IBM’s Green Data Center Degree not even nearly green

Posted on September 17, 2009


I’ve been sent this link several times in the past few days: IBM Launches First Two-Year Green Data Center Degree.   What do I think, should we do this?

Unless I’m missing something,  I’m very disappointed by these degrees.   This is exactly the sort of development that gives the computing profession a bad image.

Green data centres were last year’s buzz in IT.    The premise is simple – powerful machines doing more which means you can have less of them.  All the vendors are touting their lastest machines as green in this way.    For extra credit you pay attention to heat (try not to produce it and capture what you can).   Yes, it is good to address energy use, and a no brainer for business (saves money),  but I am yet to see a supposed “green” data centre that goes beyond this singular energy concern.   Instead we’re seeing lean confused with green.  I’ve written about this lots and published papers saying the same thing.  Yes, it’s good, but a long way from meeting the definition of “green” and further from an holistic vision of sustainable practice applied to computing.

But that isn’t the worst of it.      Beyond the marketing, the programme in question from Nebraska does not even meet a blinkered view of green.

is being touted as the first of its kind to give students an intensive focus on designing and managing green data centers

But where’s the substance?   Perhaps the official name? Nope:  “Information Technology – Data Center Management Option (ITDCO)”

Maybe it is in the formal description? Nope:

Data Centers are a critical part of today’s data processing world. This program familiarizes the student with the physical components, design, management, support, and operations in a data center. The student studies about the data center infrastructure, creating a server environment to specific needs, and daily operations of data center activities.

On and on the formal description goes, looking very bit like  standard engineering focused IT operations.

Maybe, he thinks, grasping at straws, the individual course descriptors will mention some appropriate content (either of the green data centre or true sustainability variety).   Again, an unfortunate void.  It’s not there, not in the general courses, nor the technical ones:

INFO 1001 Information Systems & Literacy: This course introduces the student to information systems and information literacy concepts that are needed in the day-to-day academic course of study. Basic skills are developed using library, research, and office productivity software. The student learns computer file management by organizing, managing and printing files; creating, editing, and formatting documents using a word processor; planning, developing and validating basic work sheets such as editing cells, employing formulas using a spreadsheet,; building basic slide presentations using headings, key phrases, notes and displaying the presentation using presentation software; applying user level security such as selecting passwords and securing the desktop; and using electronic mail to send and receive messages and attach documents. Information literacy concepts such as accessing information using library databases and the Internet and evaluating sources to determine validity and reliability of material are also part of this course.

INFO 1421 Virtualization, Remote Access & Monitoring: This course introduces the student to both hardware and software methods used to implement virtualization and the server specifications required to implement it. Multiple vendor solutions are explored. The student gets hands-on experience with remote access configuration and monitoring found in today’s enterprise IT and data center environments.

INFO 1431 Data Center Racks & Cabling: This course introduces the student to the basics of rack and cabling infrastructure in a data center. Topics include cabling installation practices, management strategies, maintenance practices, and certification. The student also learns about rack standards, rack types, rack enclosures, and best practices for rack system selection.

INFO 1400 Hardware, Disaster Recovery & Troubleshooting: This course is designed to teach the student how to identify and follow best practices when working with hardware components and systems found in an enterprise environment. Focus is on the hardware and software used to create a fault-tolerant, redundant configuration that meets the requirements of a company’s Disaster Recovery (DRP) or Business Continuity Plan (BCP).

So,  even within each course descriptor there is zero mention of anything that might remotely be considered sustainability.   Maybe it is hidden in the actual teaching material, in which case it is unfortunate it is not visible, especially if, as the news release says, IBM and MCC plan to make this course available more widely.

I think our approach of embedding a holistic view of sustainability throughout an applied computing degree is a far sounder model.  Unfortunately, like the boom of supposed eCommerce courses a few years ago it is easy to fall prey to good ideas led by marketing.    We need real change in computing, not this rebranding-the-same-stuff.