Friday, February 01, 2008

GOOGLE: The Columbia River Security Risk

How the datacenter boom in Oregon could send Google and the NSA offline simultaneously.

on June 25, 2007

What Google tried to keep secret for most of 2006, the NSA had known for decades: the Columbia River Valley is the perfect place to crunch high volumes of data.

Back in the 90s, the forward-thinking taxpayers of Oregon built an $11 million datacenter in the city of Quincy, population 85,000, along the banks of the Columbia River, where a number of hydroelectric dams generate lots of cheap, clean, renewable energy, but the dot-com bubble burst before the investment was put to good use. So it sat there mostly empty until Yahoo rented some of its space. Then, in 2006, Google began its super-secret data center construction in nearby The Dalles, population 12,000, to take advantage of the preinstalled fiber optic infrastructure and cheap power within the same geographic region as its northern California headquarters.

Soon, other big Internet companies headquartered in the Northwest – Microsoft, Yahoo, Ask and Intuit, for starters – began to relocate their data centers to the Columbia River Basin. In early 2006, the Associated Press also revealed that the NSA, the national eavesdropping agency, had its own facility on the Columbia River in neighboring Washington State on the Army’s gigantic Yakima Training Center. NSA’s Yakima facility, along with its sister installation in Sugar Grove, W. Va., operate within a surveillance network called Echelon, that includes America, the UK, and the remnants of the British Empire: Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But has the bottleneck in datacenters in one centralized spot caused a security risk that could risk the health of the Internet as we know it? Could a terrorist strike on a brick-and-mortar facility or its geological surroundings send Google and the NSA offline simultaneously?

It seems unlikely, but the region’s two precious commodities would be the most likely targets: the fiber-optic infrastructure, which connects all those giant datacenters with end users around the world; and the series of massive hydroelectric dams that provide the Columbia River datacenters with the cheap power they need.

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