NSA Invests Big in HPC, Cloud Security

By Nicole Hemsoth

April 22, 2011

This week a number of documents emerged that revealed a few key spending projects for the National Security Agency, the clandestine intelligence division the in the United States.

Although most of the NSA’s budget is closed to public scrutiny, Department of Defense budget documents revealed that the agency will be home to an $895.6 million supercomputing center by the close of 2015. This center will be housed in Fort Meade, Maryland, where the agency is headquartered.

Reports indicate that the scale of this new center will rival the gargantuan data center Microsoft just constructed in Chicago with around 700,000 square feet. The center will employ some of the latest developments in data center efficiency design, including a raised floor with water cooling and extensive emergency preparedness features to prevent damage from fire and natural disasters.

J. Nicholas Hoover reported that, not surprisingly, this center will use top of the line security tools with around $15.1 million of the budget being allocated to secure building design and internal security and another $21.7 million being poured into perimeter control, which will include massive surveillance and intrusion detection systems.

Information Week provided some background on the story, noting that the NSA has been on the cutting edge of HPC use since the mid-1970s with its first purchase of a Cray machine, which now sits on display at the National Cryptologic Museum along a wide array of dated spy tools.

The report also indicates that in addition to the new supercomputing facility, there is an additional “$944 million 2012 request for the NSA’s new cybersecurity data center under construction at Camp Williams, Utah.” This new facility will be dedicated to “continuing development of more advanced cryptography for nuclear command and control systems and building partnerships with the IT and communications sectors on mobile applications and cloud security.”

The fact that cloud and mobile security are on the agenda should come as no surprise. Undoubtedly, the NSA relies extensively on a broad range of devices and cloud-delivered data sources (and cloud-bound information transmissions). While there are few details about what types of devices and portals the NSA uses, it also stands to reason that they will be making use of the increasingly available pools of both public and classified information—this “big data” that is on the tip of everyone’s tongue these days—to find innovative ways to track and understand activity. At the root of all of this information access and mobility is the cloud and for an agency with security in its name, discovering they are making inroads in this area is no surprise.

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