Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter


Forgot your password?
Security Databases Programming Software United States IT

NSA To Build 20-Acre Data Center In Utah 226

Hugh Pickens writes "The Salt Lake City Tribune reports that the National Security Agency will be building a one million square foot data center at Utah's Camp Williams. The NSA's heavily automated computerized operations have for years been based at Fort Meade, Maryland, but the agency began looking to decentralize its efforts following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and accelerated their search after the Baltimore Sun reported that the NSA — Baltimore Gas & Electric's biggest customer — had maxed out the local grid and could not bring online several supercomputers it needed to expand its operations. The agency got a taste of the potential for trouble January 24, 2000, when an information overload, rather than a power shortage, caused the NSA's first-ever network crash, taking the agency 3 1/2 days to resume operations. The new data center in Utah will require at least 65 megawatts of power — about the same amount used by every home in Salt Lake City — so a separate power substation will have to be built at Camp Williams to sustain that demand. 'They were looking at secure sites, where there could be a natural nexus between organizations and where space was available,' says Col. Scott Olson, the Utah National Guard's legislative liaison. NSA officials, who have a long-standing relationship with Utah based on the state Guard's unique linguist units, approached state officials about finding land in the state on which to build an additional data center. 'The stars just kind of came into alignment. We could provide them everything they need.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

NSA To Build 20-Acre Data Center In Utah

Comments Filter:
  • by freedom_india ( 780002 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:02AM (#28556031) Homepage Journal

    Knowing what NSA does, this Super Data Center would be used to spy, filter and record all the calls redirected it to by AT&T.
    So, now we have an American agency, operating within America, and recording American telephone conversations without oversight of law.
    And we have the galls to say USSR was a spy country...
    Wonders will never cease!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Assuming a typical server uses 500W this data center would house 130,000 servers.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:55AM (#28556439)

        Nominal 8-core Intel servers use about 88 Watts now, not 500W. I performed a "green power review" for a customer this year. Their really old 8-core boxes used around 450W, before we replaced them for new and put 6 old physical servers onto each new physical server running VMs. We weren't even trying to push the minimal server solution and the new servers had 4GB RAM per core, so these aren't VM-specific servers, just normal current tech boxes. Also, we replaced all the internal drives beyond 2 for RAID1 boots with a redundant GigE SAN. Fairly cheap upgrades. Their old power draw was 18kVA and we dropped it to under 4kVA. Anyone want to trade out APC units? I know someone wasting power keeping their batteries charged.

        Now, these weren't the big 24-128-way servers from HP, Sun, IBM, and Fujitsu with redundant fibre SAN and fibre networking, so your estimate could be very good. Some of those Cisco optics switches and routers can really pull power, especially if you use the power over ethernet features.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Retric ( 704075 )

          To give you an idea how much computational power they could have using specilized hardware. Let's compare that to a 9800GTX.

          65 megawatts / 140watts * 432gflops = ~200,000 TeraFlops or 200,000,000,000,000,000 Flops. For something like 40 to 80 million$.

          Granted the accuracy of this estimate sucks as GTX's don't have networking suppport, and we need to cool things ect. But, they could also use more effecent hardware than the GTX.

          • by Korin43 ( 881732 )
            That's a graphics card though. It's likely that they're using a more general purpose CPU:
            The microwulf [] (first cluster I could find data for) performs at 58.34 Mflops/Watt, so 58.34 Mflops/Watt * 65 Megawatts = 3,770 teraflops
            The most efficient computer on the Green500 [] gets 536.24 Mflops/W so 536.24 Mflops/W * 65 Megawatts = ~ 34,083 teraflops
            And of course, that's assuming they don't have lights or heat..
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by BDPrime ( 1012761 )
        That's assuming every watt that goes into the data center gets to the IT load. Though it says in the documents for the facility that they're going to make it energy efficient, power still needs to be used for air conditioning, redundancy, facility lighting, security, etc. Assuming a PUE of 1.5 (PUE is total facility power divided by IT load), which is very efficient, you're talking about 85,000 servers.

