The University of Arizona and Microsoft are partnering to help solve one of the biggest emerging problems in cloud computing: how to make data centers more efficient and less energy reliant.
Data centers — centralized locations for storing servers and computing and networking equipment — make cloud computing possible. According to industry analysts, the demand for data center capacity grew tremendously over the last five years, when there were already an estimated 3 million data centers in the U.S.
The U.S. Department of Energy states data centers account for approximately 2 percent of the total U.S. electricity use, which is equivalent to the amount consumed by about 6.4 million average American homes. As the use of information technology grows, data center and server energy use is expected to grow, too.
In response, the UA and Microsoft are creating the Cloud Infrastructure Renewal Center, or CIRC. This is the first multi-year joint research collaboration Microsoft has established with a university to create a CIRC. The center will include UA researchers in varying disciplines, such as architects, optical engineers and material scientists, who will focus on developing sustainable data centers.
"Sustainable cloud growth requires the advancement of renewable energy sources and storage systems, faster networks, and innovative architectural design geared toward solving difficult engineering problems," said UA President Robert C. Robbins. "Access to cloud computing technologies will only become more important as the Fourth Industrial Revolution expands, and sustainably scaling the cloud is a global issue that requires the multidisciplinary competencies and creative problem solvers for which the UA is known. Possibly the most exciting aspect of this partnership is that students are going to work with researchers to generate solutions to these engineering challenges and test them in the data center environment."
The rapid and dramatic growth of cloud computing has created a gap between the number of trained students and available jobs in data center engineering, operations and management. The UA and Microsoft will work together through the CIRC to establish curriculum focused on data center operations and design for undergraduate and graduate students.
"The demand for cloud and online services continue to grow exponentially so there is a need to accelerate research into data center design, operations and management," said Christian Belady, general manager of cloud infrastructure strategy and architecture for Microsoft Corp. "We are excited to launch this partnership with the University of Arizona to help decrease the technical skills gap and ramp up education for future leaders and engineers."
Microsoft will donate data center hardware to seed expanded research, curriculum development and training labs. The education program will develop a dedicated curriculum covering technical certifications, an undergraduate degree program and post-graduate certification programs.
"The Cloud Infrastructure Renewal Center partnership with Microsoft is a well-conceived point of leadership for the Fourth Industrial Revolution," Robbins said. "The need to develop data centers that are energy efficient and reduce water usage and waste production is vital as we continue to combine the digital, physical and biological spheres to have a positive impact on society and our world."