Bluffdale's New Puzzle Crunching Palace
Mining the Infosphere on the Wasatch Front

1381 It’s no bluff on the bluff: Bluffdale’s mega-data mine under construction down the road from the mega-copper mine. CLUI photo

A BIG CONSTRUCTION PROJECT IN Bluffdale, Utah, started in January 2011, looks like some kind of mining operation, with piles of displaced soil, terraces, and heavy earthmoving equipment all over the place. And though it is in a mining district, and just ten miles south of the Bingham Pit (one of the world’s largest open pit mines) the project at Bluffdale is not a mining operation, at least in the physical sense. It is a new National Security Agency computer processing center–a data mine likely to become the largest one on earth.

The facility, the Utah Data Center, is being built in Camp Williams, an already existing military training reservation operated by the National Guard. The 1.5 million square foot building, expected to open in October, 2013, will surround a 100,000 square foot computer brain that will help the NSA process its load of information that is expected, in a year or two, to exceed a quadrillion gigabytes of data – one “yottabyte.”

The information in this intelligence storage battery will be processed continuously to meet the classified security demands of the nation as directed by current legislation. Doing so, the building will consume 65 megawatts, equivalent to the amount used by a medium sized city. This site was selected partially based on the abundant electricity in the Salt Lake area, and the two major electric lines converging near Camp Williams. The NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, has maxed out it’s local grid.

This is just one mega-processing center currently under construction for the NSA. Another, the Cryptologic Center, is being built in San Antonio, Texas (near a new 500,000 square foot Microsoft data center), and another billion dollar facility, the Security Operations Center, is opening next year at Fort Gordon, near Augusta, Georgia. The Bluffdale site may end up being the largest of them, and once equipped, is expected to cost around $3 billion.

From government to private enterprise, digital information is piling up, and storing and processing it is the future’s infinite task. Despite its “immateriality,” information storage is physical, and is taking up more and more space and energy. Storage and processing capacity is directly related to available energy. It’s a curious incident in the poetics of place that this new mega-data farm of the 21st Century is sprouting up next to the copper pit that formed to supply the electrical wires of the 20th century.