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Town Expands To Boost Cooling For NSA Data Center 112

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-have-been-asimilated dept.
1sockchuck writes "A substantial water supply is critical for most large data centers. A case in point: Officials in Bluffdale, Utah have agreed to annex land housing a new $1.2 billion data center for the National Security Agency. The move makes the NSA a higher priority customer for Bluffdale's water utility, which prevents its water supply from a potential cutoff in the event of a water shortage — which would be a problem, since water will be used extensively in the data center's cooling system. Many large data centers have been working to reduce their water use to make them more sustainable and reliable."
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Town Expands To Boost Cooling For NSA Data Center

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  • until the people don't get water. Then they will; just destroy the data center in some manner.

    • by XanC (644172)

      Is it unusable for people after it's been through a datacenter? Why does using it to transfer heat around reduce its utility for drinking?

      • The water is evaporated in the process of cooling the data center, apparently.

        • by Dunbal (464142) *
          Gee, it's too bad that nothing can be done with steam. /sarcasm
          • by geekoid (135745)

            evaporation doesn't equal steam. However you're point is well taken. You would think they could recapture it.

            • by hawguy (1600213)

              While it's technically possible to recover the water, If they're going to recondense the vapor back to water anyway then they wouldn't need fresh water from the city, it could be a closed cycle. But this would significantly increase their energy costs which is why they want to use water cooling in the first place.

              • by xclr8r (658786)
                Or they could use a geothermal system for cooling. Geo thermal is not always used for heating.
            • You would think they could recapture it.

              They damn well better. Did you know that water vapor is up to ten times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas?

          • by sjames (1099)

            Yeah, all they have to do is cool it until it condenses again. Too bad that's best done with an evaporative cooling system.

            In less smart ass words, if they could do that practically, they wouldn't need all the water in the first place.

        • by danlip (737336)

          It's a shame they don't use a sealed system and just pass the water through. It would require much more water of course, but you could co-locate the data center with the water treatment plant and then just pass all the city's water through the data center to cool it and on to the consumers to drink, so no water would be wasted (although in this case I am not sure who would trust water that had been passed though an NSA controlled facility - if it was Google that would be OK because we know they do no evil

          • by Yvanhoe (564877)
            The whole idea of cooling is that you do not have a closed system.
            • by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 09, 2011 @07:59PM (#35437384)

              Closed with respect to the water, not the energy.

              Automobile cooling system work just fine and don't consume fluid when operating properly. An open-loop system (where you lose the coolant) is cheaper and easier to build, but closed-loop systems work perfectly well.

            • by hawguy (1600213)

              Which is why the parent poster was proposing an *open* solution - you pass the water through the facility once, then you send it to whoever wants to use luke-warm water and would have used large quantities of water anyway. Maybe a large laundry facility, chemical processing plant, etc.

              It could be used for heating in the winter if there are nearby buildings that need to be heated, but the low temperature of the water (probably 130 degrees or less) means that it would take large pipes and a lot of energy fr

              • by danlip (737336)

                Heat pumps actually do really well at using barely warm water to heat buildings. You can even use cold water out of the ground (which is probably like 60 F, i.e. colder than you want you house to be but much warmer than the outside). Slightly warm water from the data center would be even better.

                But I wasn't even thinking of that when I wrote the GGP post. If you are pumping it long distances through the ground to get to the destination there will not be much of a noticeable temp change by the time it reac

                • If they ran the water through the system, and then to the customers, wouldn't they have to keep it separate from the secret parts of the facility, to prevent leaks?
              • by jbengt (874751)
                Conventional systems use refrigeration machines to provide cooling to the facility and reject the heat to water pumped through cooling towers. About 1% of the water evaporates in the cooling tower, and because of the cooling effect of the evaporation, the water approaches the ambient wet bulb temperature, which in Utah is significantly cooler than the dry bulb temperature (about 30F difference in hot weather). This means the refrigeration works against a lower temperature difference and is much more effi
          • by Chrisq (894406)

            It's a shame they don't use a sealed system and just pass the water through. It would require much more water of course, but you could co-locate the data center with the water treatment plant and then just pass all the city's water through the data center to cool it and on to the consumers to drink, so no water would be wasted (although in this case I am not sure who would trust water that had been passed though an NSA controlled facility - if it was Google that would be OK because we know they do no evil :)

            Or why not move to Alaska and just air cool?

          • by greed (112493)

            Such as system is in use in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Not for data centres specifically, but for air conditioning of downtown office buildings.

            It's called Deep Lake Water Cooling, and pulls 4degC water in from the deeper parts of the lake. The Enwave cooling plant then warms it up just a little bit, sinking heat from the buildings on its central cooling service. From there, the water goes to the treatment plants for the City's domestic water supply.

