A few years ago, the National Security Agency, the country's top electronic spy agency, pondered a question with national security implications.
Who, at any given NSA facility in Utah or elsewhere, was going to make sure the heat and air-conditioning worked?
Could that person also make sure there was electricity? Knowledge of computers would be helpful, too.
Enter the University of Utah.
This fall, a new U. of U. program will teach students how to manage data centers such as the one the NSA is building in Bluffdale or those eBay and Twitter operate in Utah.
The NSA requested the program. In an interview last week, Harvey Davis, NSA director for installations and logistics, said the agency needs college graduates who understand computing and engineering.
"We were finding that we had to make our own people who understood data centers from end to end that could manage it," Davis said.
The NSA helped design the new program's curriculum. Richard Brown, dean of the U. of U. College of Engineering, said undergraduate and master's degree students studying computer science and electrical or mechanical engineering will take courses in the other two disciplines.
That will ensure students know all facets of data-center management, from the computing to the importance of heating and cooling to the electrical requirements.
The NSA needs "someone who is at least able to talk to people in all of these areas," Brown said.
The Utah Data Center is expected to consume 1,210 gallons of water per minute, according to Bluffdale records. A 2012 Wired magazine article estimated the center will use $40 million of electricity per year.
Students who complete the program will receive a certificate along with their bachelor's or master's degree. In addition to hiring graduates, the NSA hopes to find interns to work and learn at their facilities, Davis said.
While the program was designed to benefit the NSA, Brown thinks most of the data-center jobs will be in the private sector.
"I hope long term we will be known for [data center management] to attract other data centers," Brown said.
Brown estimated 20 students will participate in the program in the first year.
NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said Wednesday the Utah Data Center will employ about 150 people, some of whom will be relocated from headquarters in Maryland or other facilities. The NSA will post job openings at www.nsa.gov.
NSA holds meetings in Utah
NSA administrators are in Utah this week briefing state officials about the $1.5 billion data center under construction in Bluffdale and discussing programs that can benefit it. Administrators met Tuesday with University of Utah leaders. Today, Gov. Gary Herbert and other politicians will visit the data center for an update on its progress. NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said exterior construction is finished but computers and infastructure still are being installed. The data center is scheduled to be online this fall.