This was supposed to be the month the National Security Agency cranked up its biggest data farm yet, in a Salt Lake City suburb.
The $1.2 billion complex covers 1.5 million square feet and includes 100,000 square feet devoted solely to computers and servers.
But some of that equipment has fried in 10 “meltdowns” and “power surges” in the past 13 months, according to sources and documents quoted in The Wall Street Journal. The NSA acknowledges technical problems.
“The failures that occurred during testing have been mitigated,” says NSA spokeswoman Vanee’ Vines.
The Journal says project documents show that “chronic electrical surges… have destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of machinery and delayed the center’s opening for a year.”
Both the NSA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is managing construction of the data farm, assert the electrical problems are resolved or close to a resolution.
“The cause of the electrical issues was identified by the team and is currently being corrected by the contractor,” says Norbert Suter, the Army Corps’ Chief of Construction Operations for the NSA project.
“The Corps is now in the process of completing its final inspection of the project and making preparations to release it to the customer,” Suter adds.
The Utah Data Center requires 65 megawatts of electricity and its own power substation. That much power used by so much computer gear generates an enormous amount of heat. The NSA is using multiple chilling plants and 1.5 million gallons of water a day for cooling.
“Backup generators have failed numerous tests, according to project documents, and officials disagree about whether the cause is understood,” the Journal reported. “There are also disagreements among government officials and contractors over the adequacy of the electrical control systems, a project official said, and the cooling systems also remain untested.”
The Journal also quotes a report last week from Corps investigators, which said, “We did not find any indication that the proposed equipment modification measures will be effective in preventing future incidents.”
The Utah facility is part of an NSA “data cloud” that will collect, process and store so much electronic data that experts have had difficulty estimating its full capacity. The NSA won’t disclose details.
Analysts from the NSA and other federal intelligence agencies will access the data cloud from remote locations around the globe.
The disclosures of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the NSA’s collection of Americans’ email, cell phone and other private data have triggered concerns about the purpose and function of the Utah complex.
NSA officials insist that the increased intelligence gathering capacity is devoted to preventing and investigating foreign terrorist threats.