        But even that assumes all the IT load will be for servers. Certainly there will be power going to server

    • by oodaloop ( 1229816 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:51AM (#28556409)
      You don't need supercomputers for handling AT&T's data. You need them for decrypting foreign signals. You know, their mission and stuff.
      • by rgviza ( 1303161 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @09:40AM (#28556869)

        Of course this is assuming no one on AT&T makes international calls, or no one internationally calls US AT&T customers, like terrorists contacting a cell that is operating here.

        This is probably a small percentage of AT&T's calls... however, if they had any sense the terrorists would get those Go phones that don't require ID to purchase and activate, so yea, it's likely AT&T isn't very interesting to the NSA. But I'm also pretty sure that NSA would never underestimate the stupidity of extremists since you need to be pretty retarded to blow yourself up in the name of a religion that's been twisted to make violence OK.

        Truth be told, nobody really knows what NSA does but NSA and possibly the president so anyone here is talking out of their ass because they don't work there. If they did, they won't be much longer ;)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Jurily ( 900488 )

      So, now we have an American agency, operating within America, and recording American telephone conversations without oversight of law.

      And no manpower to do anything useful with it.

    • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Thursday July 02, 2009 @10:15AM (#28557305) Journal

      Interesting that the NSA picked Utah for these "data centers". There's been a very interesting history of the confluence of the intelligence community, mormonism and the "wandering bishops".

      I highly recommend historian Peter Levenda's excellent book on the subject (as well as other fascinating subjects), Sinister Forces - A Grimoire of American Political Witchcraft.

      But if you read it, prepare to lose some sleep.

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        Ha! That's the first thing I thought of -- LDS linguists as intelligence moles at the NSA, able (required?) to report back to the LDS leadership council what they find.

        FWIW, I have had a great time in Utah. Despite their weird liquor laws, I never had any problem buying or getting served liquor in any restaurant. The roads were good, the skiiing better, and almost no riffraff to be found late night in SLC.

        I don't care how many wives they have, as long as they're not porking 15 year olds.

      • by gandhi_2 ( 1108023 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @10:53AM (#28557845) Homepage
        ...or: Utah and Mormonism are almost synonymous. Mormons go on their "missions" from age 19 to 20 to convert more mormons. MANY of them must learn a foreign language to do it. So Utah ends up with the best linguist pool in the nation. So they get a couple NG linguist units to utilize the pool. Their "moral" lifestyle makes them more likely to get TS clearances than most Americans....and bingo. Linguists + TS clearance = NSA ties.
    • Sweeping statements are not necessarily correct statements. For example, this statement is completely incorrect: "without oversight of law." United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18 (Intelligence Oversight), clearly outlines the limitations against collecting against and maintaining recordings of US Persons.
  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by captainpanic ( 1173915 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:03AM (#28556035)

    The secret service builds a datacenter and announces that in mainstream media?

    It will be a very large data center.
    It will be important.
    It will be secret.
    And it will be located at Utah's Camp Williams.

    That's very amicable to other secret services. Saves them some searching. :D

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Well, maybe the true secret datacenter is built somewhere else. The best way to prevent you from searching for it is when you believe you already know where it is.

      • Re:So... (Score:5, Funny)

        by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @09:14AM (#28556603) Journal
        Well, maybe the true secret datacenter is built somewhere else. The best way to prevent you from searching for it is when you believe you already know where it is.

        Well yes, obviously it's a decoy. The NSA knows that we would immediately jump to the conclusion that this is a decoy, and start looking elsewhere. In fact, they're counting on it. They want us looking elsewhere so that they can install their top secret datacentre hardware in Utah.

        Except... why make it so conspicuously obvious. They make a show about building this datacentre, so we would look elsewhere. We know that they want us to look anywhere but their decoy, so we look at the decoy. While we're busy looking at the decoy, they build elsewhere. Clever.

