Security

NSA Utah data center faces ‘lightning’-like electrical problems

Above: The seal of the National Security Agency

Image Credit: Cory Doctorow

The National Security Agency’s major Utah data center is suffering from a unique data center sickness, what one official calls “lightning inside a 2-foot box.”

We learned about the Utah data center in 2012, which will exist in the city of Bluffdale. It is possibly the largest — if not one of the largest — data centers the NSA will own, but its construction hit some snags due to “arc fault failures,” according to documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal. These are electrical surges that have caused 10 meltdowns over a 13 month span of time.

The Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing this construction and says that there is no proven explanation for why these surges occur.

The government employed a number of contractors to fix the issue on top of the Army Corps engineering team. These contractors first set out installing a number of power-insulators, according to the documents, in order to absorb the surges as opposed to preventing them. After they began installation, the contractor team said it had found the cause of the surges and that its insulator-fix was the right remedy.

Preventing these, however, is likely needed for the success of the building as each surge can cost up to $100,000 in damage. At the rate the surges seem to be coming now, that’s $1 million in damage-repair a year — and we don’t even know what could go wrong once the presumed exabytes of data start plowing through.

This data center is said to cost around $1.4 million before the cost of the supercomputers that could process unbelievable amounts of data. The U.S. public is already pointing fingers at the NSA for its collection of citizen data in an effort to secure the nation. Recently revealed data collection programs, such as PRISM, has stirred up a mistrust for the agency, which continues to defend its efforts.

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