NSA May Be Spending a Mint on a Data Storage Facility That Holds Less Info Than Feared

Underperformance may be the government's saving grace


The NSA will soon cut the ribbon on a facility in Utah built to help house and process data collected from telephone and Internet companies, satellites, fiber-optic cables and anywhere else it can plant listening devices. An NSA spokesperson says the center will be up and running by the "end of the fiscal year," i.e., the end of September. Much has been written about just how much data that facility might hold, with estimates ranging from "yottabytes" (in Wired) to "5 zettabytes" (on NPR), a.k.a. words that you probably can't pronounce that translate to "a lot." A guide from Cisco explains that a yottabyte = 1,000 zettabytes = 1,000,000 exabytes = 1 billion pettabytes = 1 trillion terabytes. For some sense of scale, you would need just 400 terabytes to hold all of the books ever written in any language. Dana Priest at the Washington Post decided to go with a simpler, non-technical approximation, saying the million-square-foot facility will store "oceans of bulk data."

However, based on blueprints of the facility obtained by FORBES – and published here for the first time — experts estimate that the storage capacity of the data center is lower than has previously been reported given the technology currently available and the square footage that the center has allocated for its servers.