NSA Utah Data Center Facing Unexpected Energy Taxes


An artist’s illustration of the plans for the NSA data center at Camp Williams in Utah.

The National Security Agency (NSA) finds itself facing millions of dollars in taxes on the electricity usage in its Utah data center as a result of a new law passed by state legislators, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The new law, known as HB325, was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert on April 1. It allows the Utah Military Installation Development Authority (MIDA), which was set up to put select military properties on the public tax rolls, to collect a tax of up to 6 percent on Rocky Mountain Power electricity used by the Utah Data Center.

The NSA has said it will spend up to $1.5 billion on the Utah data center, which is approaching completion of its first phase after nearly four years of construction. The project will have a power capacity of 65 megawatts, making power a big component of its operations.

“Long term stability in the utility rates was a major factor in Utah being selected as our site for our $1.5 billion construction at Camp Williams,” wrote Harvey Davis, NSA director of installations and logistics, in an April 26 email obtained by the Tribune. “HB325 runs counter to what we expected.”

Lot of Computing Horsepower

The 1 million square-foot Camp Williams facility in Bluffdale, Utah will house a 100,000 square foot data center, while the remaining 900,000 SF will be used for technical support and administrative space. Wired has estimated the Utah Data Center would consume $40 million of electricity a year, which translates into about $2.4 million annually in additional taxes under HB325.

The Utah project has raised concerns in some quarters about domestic surveillance and the types of data that will be gathered and stored at the Utah facility. Officials in Utah have publicly touted the project as a boost to the local economy, creating 10,000 construction jobs.

One thing is clear: The NSA is bringing a lot of computing horsepower to bear on its mission in Utah. The facility will include both air-cooled and liquid-cooled IT gear, according to construction specs. The agency is also reported to be deploying server-side Flash memory to speed their data collection, according to Sterne Agee analyst Alex Kurtz.

“We have learned through multiple sources that the National Security Agency will deploy Server Side Flash in their reported $2 billion data center in Utah (code name “Bumblehive”) as part of their data ingest architecture,” Kurtz wrote in an April 24 research note, in which he speculated that Flash specialist Fusion-io could eventually benefit from the NSA requirement.

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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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