Preamble: I am not a Data Scientist, or a Computer Expert, or a Data Security Expert. I’m just a small-town accountant with an interest in computers. I also read a lot. My goal in this blog is to codify my readings regarding current events, to begin a conversation regarding our expectations of privacy and 4th Amendment rights, and to provide you with links to the sources used, so that you can judge the source’s credibility for yourself.
This month, the new NSA Utah Data Center comes on line. The NSA has other facilities, including a 28 acre site near Baltimore. But the Utah facility is remarkable, even by Google or Apple standards.
The $2B Utah facility includes 1 million square feet of space, with 100,000 square feet (officially, possibly more) dedicated to a server farm. The Data Center will be almost entirely self-sufficient. Security is state of the art, and includes a fence capable of stopping a 15,000 pound vehicle traveling at 50 mph.
Even more impressive is the computer capacity of the data center. Computers consume power and generate heat. 100,000 square feet of rack-mounted computers consume lots of power, and generate lots of heat. This Data Center will have its own electrical generator, producing 65 Mw of power. To put that in perspective, the average home consumes about 1kWh of power. So, a 65 Mw generator is capable of powering 65,000 houses. The Data Center will consume 1.5 million gallons of water daily for cooling. The NSA’s own description is here …
A March 2012 article in Wired speculated that the data storage capacity would be on the order of yottabytes (one yottabyte = one trillion terabytes), a capacity so large it is almost unimaginable.
However, more recent estimates put capacity in the range of 3-12 exabytes. That’s still a lot of storage, equivalent to 24hr video and audio records of every person in the US for one year. That estimate is also more in line with space and power specifications of the Utah facility.
So, what is the NSA going to do with all of those computers? And why should I care?
Stay tuned for Part 2.