NSA Establishes $60 Million Data Analytics Lab in North Carolina State

Data Analytics at NCSU

Data analytics is a field on the rise. The importance and the efficiency associated with the arena was just underscored manifold when NSA chose North Carolina State University (NCSU) for a new research lab.

The study of data analytics has been an area of interest for a while now. The $ 60.75 million grant from the NSA has pushed the NCSU into the major league as it is the biggest award in history.

Data Analytics Research Lab

Details about the lab and the niche arena of research that will be continued within the premises has not been given to the public. It is however understood that the new laboratory for analytic sciences will be constructed in the centennial campus aided by the NSA funds.

The lab while furthering understanding in the area of big data analytics is also going to create nearly 100 jobs in the Triangle over the next few years. Since the NSA has a stake in the lab and the research conducted there, all students admitted will have to receive the US Government clearance before setting foot in the lab.

Why NCSU?

The NSA grant was won through a competitive process. NCSU has always encouraged research with particular strength in the fields of applied mathematics, computer science and statistics.

The university also boasts of a collaborative venture in cyber security with the NSA. This history with the NSA was bound to sway matters in favor of NCSU. The university chancellor Randy Woodson was of the opinion that the institution always had an avid interest in the data analytics and big data arenas for a long time now. This interest according to Woodson caused the NSA to believe that the University would be a worthy partner in the research venture.

The Controversy

The nature of work that will be conducted within the research facility has not been made public. Speculation that the NCSU facility will be used for mass surveillance purposes has been rampant since the research facility was announced.

The information that the US Government “spies” on its citizens was made public by the infamous leaks by Edward Snowden. The details of classified surveillance programs raised hackles on the citizens who did not like their privacy violated.

The Government countered that the data it collected was not a routine monitoring of every single phone call but a collection of “Metadata”. This reassurance did not go down well and the assumption that the research facility will be used to aid this unconstitutional monitoring is reigning high.

Uncertainty

When the news of the surveillance on citizens broke out, the public announcement of the research facility and the blatant involvement of the NSA in the research was delayed to a more suitable time.

Randy Avent, Associate Vice Chancellor for research in an email dated June 6th to the NCSU administrators was quoted as saying, “A very important announcement about our new NSA-funded Laboratory for Analytic Sciences was suppose (sic) to be made public this morning, but with that bit out of The Guardian (newspaper) on NSA collecting phone records of Verizon customers – everyone thought it best to not make the announcement just yet. BTW – our lab is just that – a research program studying the fundamental science behind analytics. It is not a storage facility for classified data and does not work with any data like that mentioned in the article.”

Woodson said that the email did not come to his notice and that the federal grants had an expiry date and the research plan had to be drawn up before a certain date. Avent was in concurrence about the expiry of the funding without a solid research plan.

The university was busy with solidifying the research plan to spend the grant dollars. Avent said that the university was in a two-week marathon of sorts to draw up the research plan to spend the grant within the next year on research.

The Importance of Data Analytics

Outside of National security, big data analytics finds application in various other fields. With a range of applications of a master’s degree in data analytics, graduates and those with expertise in the domain are offered starting salaries ranging over $100,000. The job placement rates of NCSU graduates are over 90%.

NSA’s director of research Michael Wertheimer said in a statement, “We have chosen the Research Triangle area for its vibrant academic and industry interest in large data analytics, and NC State for having the nation’s first, and preeminent, advanced degree program in data analytics. By immersing intelligence analysts with NC state’s diverse group of scientists, we hope to discover new and powerful ways to meet our foreign signals intelligence and information assurance missions – giving us an edge to better protect the nation.”

The statement was ripe with meaning and assurance that the research facility would be utilized to perform further study into the arena. Further the talent would be harnessed to increase manifold the technology that can protect the nation against threats before they can be launched.

Apart from the neo security research facility, a business software company called SAS owes its roots to NC State University. The business took birth in 1976 when the co-founders Jim Goodnight and John Sall met as graduate students in the same North Carolina State University.

The company that is still privately held generated nearly 2.87 billion dollars in revenue in the last year alone. The billion dollar company has 13,708 employees across the world with nearly 5,159 employees in Cary where the company is based.

SAS is deeply involved in big data and boasts of software that is capable of speeding up and simplifying management of massive amounts of data. The data is measured in terabytes where one terabyte is equivalent to 1,024 gigabytes which is in turn equivalent to one thousand billion bytes. Big data analytics is therefore, a brilliant science that has found translation not only in security but also in various other niche fields.




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