Southern Methodist University (SMU) will begin offering a master’s degree in data center systems engineering this fall. According to the university, it is the first in the United States to offer the technical depth of a graduate degree in this field.

“Departments tend to have programs that represent only a slice of what goes on in a data center,” said Edward Forest, program director for SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering. “What we are doing with this program is that we cover the main areas, plus we have a core that goes through the field quite generally.”

(Related: MOOCs: Online centers of learning)

Along with the five core broad courses Forest described, there are also elective specializations in three technical areas: Datasystems engineering and analytics; Facilities, infrastructure and subsystems; and Computer networks, virtualization, security and cloud computing.

“This program means developers will be able to cope with the industry’s difficulties and have better expertise with respect to virtualization of a system and securing that system’s network,” said Forest.

“Our society has become intimately linked to a variety of digital networks including social media, search engines, e-commerce, gaming and Big Data,” said Marc Christensen, dean of the Lyle School, in a press release. “Data center design is a fascinating challenge due to the millions of dollars lost per second of outage. The proper management and design of these data centers require a diverse combination of highly specialized skills.”

Professionals already in the field can take the program via distant learning, allowing them to download recordings of lectures and to keep in touch with instructors.

SMU decided to develop the graduate program because, according to Forest, Hewlett-Packard approached the university. “Basically, the industry came to us and said [they] could use a program like this,” he said.