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MYSTERY: NSA refuses to confirm, deny details about mammoth Utah center

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 12th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The National Security Agency, or NSA, seen as the chief culprit in a scheme to monitor telephone calls and emails or ordinary U.S. citizens is now building a mammoth digital data-center in a rural Utah. The exact nature of the center remains a closely guarded secret. Experts are theorizing that the center will hold electronic records on everyone in the United States.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - The warehouse could hold as many as 1.25 million 4-terabyte hard drives, built into some 5,000 servers to store the trillions upon trillions of figures that comprise "digital fingerprints."

"The NSA -- like any large organization -- is using numerous kinds of storage systems," Charles King, principal analyst at data center consulting firm Pund-IT says. The agency, he says is using "innovative SSD and in-memory systems for high performance applications like real time analytics."

Experts suggest that the data center could hold as much as five zetabytes, an astronomical sum equivalent to 62 billion stacked iPhone 5s. King called that number "difficult, if not impossible to conceive.

"That would mean deploying about 5 million storage systems running roughly 1.25 billion, 4-terabyte hard drives," he said.

The NSA continues to neither confirm nor deny specific details about the 100,000 square foot center, which comprises four separate data halls.

Jim Knotts, a solutions architect at networking company Black Box says that the NSA probably uses open-source UNIX operating systems in lieu of the Microsoft software common in business. The storage and servers are probably custom-made, due to the scale of the operation, Knotts says.

"I wouldn't think for a second that [the NSA] uses commercially available servers and storage for the simple fact that if someone were to physically breach the facility, they would be able to have determined beforehand how to get past any security measures," Knotts says.

Secretive organizations making their own hardware are nothing new. In March, Wired reported that Google makes its own data center equipment as a way to keep operations secret and tamper-proof.

"The company is apparently so paranoid about competitors catching a glimpse of its gear, it's been known to keep its server cages in complete darkness, outfitting its technical staff like miners and sending them spelunking into the cages with lights on their heads," Wired's Cade Metz wrote.

King says the Utah data center is likely designed to analyze what he calls "unstructured data" -- the bits and fragments collected from chats and social nets that run through high-speed servers for analysis.

"The place is probably equipped with pretty much every kind of traditional enterprise-class database/data mining platform and tool."

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