            From a citizen's perspective, tap water in late summer i

        • by idontgno (624372) on Wednesday March 09, 2011 @06:55PM (#35436782) Journal

          Yeah, I'm guessing it's evaporative cooling towers or forced-air evaporators. That would work a treat in the summer time there. (I looked at a humidity trend chart for the town; summertime relative humidities are in the 20-25% range. It's the proverbial "dry heat" you hear about.)

          I guess if the town wants its water they'll have to set up vaporator fields downwind of the cooling plant and buy astromech and protocol droids to maintain and program them.

          • As Slashdotters, I think we should be concerned about the vendor lock-in imposed by government purchases of moisture vaporators that speak a binary language.

            Shouldn't we be having a three to four way flame war between those of us who want them to speak an ISO standardized XML based language, the plaintext 4 lyfe UNIX crew, JSON-spouting web2.0 kids, and that dude with the beard who insists that only lisp macros are equal to the task?
        • by rhook (943951)

          Too bad they cannot capture it with a condenser and recycle it through the system, running it through radiators....

        • by timeOday (582209)

          The water is evaporated in the process of cooling the data center, apparently.

          Let's not jump to conclusions. All they did was move the property "into" the city, so it would have the same priority as any other city water user:

          "If it were not part of the city, the center would be considered a 'surplus priority' customer of the city, meaning its water supply would be cut if there were a shortage."

          So, it appears they cannot operate with no water, but that doesn't mean they'll use an inordinate amount of w

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 09, 2011 @06:45PM (#35436648)

        They are afraid the water might be able to be reassembled in such a way as to show the data that the computers were processing when it cooled them.

        For God's sake don't tell them I

        • They are afraid the water might be able to be reassembled in such a way as to show the data that the computers were processing when it cooled them.

          For God's sake don't tell them I

          Ha :) Wish I had some mod points for smart and funny! I seem to recall Intel or someone discovering a radical new inexpensive way to cool datacenters. They opened the windows.

        • You obviously couldn't tell what was being processed(given that most chips are under heat-spreaders these days, you'd need modestly fiddly hardware to even get a rough heatmap of the die with physical access to the system); but it would be interesting to know if they consider how much load they are currently subject to to be sensitive information...

          Cynically, I'd tend to assume that if a CPU falls idle, they just tap more phone lines until it peaks again; but if that isn't actually the case, satellite se
      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday March 09, 2011 @06:56PM (#35436786) Journal

        Is it unusable for people after it's been through a datacenter? Why does using it to transfer heat around reduce its utility for drinking?

        Depends what part of the cooling loop it ends up being used in. Because you really don't want things like galvanic corrosion or organic goo damaging your cooling system, cooling water that spends an extended period of time in the cooling loop is likely to be pretty nasty. Additives, biocides, dissolved metals, etc. Tasty.

        Water that just flows past a heat exchanger into which the main cooling loop dumps its heat is probably just fine. Water used for evaporative cooling should end up being nice and distilled(assuming that there isn't too much unpleasantness in the local air); but the percentage you can re-capture in Utah's climate may or may not be all that exciting...

    • by khallow (566160)

      until the people don't get water. Then they will; just destroy the data center in some manner.

      It's too bad that they can't expand the water system in some manner. Then every time the town residents have somewhat low water pressure, they wouldn't have to destroy the data center and endanger US security.

    • by arivanov (12034)

      It is the datacenter's fault.

      It is producing enough hot water to heat half of the town and is dumping that in the nearby river instead of establishing good "neighbourly relations".

  • After the location of their top-secret data center was made public, NSA has decide to auction off their data center on Ebay.

    "PARTIALLY USED. EX-TOP SECRET DATA CENTER. WITH NEW WATER SUPPLY NO RESERVE!!!!"

  • If they do the plumbing right, all they need to do is channel the hot water into a facility for rest and relaxation. For that matter, it could also be used in other ways. There has got to be a better way than this to make use of this hot water.

    Better -- stop the NSA domestic spying.

    • by Zapotek (1032314)
      I'm confused...you're saying it's OK to put a spa in the middle of a closed loop water cooling system which is vital to an NSA datacenter? o.O
      How 'bout you plug all the servers in a hub and then pull an Ethernet cable for the spa visitors to have some Top Secret data to read while they're relaxing?
      • by wmbetts (1306001)

        You sir are an IDEA MAN. We need more people like you working at the upper levels of government!

      • by modecx (130548)

        Better yet, we have a party and lure...err, invite all of our favorite politicians with hookers and blow...uhhh, delicious cake, at the SPA and then we could unbolt a few lively servers to give them company...

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        it adds transparency to the loop..

    • by fleebait (1432569) on Wednesday March 09, 2011 @07:22PM (#35437050)

      If they do the plumbing right, all they need to do is channel the hot water into a facility for rest and relaxation. For that matter, it could also be used in other ways. There has got to be a better way than this to make use of this hot water.