        However, they've got to know that there's enough people to look at both the new datacentre and all the other sites. Something else is going on. They've got scurrying around like ants, looking for this "true" datacentre. We're focused on the ground. We're focused on the NSA. This isn't about NSA datacentres. This is about CIA satellites.
        • ...and black helicopters
        • A businessman meets a rival at a train station and asks him where he's going. The second businessman says he's going to Minsk. The first one replies, "You're telling me you're going to Minsk because you want me to think you're going to Pinsk. But I happen to know that you are going to Minsk. So why are you lying to me?"
        • I clearly cannot choose the wine in front of me!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 )
      Finding it on a map is easy.

      Getting into it surreptitiously will either be:

      a) Extraordinarily difficult, or
      b) a) + life threatening.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )
      Finding a 20-acre facility with satellite imaging is not hard. Finding a building site that is goign to turn in to a 20-acre facility is pretty trivial even without satellite imaging.
      • Re:So... (Score:5, Funny)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:50AM (#28556393)

        "Surveillance only tells us that they don't store the data on the rooftop"

        (ok, it's from a rather lame Simpsons episode, but I'm sure some will get the reference)

      • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by arb phd slp ( 1144717 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @09:06AM (#28556535) Homepage Journal

        It's kindof hard to hide the massive power transmission infrastructure, also. You don't just "hide" a facility that has that much electricity coming from civilian sources going into it.

        • Not really. Keep it close to industrial sites and it isn't hard at all. A couple of projects I am working on are easily 30MW services. What gets hard is breaking the loads into enough pieces that you can't get any real information from tracking the power demand, which requires significant on-site generation and stored energy.

          Looking at one of my clients annual time-of-use power data, I can quickly tell how their business is doing and what kind of anomalies and business spikes they have. It becomes much

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Try taking pics from public land :)
      One tip dont use your own car :)
      • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:53AM (#28556423)

        How about some stealth? Paint GOOGLE onto the sides of your cars and be very blatant about taking pics and nobody will think of anything.

        It's like breaking into a warehouse. You don't use flashlights and sneak about. You turn on the store lights and walk around like you belong there and nobody will think of anything ill.

    • by patro ( 104336 )

      The secret service builds a datacenter and announces that in mainstream media?

      It can be a ploy to divert public attention from other more important clandestine projects to this decoy.

    • Re:So... (Score:4, Funny)

      by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday July 02, 2009 @09:52AM (#28557003)
      Announcing that they have a backup data center for all our phone calls and emails is their way of saying "Sure, we're totalitarians--but at least we're COMPETENT totalitarians."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:04AM (#28556041)

    Well, now you know where your can find those emails you accidentally deleted or forgot to backup. Safely in the hands of god, err, the NSA.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    65 megawatts of power -- about the same amount used by every home in Salt Lake City

    Those must be some big houses. I wonder how much they all use in total!

    • There's a Mormon joke there somewhere.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        There's a Mormon joke there somewhere.

        They have to store a year's supply of extra electricity in their basement.
        How's that?

      • by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @09:13AM (#28556587) Homepage Journal

        A Catholic priest went into a barber shop for a haircut. When he was finished, the barber refused to take payment saying, "You are a man of the cloth... this is a free service that I offer to you." The Priest thanked the barber and went on his way. The next morning the barber found seven fishes and seven loaves of bread on his doorstep in gratitude from the priest.

        The next week, a Jewish Rabbi went into the same shop for a cut. Again the barber refused payment saying, "You are a man of God... this is a free service that I offer to you." The next morning the barber found a fitting gift from the Rabbi.

        The following week, two LDS Missionaries went into the shop for haircuts. Again, the barber refused payment saying, "You work in the service of God... this is a free service that I offer to you." The next morning the barber arrived to find 12 LDS Missionaries on his doorstep.

