An Overview of the NSA’s Utah Data Center

Probably the most notorious federal data center, the USA’s National Security Agency operates what is known as the UtahDataCenter. The UDC has nearly 1.5 million square feet of facilities space at CampWilliams. The site hosts a data center that contains 100,000 square feet of floor space that can be used for servers and networking apparatus. The UtahDataCenter finished construction at the end of 2013. The total construction costs for the facility totaled $1.5 billion dollars.

Much of what the UtahDataCenter actually does is classified. It is rumored that the facility has so much storage capacity that it could store exabytes or larger. In order to put 1 exabyte into perspective, the calculation breaks down into 1 billion gigabytes. What could the facility be doing with all of the memory? Documents show that the building was built to support the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative. Other analysts believe that the facility is being used to store communications data pertaining to those who are using online and mobile services.

Depending upon who you ask, the UtahDataCenter facility is tasked for specific missions. According to a Wired article published in 2012, writer James Bamford mentions that the datacenter holds “all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Internet searches, as well as all types of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter’.”

The NSA refutes that claim and in 2013, an NSA spokesperson mentioned that, “Many unfounded allegations have been made about the planned activities of the Utah Data Center, one of the biggest misconceptions about NSA is that we are unlawfully listening in on, or reading emails of, U.S. citizens. This is simply not the case.”

While we aren’t clear on the true purpose of the UtahDataCenter, it is clear that this monstrous structure serves a distinct purpose for the National Security Agency. Because of that, the contingency measures that the NSA has put into place ensure that this structure would continue to function during the time of a disaster.

According to drawings of the facility, there appears to be two identical wings to the site. Each wing contains a data hall that is split by an administration building in the middle. Each data hall has its own set of power buildings, chill plants, cooling towers, fuel tanks, and water storage. The facility has its own power substation in order to generate more power as needed for the campus.