Sensors, cloud, drive geospatial agency push for data-center space

Data-storage requirements caused by the growth of remote sensors and the move to cloud forced the National Geospatial Intelligence agency to expand its data center footprint.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency built a much bigger data center than it needed, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office, which noted NGA had not used an entire floor of of a four-story technology center it intended for data storage.

But NGA sees it differently, arguing that expanding data-storage requirements, driven by data collection from the proliferating use of remote sensors and the move to cloud computing, required NGA to build out the unused space to accommodate increasing volumes of data.

As part of the Defense Department’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) effort, NGA, a defense agency, was required to close satellite facilities and relocate them to a new NGA facility at Fort Belvoir, VA, now known as Campus East.

The relocation included consolidating data-storage capabilities into a facility known as the Technology Center. In 2005, the BRAC Commission report noted that the one-time costs to implement the move to the new facility would be about $1.1 billion, but actual costs ran to over $2.5 billion, partly because new requirements were added to support facilities NGA identified as essential to its mission, according to the GAO.

NGA said that before building the center, the agency had limited experience working with consolidated data-storage facilities. Also, the Office of Management and Budget had not yet issued its recent guidance on data-center consolidation, the agency noted.

In the past, NGA said, it housed IT equipment in many smaller offices it  referred to as "computer rooms."  By 2004, however, government and industry had started to move to more efficient, single-use data-storage facilities, in the first wave of data centers in government.

The Technology Center was completed in 2009 -- before the rest of the NGA campus -- to allow the transfer of data before personnel moved to the new campus. The agency originally planned to build and use the third and fourth floors of the facility to meet its consolidated data-storage needs but ultimately used only the fourth floor and did not "fit out" the third floor, the GAO pointed out.

In January 2011, NGA proposed a new military construction project to address its long-term data-storage needs that would use the empty third floor of the technology center.

NGA also projected that its data-storage requirements would grow exponentially over the next 10 years due to planned intelligence collection sensors that were scheduled to be deployed over the next 10 years and the increasing use of cloud computing,

NGA subsequently requested non-BRAC military construction funding to complete the fit-out of the unused third floor. The project was authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, and NGA officials expect construction to begin in August 2012. The GAO is not making recommendations in this report, saying it would provide a draft copy of the report to DOD for review and comment. 

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