyle apart is our intention to build engineers who are not only technical experts, but excellent communicators and leaders. Part of the way we do that is to offer participation in centers and institutes to help students pursue personal passions. Lyle’s centers and institutes include the Hart Center for Engineering Leadership, which helps cultivate engineering leaders by providing leadership training, mentorship, community outreach opportunities, networking, professional development, and career services; Hunt Institute for Engineering & Humanity, which is dedicated to developing and scaling sustainable and affordable technologies and solutions to address challenges facing under-resourced communities; Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security, which conducts real-world research to achieve fundamental breakthroughs in cybersecurity; and Caruth Institute for Engineering Education, which strives to increase the number and diversity of students interested in pursuing engineering to meet the ever-increasing demand for a well-educated high-tech workforce.

About SMU 
SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, community and the world.