The NSA Has the World’s Largest Backup Hard Drive

The NSA Has the World’s Largest Backup Hard Drive

July 8

If you drive south out of Salt Lake City on I-15 you’ll pass large billboards with companies boasting of everything from software as a service, to colocation and cloud computing, to Flash (Adobe has a very large office here), to business intelligence software. Utah has big names like Adobe, EA Games, and Domo strewn across the valley and is a growing mecca for technology corporations and software development—even the government has taken note.

If you keep driving on I-15 past the Point of the Mountain, you’ll notice a gigantic building nestled in the valley to the west. Construction is at its final stages of this building, and soon hundreds of servers will start humming inside as about 200 employees maintain and secure the machines that are the brains of the world’s largest backup hard drive. I’m talking, of course, about the NSA’s sparkly new Bluffdale data center, set to open this fall, regardless of security legislations currently running through Congress.

The NSA has stirred a lot of controversy recently, but as uncool as sacrificing privacy is, the NSA sure can build one awesome network. The one in Bluffdale isn’t the only NSA data center. In fact, there are around forty across the United States of varying sizes and capacities. The NSA isn’t stupid—these networks all work together as the NSA’s digital backbone so that emergencies don’t cause major data loss (the NSA data center in Bluffdale is also built to withstand large earthquakes and even certain types of attack).

The Bluffdale data center is interesting because it doesn’t house unique data—it houses backup data, and in fact, no one NSA data center has unique data—they mirror data over a number of their own data centers to ensure full redundancies, and some of them even have their own power grid to ensure they’ve got redundant power, bringing uptime to a theoretical 100%.

Regardless of your thoughts on the state of national security or privacy rights, it’s difficult not to admire the sheer scale of this data center (it sprawls across 120 acres), and the level of care put into securing and protecting the sensitive data inside (they’ve got armed guards and tight lips). According to the NSA’s chief information officer, Lonny Anderson, who was featured in an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, “What we’re trying to do is build this integrated network, where I’ve got redundancy built in so I can ensure mission [operators] can do what they need to do.”

When national security is the business, downtime means bad things can happen. Given the necessity of the data, the NSA is a great example of an organization with a fantastic business continuity plan. Business continuity is essential for the NSA, because it’s essential to the United States. If you look at the United States as a business, the NSA is a part of the security aspect of business continuity, which is a big part of the overall strategy. There’s a lot small businesses can learn from large scale business continuity strategies like these.


Did you know data centers can save money by using green practices and technologies? Learn more.

  1. AJ Wilcox on

    Thanks, Casey. This was a really interesting take on the NSA’s new local data center. Despite the privacy concerns, I’m excited to see what this means for the state. Silicon Slopes is definitely filling up with some great names!