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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