Communications company AT&T and Southern Methodist University (SMU) are collaborating in a unique new research center that will deliver solutions to critical industry needs, educate the next generation of virtualized network technology experts, and support Dallas’ emergence as a global information technology hub. A $2.5-million contribution from AT&T will endow the AT&T Center for Virtualization at SMU and fund its research to support the fast, reliable, cloud-based telecommunications necessary for global connectivity.
Virtualization is a concept most people are familiar with, even if they don’t realize it. Through virtualization, functions that once required specialized hardware devices are now performed with software running on general purpose hardware. Streaming music and video as well as communicating via social media depend on virtualization. The world is making the transition from hardware to software for connections that enable things like telemedicine and even autonomous cars, and that requires reliable transmission of huge amounts of data through virtualization.
“SMU students will see tremendous advantage from participating in the interdisciplinary research of the AT&T Center for Virtualization at SMU,” says SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “Employers are looking for graduates who understand the technical, business, and consumer environment. We are very pleased that this Dallas-based, global company has chosen SMU as its partner to advance research on cutting edge technology.”
The telecommunications industry is racing to prepare for a connected future, but industry experts know that cranking up connection speeds isn’t enough if the underlying network isn’t flexible, responsive, and resilient enough to handle the traffic. In the old days, telecommunications companies built networks by sending out trucks every few months or years loaded with new switches, routers, and other gear. It was cumbersome and slow but reliable.
“We don’t have that luxury anymore,” says Andre Fuetsch, president and chief technology officer, AT&T Labs. “We’re virtualizing those specialized network appliances and turning them into software running on servers and other standard hardware. You can add, shift, and upgrade capabilities at Internet speed. It’s the future, and this new AT&T Center for Virtualization at SMU will help us get there faster.”
The Center also offers an opportunity to draw and encourage more women to engage in technology. While women’s participation in STEM fields continues to decline nationally, SMU has been a leader in successfully enrolling women in engineering studies. Within the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering, women have averaged more than 30 percent of incoming undergraduates since 2005, exceeding the national average of about 20 percent.
“We believe innovation increases when there is diversity in the workforce. This new research center not only helps advance the latest technology solutions, but it also presents a way to tap a critical segment of tech leaders: women,” says Brooks McCorcle, president, AT&T Partner Exchange. “Like AT&T, SMU is committed to building and expanding the base of technology talent. AT&T’s endowment is a call to mobilize and activate the next generation of female technology leaders through educational opportunities, innovative research and mentorship.”
“The AT&T Center for Virtualization at SMU will take on interdisciplinary topics related to scalability, security, performance and reliability, so that the virtualization infrastructure can enable everything from big-data analytics to the network connectivity of everyday objects ranging from cell phones to coffeemakers,” says Steven Currall, SMU provost and vice president for academic affairs. “The center will engage academic disciplines across SMU to address social, educational, and scientific issues associated with virtualization.”
The AT&T Center for Virtualization at SMU will be directed by longtime SMU faculty member Suku Nair, professor of computer science and engineering in the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering. Nair is an internationally recognized authority on cyber security and reliable computing and communication and founding director of the HACNet (High Assurance Computing and Networking) Lab at SMU.
“AT&T is a leader in providing connectivity for a wide variety of resources, both on and off the cloud, requiring deployment of hundreds of thousands of complex, expensive routers,” Nair says. “The cost comes down and the system becomes more agile and efficient if the routers can be simplified by putting the intelligence that makes them work on the cloud.”