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NSA plans massive, 65MW, $2bn data center in Utah

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The ultra-secretive National Security Agency 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 $1.93bn, 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.

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 $181m, $52m will be spent in preparatory electrical work, including connecting the two corridors. Later phases will include $340m in electrical work.

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. The agency is expanding existing intelligence-collection facilities in the UK'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. Additional coverage is here, and here.

The 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 US citizens.

The program will scrutinize only data traveling to or from government systems, but it has provoked debate within the US Department of Homeland Security because of uncertainty about whether private data can be shielded from unauthorized scrutiny. ®

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