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D CEO: Why You Need to Know Suku Nair

The director of the new AT&T Center for Virtualization at SMU will drive crucial technical research and help create a knowledgeable North Texas employee base.

D Magazine’s D CEO profiled longtime SMU faculty member Suku Nair, a professor in the SMU Department of Computer Science and Engineering in the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering.

Nair has been named director of the AT&T Center for Virtualization at SMU. He 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 and SMU in December 2016 announced the two would collaborate in a unique new research center that would 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 to SMU endows the AT&T Center for Virtualization and funds its research to support the fast, reliable cloud-based telecommunications necessary for global connectivity.

Nair said at the time of the announcement that “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. 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.”

Through the AT&T Center for Virtualization, students will leave SMU not just with textbook knowledge, but with knowledge earned through hands-on research carried out in partnership with industry. Equally important, the center will be a critical resource in Dallas as the city continues to evolve as a global information technology hub.

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By Danielle Abril

Because he will spearhead technical research that could become essential to doing business in the future. He also will help provide North Texas companies with a technologically well-versed talent pool.

As director of the new AT&T Center for Virtualization at Southern Methodist University, Nair, 53, will be at the center of understanding some of tomorrow’s biggest technology challenges. And, with a $2.5 million endowment from AT&T, his center’s research will help companies across industries migrate from hardware and launch software- and cloud-based systems to increase efficiency, accessibility, and reliability.

Nair plans to work side by side at the center with companies like AT&T, which aims to commission research as it seeks out solutions to create stronger global connectivity. If all goes as expected at the new venture, Dallas could emerge as a hub for information technology, heavy with talent, companies, and research.

“This is going to be a forum for universities, industries, and government to come and freely exchange ideas,” Nair says, adding that “everyone” is dealing now with virtualization issues in business. “We have the track record, and we are in the right place and the right time.”

Nair has been working at SMU since 1990, when he joined the university as a professor in computer science and engineering. The Illinois transplant quickly recognized Dallas-Fort Worth’s robust business environment and knew he wanted to play an integral role in research for some of the largest local firms.

The Telecom Corridor in Richardson was alive and well back then, and Nair was able to land his first research contract with Alcatel in 1993. He also helped SMU launch its cybersecurity program, which has since received nearly $10 million in endowments and funding. Over the years Nair has generated several million dollars in research for companies. “Sometimes they’ll have some technology problems they want to solve,” says Nair, who brings his SMU students into the process of researching possible solutions. “It’s a very cost-effective means of doing research, and it trains students to be hired.”

The AT&T research center will be located in the Gerald J. Ford Research Building, which will be built at SMU with help of a $15 million endowment from Gerald J. Ford, Kelli O. Ford, and The Gerald J. Ford Family Foundation. The timing and location for the building, which will highlight the center on the ground floor, is still being determined. The center currently operates out of temporary space at SMU’s east campus, across from U.S. Highway 75. Nair expects the center to attract companies from the region, state, and beyond, as it delves into a topic with broad appeal and an increasingly more powerful impact.

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