      Better -- stop the NSA domestic spying.

      A significant problem with making a hotspring resort fed by an NSA datacenter is the extreme danger imposed by an inadvertant WikiLeak, and it's effect on the local infrastructure. Liquid NSA data running all over Utah might have unknown effects on the local environment.

      • by Jesus_666 (702802)
        Known side-effects of exposure to liquid classified data include knowing too much and extradition to Sweden.
    • by sl3xd (111641) *

      There's no hot water to be had. The air is so dry that the water evaporates into the air. The air cools substantially in the process.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evaporative_cooler [wikipedia.org]

      I grew up with one of these - they work great in the desert. They cost a fraction of what it costs to get the same cooling from an air conditioning unit.

      They also use misters for outdoor restaurants - spray an aerosol of water into the air above the guests, and it evaporates completely before it touches anybody. In the process

  • by Gohtar (1829140) on Wednesday March 09, 2011 @06:48PM (#35436676)
    Every year us Utahns have to deal with our officials telling us there is not enough water to water our lawns or wash our cars and if we keep doing so there will not be enough water for our houses. Our main supply comes from the snow we get in our mountains. So yes we are limited. Our reservoirs have been slowly draining the past few years. Now we have to feed the NSA? And they have priority? Great.... I say give them my toilet water!
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday March 09, 2011 @06:59PM (#35436812) Journal
      One does wonder why the NSA chose that particular climate to build a big, water-hungry datacenter...(and what inducements the town leadership accepted for the... good fortune... of having its water allocated to the NSA first and its citizens second.)
      • Re:Utah water supply (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Isaac-1 (233099) on Wednesday March 09, 2011 @07:06PM (#35436894)

        Can we say PORK

      • by Anonymous Coward

        One does wonder why the NSA chose that particular climate to build a big, water-hungry datacenter...(and what inducements the town leadership accepted for the... good fortune... of having its water allocated to the NSA first and its citizens second.)

        I can't speak to anything political about the town leadership, but as for location, I suspect it has something to do with cheap electricity. I live 10-15 miles from Bluffdale, and our power rates are around $0.07-0.09 USD per kWh. I think it's the same power company (http://www.rockymountainpower.net/).

      • by sl3xd (111641) *

        Two words: Evaporative Cooling

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evaporative_cooler [wikipedia.org]

        Far more cost-effective than power hungry air conditioning units.

      • One does wonder why the NSA chose that particular climate to build a big, water-hungry datacenter...

        You mean a climate of monoculture, compliant, unquestioning, god-fearing worker bees? That kind of climate?

    • by rhook (943951)

      Maybe you should try growing native vegetation in your yards instead of trying to grow grasses which are not native to the environment? You would use much less water and not have to worry so much about water shortages.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I live in Utah. Our small front yard is a combination of wood-chips and plants that do not require water. Our larger back yard has grass, which requires watering during the hottest months. Foregoing grass sounds like a good idea until you realize that a patch of blazing hot, dusty, arid desert interspersed with stunted oak-brush, clumpy dry grasses and cacti is useless for most typical back yard activities.

        So don't live in the desert, you say? You might be on to something there.

    • by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday March 09, 2011 @07:10PM (#35436946)

      Why do you have lawns then?
      Having lawns in places that would need a lawn to be watered is a braindead idea.

      • by swanzilla (1458281) on Wednesday March 09, 2011 @07:25PM (#35437076) Homepage

        Why do you have lawns then? Having lawns in places that would need a lawn to be watered is a braindead idea.

        Now get off my lawn.

      • by saider (177166)

        Because they have old people and homeowners associations. Gotta keep that lawn emerald green or face a stiff fine.

      • by rahvin112 (446269)

        Yep absolutely braindead. It's much smarter to allow all that fresh water to flow into a lifeless (brine shrimp don't count) inland salt water body where it promptly evaporates. Absolutely fucking brilliant I say!

        In fact it's so smart you could be considered a zombie!

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          If only we could have more than two possible outcomes to this problem. If only we could somehow not waste the water on grass and not let it flow into the salt lake. It is purely foolish to think there are more than two possible choices to any problem though.

          That was sarcasm and you are an idiot. The water could well be stored in any manner of ways that do not require dumping it on your lawn.

          • Any reason the NSA can't use the water in the salt lake for cooling?
            • If it's evaporative, then yes, you'd end up with a clogged system very quickly. If it's simply an open system and they are dumping the water, then it's possible. The Navy has used salt water cooling for a while now. Still, it's a bit of a pain because salt water is a pain to work with and tends to corrode things. It's possible, but more costly.
              • by rahvin112 (446269)

                The water is 9 times saltier than the ocean. You couldn't use it for cooling as it would corrode anything it touches that's not stainless. Even stainless it's quickly going to clog with salt deposits.