        • by IorDMUX ( 870522 )
          That's because two of the above get paid for what they do, and the third lives much like a graduate student in search of free food. :-p
  • Hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by moogied ( 1175879 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:07AM (#28556053)
    Anyone else remember when the announcement of a government facility wasn't met with constant pessimism and assertions of ill-doing? Me either. I suppose thats our job as 'informed' citizens though.. to constantly second guess our government.
    • by garcia ( 6573 )

      I suppose thats our job as 'informed' citizens though.. to constantly second guess our government.

      Yes, it is because 99 times out of 100 there is some sort of bullshit going on that will never see the light of day.

    • You mean back when the Cold War and other efforts kept the wool over your eyes?

      Tom Lehrer said, when he quit doing comedy in 1973, that "political satire became redundant the day Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize.

  • In fact, (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:16AM (#28556131) Journal
    We should be decentralizing a number of federal operations. For example, the Smithsonian should be broken apart and distributed around the nation. It is a JEWEL that must be preserved. Having much of our gov. in one location is a disaster in the making. It is OK to put the HEADS of organizations in DC, but the works should be distributed. Basically, we should get to the point, where all major organizations have no more than 1000 ppl in DC. Some exception should be made such as pentagon, congress, etc, but things like Health, EPA, can and should be spread about.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by egcagrac0 ( 1410377 )

      Good idea!

      Travelling collections?

      I can't believe that the National Parks System hasn't already done this. They're all clustered around the east coast - we really need to get some here in the midwest.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by maxume ( 22995 )

        His point is better than that. The federal government basically runs an enormous jobs program in the Washington D.C. area, an area that is pretty much over developed at this point. Placing operations in other cities would have the effect of improving the economy in those cities and (probably) saving the government money (by lowering overhead costs and such).

        • Still, I intersection of the demographics "want to work for the government" and "IT cracks" is already small enough even without intersecting it also with "willing to move to backwater Utah".

        • What medium-size city DOESN'T have a Federal office building or two? What huge government program, especially military procurement, ISN'T made an order of magnitude more wasteful and inefficient by distributing suppliers and operatinos to as many congressional districts as possible?

          You're talking out your ass.

          • What is wasteful about separating them? Suppliers are nationwide. Talking and viewing ppl cost the feds the same if the buildings are right next to each other or separated around the country.
        • I live in Denver Boulder area. When we shutdown Stapleton, we tried to obtain the Future Aviation extension of the Smithsonian. Basically, Colorado was told that if they made an attempt for that, they would be denied money for DIA. Instead, it was moved to Virgina (same area, same ppl, different tax region). The most bothersome part of this, is that those around DC fight this decentralization. Insane.

          Not only does it lead to jobs (and corrupt powers) being in one location, but it also leads to ease of t
        • Actually it would have the effect of increasing costs because decentralizing operations also means decentralizing support functions (IT, HR, procurement, etc... etc...). Your tooth-to-tail ratio goes to hell in a handbasket. Then you have to figure in the need to duplicate infrastructure. Then figure in increased travel and communications costs. Then figure in the costs of increased 'friction' caused by less efficient (I.E. non face-to-face) communications. Etc... Etc...

          There are reason why cor


      obviously some sort of instructions on assembling a dc powered environmental disruptor

      don't think the NSA isn't noticing this friend, they have extensive steganographic data mining techniques. we're onto you

    • In one case, the Smithsonian's National Zoo has a facility in Front Royal, Virginia: []

  • by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:16AM (#28556133) Journal
    Fort Meade was always the end point for what was filtered and sucked up on a global scale by the USA and friends.
    The FBI, US military intelligence, UK, Australia, Canada, NZ where trusted keep tabs on US interests, internal and external.
    Now the NSA is turning inward. Everything that was aimed at "the bad guys" "around the world' is now aimed at you in suburbia.
    If the FBI wants your name, they ask your ISP.
    if the NSA wants your name ... they are your ISP.
  • by Enuratique ( 993250 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:25AM (#28556179)
    ... The Hills Have Ears
    • More accurate would be "The Hills Have Packet Sniffers" but that just isn't catchy.

