Stimulus Funding Drives $750M Fed Data Center

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The Social Security Administration will use fresh funding from the Obama administration’s stimulus plan to build a $750 million high-security data center in the Baltimore area, federal officials tell the Baltimore Sun. The agency will dedicate $500 million of its $1 billion in new funding from the stimulus package to the data center project, with the other half going to staff hiring to reduce huge backlogs in disability claims.

The SSA is seeking a large parcel of land within 40 miles of Baltimore for the new data center, which will replace the agency’s National Computer Center, which is 30 years old and “severely limited” in its capacity. The facility maintains earnings and benefits information for nearly every American worker, processing 75 million transactions per day. “All of our plans depend upon a strong, 21st century data center,” the agency said in a recent document describing its needs.

The administration’s plan to convert America’s health care system to electronic records is a key driver in the data center storage requirements for the SSA, which is already maintains the nation’s largest volume of electronic health records. Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue says that the existing facility in Woodlawn, Md. will probably run out of storage capacity by late 2012, but a new data center will likely not be completed before 2014. The agency is making plans to fill the gap until the new facility is completed, Astrue told the Sun.

The $750 million budget for the project includes an estimated $400 million for land and construction and $350 million for new equipment. Much of the Social Security Administration’s IT infrastructure is badly outdated, including many programs still based on COBOL and other aging technologies, the agency said.

Astrue said the agency’s current campus in Woodlawn, Md. cannot accommodate the new data center, but said the new facility would need to be within 40 miles of Woodlawn due to “data linkages” – presumably a reference to the ability to perform real-time active-active backup, which is restricted by distance limitations of storage networking protocols. While some technologists say storage networking alllows real-time backup at distances of up to 60 miles, most end users are more comfortable with shorter distances for critical data.

The search for the new site will overseen by the General Services Administration,  the federal agency responsible for the government’s office and real estate requirements.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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