NSA data center in Utah

Why NSA will have the capacity for all that data it's collecting

The National Security Agency’s data gathering operations are generating a lot of debate among security and privacy proponents, but one thing is sure: all that data will have some place to go, and NSA will have the capacity for it.

NSA is a few months away from beginning operations at a massive $1.2 billion code-breaking and data analysis data center in Utah, and it recently broke ground on another new center in Maryland. The agency’s Utah Data Center at the National Guard’s Camp Williams 26 miles south of Salt Lake City is a 1 million square-foot-plus complex, where high-performance computers alone will fill 100,000 square feet, NPR reported.

And the center’s large footprint won’t just be physical. Estimates of its storage capacity put it in the zettabyte range; a former NSA technical director told NPR put the number at 5 zettabytes.

Some perspective on that amount of data: A zettabyte is roughly 1 trillion gigabytes, or about 250 billion DVDs. Last year Gartner, citing the explosive growth of smart phone cameras and social media sites, predicted that by 2016, worldwide consumer digital storage needs — covering content in PCs, smart phones, tablets, hard drives, network attached storage and cloud repositories — would grow to 4.1 zettabytes. That’s the kind of capacity the center will have.

In terms of square footage, the Utah center, expected to be completed in October, will be the world’s third largest data center, according to rankings in Forbes.  It will trail only the 2.2 million sq. ft. Switch SuperNAP in Las Vegas and the super-sized 6.3 million sq. ft. Range International Information Hub in Langfang, China. The facility will have 150 gigabits/sec connectivity via Hitachi Cable America’s InfiniBand CXP Active Optical cable assemblies, according to an August 2012 announcement from Hitachi.

The facility is expected to be complete in October.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers broke ground in April on the High Performance Computing Center-2 at Fort Meade, Md., as part of the part of the administration’s 2008 Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, Data Center Knowledge reported.

The $860 million Fort Meade facility, expected to be completed in 2016, will be roughly half the size of the Utah center, covering about 600,000 square feet, with 70,000 square feet of technical space, Data Center Knowledge said.

Fort Meade already hosts much of the NSA’s data center operations and is home to the U.S. Cyber Command. And high-performance data crunching has always been part of NSA’s game. InformationWeek points out that the agency bought the first Cray supercomputer  in 1976.

A year ago, NSA  launched an initiative to develop big data techniques to track the entire lifecycle of data, and it has been exploring better data analysis software for years.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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Reader Comments

Wed, Jun 12, 2013 earth

To paraphrase Elmer Fudd: Shhhh. “Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting Muslims” People aren’t stampeding to give up their rights, their rights are being ignored for political and financial gain by folks that aren’t necessarily loyal to them. Did anyone go to jail when the NSA spied on US citizens the last time? Did anyone get as much as a slap on the wrist by a nun with a ruler? This smacks of automated McCarthyism and the FBI’s Hoover Files combined. There has already been documented cases of blackmailing of Muslims in NYC by the NYC Police. We are one step away from the Hungarian Registration of Jews.
The government is spending billions spying on US Citizens to create an automated guilt by association system augmented with information we wouldn’t want a coworker or neighbor to have free access to. Moreover, it has not made anyone safer given that shopkeepers and passer bys thwarted the last four attempted attacks. . On the other hand there is a concerted effort to demonize Muslims (that unfortunately smears Sikh’s and other “brown skinned rag heads” leading to “terrorist attacks” on them in the US.)
From a cost/benefit analysis this is nothing but a boondoggle. The FBI reported that terrorist attacks by Muslims rank sixth after terrorist attacks by Jews (fifth). (Terrorist attacks on Muslims are much more frequent than attacks by Muslims in the US.)So do you know the real intent and origin of this illegal activity?
As for people willing to give up essential freedoms to gain temporary security, I remember the response is that they get neither freedom nor security. For a country that would ask for the former does not intend to provide the latter.

Wed, Jun 12, 2013 Jeff Maryland

Good point about saving more lives in other efforts. Flu kills 36,000 per year yet we don't go to such lengths and give up our rights for that. Handgun deaths, food poisoning, domestic violence, traffic deaths all take more lives in a year than terrorism did in a decade. Medical mistakes are still a LEADING cause of death in the U.S. (1999 IOM report, “To Err is Human”).
So why the stampede to give up our rights and relinquish the keys to the kingdom to anonymous cops for such low risk ? I suggest that some people’s imagination has gotten the best of them and we need to spend more time targeting the things that are actually killing us daily in LARGE numbers.

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 earth

The irony of this is that if they used it to identify and fine those that are texting while driving they would save magnitudes more US citizens lives than they would tracking those who disagree with “US Interests”, whatever the people in power define that to be. I, for one, question whether “US Interests” are in the best interest of The People or whether “US Interests” are the interests of the unelected appointees and their “unbreakable friendships”.

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 earth

“information on US citizens is the one class of data which will not be stored there” ROTFL. Why because it is “illegal”? That hasn’t stopped them in the past: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/politics/16program.html?_r=0. So where is the NSA storing the massive identity graph of US Citizens they are creating from the Phone Metadata, Facebook Friends, and other association networks they are tapping into? Hopefully not China. If they aren’t compiling the information why are they collecting it? To waste tax payer money? And why are they defending the collection of it in these times of sequestration? If you have a way to verify your assertion, do so. Otherwise I would be concerned you are trying to get the people to be silent when the government is doing what our founding fathers fought against. Are you a loyal citizen to The People? Or do you cry “rex non protest peccare”?

Tue, Jun 11, 2013

I know that some minds are not sufficiently open to accept this, but information on US citizens is the one class of data which will not be stored there.

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