                The biggest reason they can't use GSL water for cooling is the facility is about 20 miles from the GSL.

            • by dwillden (521345)
              Maybe the 40 miles between the Great Salt Lake and the location of the NSA facility.
          • by rahvin112 (446269)

            The water you are discussing is on it's way to the Great Salt Lake. If not impeded and used that's where it ends up. In fact it is impeded, there are close to 30 man made storage reservoirs between the Uinta basin and the Jordan River which drains to the GSL. In the past this water was used to farm the Greater Salt Lake area, most of that farm land is now Residential and commercial parcels where water use is 1/10 the agricultural rate. There isn't some magical fairy that can move the water somewhere else w

      • Why do you have lawns then?

        If you don't have a lawn, you can't yell at kids to get off it.

        Having lawns in places that would need a lawn to be watered is a braindead idea.

        I'd just call it a very stupid way of squandering scarce resources.

        • Everything he said, except that I don't think the zombies would be too worried about their lawns. Unless you mean that the brains might become the scarce resources?
          • Unless you mean that the brains might become the scarce resources?

            They already are. Haven't you been able to tell from all the cable news and reality shows?

      • by hercubus (755805)

        Why do you have lawns then? Having lawns in places that would need a lawn to be watered is a braindead idea.

        Not that much trouble really, a small matter of building a system to distrubute water -- think municipal water supply. Or would thinking be too much trouble?

        Jesus, we've descended to the point where a minor engineering problem elicits meh, why bother?

        Idiocracy

        • by drsquare (530038)

          A water supply is not a 'minor engineering problem'. Why do idiots on the Internet think they have all the answers?

      • by garwain (688087)
        Good question. My lawn is simply clover and alphapha and whatever weeds have taken over. In the late spring, early summer, its nice and green, and needs mowing about every 5 days. Mid summer, to autumn, it stays fairly green, and needs mowing about every 10 days, with no water added. Of course, everyone wants the nice perfect sod, that sucks water like there's no tomorrow, or turns brown. Simply use vegetation that is natural to the region, and accept what happens. if you don't like the appearance, then in
    • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Wednesday March 09, 2011 @07:14PM (#35436982) Homepage Journal

      It's ok. I the worst case, the data center is only one backhoe away from not needing water.

  • ...Or just act really cool locally, totally incognito - a future so byte you gotta wear shades..
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I still don't understand why people put data centers in stupid places. Lake Superior is deep and cold and can sink more therms than you can possibly make. But, no, let's put our new data center someplace where water is at a premium and then tell everybody about it.

  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Wednesday March 09, 2011 @07:21PM (#35437036)

    Why would you locate something that demands cooling resources in the MIDDLE OF A DESERT?
    Because an influential Senator wants the facility there, perhaps?

    • "Why would you locate something that demands cooling resources in the MIDDLE OF A DESERT?" Because it's really, really close to Area 51. All the aliens that live there have offered to fix the Utah water supply by bringing in icebergs from Pluto. Orrin Hatch is one of the aliens.
  • I hadn't actually heard about this data center (I live in Utah), but there's a nagging little voice in the back of my head that's wondering if the NSA will hire prisoners from the nearby state prison, also located in Bluffdale.

    Of course such an idea is ridiculous, but it's funny that the town will boast both an NSA data center and the state prison.

    • Well, it'll save the NSA spooks a long bus ride when the revolution comes.
    • John "Iran-Contra" Poindexter would like to remind you that felony convictions and employment in the shadowy national security bureaucracy are hardly incompatible...
  • ...but are data centers really consuming water?

    If they're using it for cooling, I doubt they're generating temps that actually evaporate the water...aren't they just essentially heating it and then returning it to the water table?

    • by sl3xd (111641) *

      They really are consuming water:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evaporative_cooler [wikipedia.org]

      Basically, evaporative coolers blow air through a wet 'sponge' like material. They constantly drip water on the sponge. The air evaporates the water, and cools off 20-30 degrees F in the process. Far cheaper than air conditioning units, far less power used, more 'green', etc.

      The air is so dry to begin with that even with the water evaporating into the air, the humidity rarely tops 40-50%.

      • I was coming to ask the same question as the GP.

        In this situation it seems that it might be a good idea to go for a solution that uses more power but consumes less water. Utah has lots of sun and wide open plains right? Seems like solar or wind power might be good choices.

        But you can see why they chose evaporative cooling when you consider the environment. A desert-like environment is the worst possible place to put a data center, if they were smart they'd put it by a shore or lake, with a heat exchanger ru

        • by sl3xd (111641) *

          Bluffdale isn't far from two lakes: Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake. The Great Salt Lake is a lost cause for evaporative cooling - but Utah Lake is not.

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