    • The funny part is that Camp Williams is located in the foothills of a small mountain range, which are conveniently near the last "Hillbilly" towns in the Salt Lake Valley. But not to fear, as soon as the housing market comes back, they'll be consumed by the great stucco sprawl-monster.
  • by LaminatorX ( 410794 ) <sabotage.praecantator@com> on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:29AM (#28556211) Homepage

    Do I smell some juicy contracts for Novell as well?

  • by Abroun ( 795507 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:52AM (#28556417) the country's largest per-capita paid consumer of internet pr0n ( [] )
    • Thats because they are honest folk, with strong ethics and a healthy dose of religion. They know that those sex workers bust their humps and deserve an honest paycheck for their services. Not like the heathens in other parts of the world that just mooch off the free porn.

      Utah-ians take their porn like their church. They go in all the way. The moochers who get porn for free are like people who only go to church on Sunday, they just don't have their hearts or their wallets in it.

  • Nothing secret here (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 192939495969798999 ( 58312 ) <info&devinmoore,com> on Thursday July 02, 2009 @09:15AM (#28556605) Homepage Journal

    Anything that's a million square feet is not going to be much of a secret.

    "What's this building that I'm driving past for 5 minutes on the freeway?"

    "Oh, that's just a, uh... big empty warehouse building."

    This is all just a distraction from the "real secret", a 2 million square foot datacenter that they're building in lake Superior's salt mines.

    • datacenter that they're building in lake Superior's salt mines.

      Salt Lake, salt mine, either way its a smart move to build an NSA outpost with access to a lot of salt.

      -1 Unfunny is not the same as "I don't get it"

      • I really think that access to salt isn't a priority.

        As the articles state, the locations of existing power conduits was one of the largest deciding factors.

        Camp Williams also has a lot more going for it than meets the eye, seeing as how it's on a river's cliffside. It wouldn't be that difficult to put most of the NSA's datacenter into the ground, and just cool it with the help of the local river.

    • by n7ytd ( 230708 )

      This is all just a distraction from the "real secret", a 2 million square foot datacenter that they're building in lake Superior's salt mines.

      Well, thanks a lot for blowing it! There's one 2 million square foot datacenter gone to waste...

    • Take for example Area 51.
      It's secrets are kept secret because it's remote; its active security measures are second to that.

      Then take for example the Pentagon.
      It's secrets are kept secret because of higher quality active security measures.

      Even if something is a million square feet, what goes on inside can still be a well-maintained secret. Protecting the infrastructure may seem important, until you start thinking that what goes on inside that infrastructure is more important.

  • by Rocketship Underpant ( 804162 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @09:38AM (#28556845)
    The hypocrisy of the US government never ceases to amaze. Here Obama has been going about cutting back on home energy use, carbon credits, etc. And at the same time, he's going to open a new government facility that uses as much electricity as all of Salt Lake City?
  • They would actually benefit from sitting down with the google boys, and asking them about their power generating machines using solar cells...made especially for them. This conveys they pay no electricity, or almost none, (not including the small offices)
    for their huge data centers... but do you think the NSA cares about saving their tax payers dollars,of course not!

    Too bad we can't force them to try and use the most cost efficient way of doing things, especially the military as well!

  • in the opening scene of terminator salvation?

  • I, for one, welcome our new Mormon overlords.

  • Imagine a Beowulf Cluster of these.

  • Step 1) Build awesome data center ala bunker fashion that can resist all but a direct nuclear strike ensuring number crunching in any* event Step 2*) Build seperate dedicated energy plant, to power this awesome data center and make it known to the world ensuring the bad guys will just use conventional bombs to dsetroy that location. The data center will still be around...powerless...all systems running on 5 minute battery UPC devices.

    See when they said 65 megawatts of power I figured they would build a
  • I am guessing it will be mainly top-secret. But DoD/TS or SSBI/TC or TS/SCI, or something else? I wonder if they will use anything less that TS? Like DoD/Secret?

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire