NSA to build $2 billion data center in Utah

Published 6 July 2009

The NSA major data center — in Fort Meade, Maryland — has maxed out the capacity of the Baltimore area power grid; the super-secret agency is building a second data center in San Antonio, Texas, and has revealed plans to build a third center — a mammoth, 65 MW, $1.93 billion in Camp Williams, Utah

Good news for the Utah economy, or: follow the power. The super hush-hush National Security Agency (NSA) plans to build a 1-million-square-foot data center in Utah as it seeks to decentralize its computing resources and tap regions with ample supplies of lower-cost electricity. When completed, the facility will require at least 65 megawatts of power and cost $1.93 billion, according to news reports. The 120-acre data center will be located in Utah’s Camp Williams, which borders Salt Lake and Tooele counties. Two major power corridors already run through the spot, a major reason the NSA chose it.

Dan Goodin writes that the plans help demonstrate how power is emerging as one of the biggest costs in building and running today’s data centers. During an initial building phase with a budget of $181 million, $52 million will be spent in preparatory electrical work, including connecting the two corridors. Later phases will include $340 million in electrical work.

Here is some history. The Utah facility will be the NSA’s third major data center. In 2006 the Baltimore Sun reported the agency’s Fort Meade location maxed out the capacity of the Baltimore area power grid, preventing the installation of new supercomputers that had been planned. In 2007 the NSA announced plans to build a second data center in San Antonio, Texas. Note that the agency is expanding existing intelligence-collection facilities in the U.K.’s North Yorkshire as well.

The supercomputers will be part of the NSA’s signal intelligence program, whose mission is to “gain a decisive information advantage for the nation and our allies under all circumstances,” according to the Salt Lake Tribune, which cited congressional documents (see more stories here and here).

Goodin notes that the Salt Lake Tribune’s articles came around the same time The Washington Post reported that the Obama administration will proceed with a Bush-era plan to use NSA assistance is screening government computer traffic on private-sector networks. The plan is controversial because of the NSA’s involvement in warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens. The program will scrutinize only data traveling to or from government systems, but it has provoked debate within DHS because of uncertainty about whether private data can be shielded from unauthorized scrutiny.