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US spooks to build 60 megawatt data center

What Federal budget crisis?

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Two years ago, the NSA got a $1.53bn allocation to build an even larger 65 megawatt data center on a 240-acre site at the National Guard facility in Camp Williams, Utah. Construction began on this data center in September 2009 and is expected to be completed in May 2014. This facility, which is located south of Salt Lake City, has about 100,000 feet of data center floor space and comprises over 1 million feet of total space.

The US Army Corps of Engineers oversees these construction jobs, but subcontracts the work out to commercial companies. The biggest beneficiaries of these NSA data center construction jobs, aside from the workers who get paid to do the work, are the US senators that get to brag about bringing jobs back to their states.

While the data centers in Fort Meade and Camp Williams are interesting, what inquiring minds want to know is what iron the NSA is using and what it is using it for. In theory, these two facilities are used to snoop on foreign communications as they come into the United States, not to spy on citizens located inside the country.

The NSA has been an enthusiastic supporter of supercomputer Cray over the decades, and is one of the main funders of Cray's "ThreadStorm" XMT multithreaded supercomputers. These machines pair the ThreadStorm processors, designed by Tera Computer founder Burton Smith, who now is a technical fellow at Microsoft Research, and James Rottsolk, who used to run Cray after Tera bought the name-brand super maker in 2000.

The MTA, and then follow-on XMT designs, are packed with lots of threads, deep instruction pipelines, and fast switching between threads to keep the machine humming. The current "ThreadStorm" processor used in the XMT machines has 128 threads and the XMT system can scale up to a mind-bobbling 8,192 threads with 128TB of shared memory across all those threads. This is a perfect machine for hyperscale pattern matching.

Cray's Custom Engineering division is expected to roll out an XMT-2 processor later this year, and it will presumably plug into the current XE6 blade servers that also support Opteron 6100 chips. Cray is a licensee of the Opteron socket design as well as HyperTransport interconnects, and the XMT chips plugged into Rev F Opteron sockets.

If this is indeed one of the key systems going into the two NSA data centers, the US spook agency will not be the first organization to get an MTA-2 system. The Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) in Manno, Switzerland, inked a deal to get the first MTA-2 machine back in February. ®

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