RALEIGH As the field of big data continues to grow in importance, N.C. State University has landed a big coup a major lab for the study of data analysis, funded by the National Security Agency.
A $60.75 million grant from the NSA is the largest research grant in NCSUs history three times bigger than any previous award.
The Laboratory for Analytic Sciences will be launched in a Centennial Campus building that will be renovated with money from the federal agency, but details about the facility are top secret. Those who work in the lab will be required to have security clearance from the U.S. government.
NCSU officials say the endeavor is expected to bring 100 new jobs to the Triangle during the next several years. The university, already a leader in data science, won the NSA contract through a competitive process.
NCSU university already has strengths in computer science, applied mathematics and statistics and a collaborative project with the NSA on cybersecurity. The university also is in the process of hiring four faculty members for its new data-driven science cluster, adding to its expertise.
It is a big deal, said NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson. Its a natural fit for us because as an institution weve been about data analysis and big data for a long time. I think the National Security Agency realized that when they selected us as a university partner.
Its unclear exactly what kind of work will be done at the new lab, but Woodson said NCSU wont be involved in the federal agencys mass surveillance programs that have been the subject of controversy in the past few months.
As a university, were not going to be involved in the operational intelligence work of the National Security Agency, Woodson said. Our partnership with them is really about the science of big data and data analysis. I dont think theres anything more difficult right now for both government and the private sector than making sense out of the deluge of data that were all swimming in every day.
Based on leaks from the now infamous Edward Snowden, news organizations revealed this year that the NSA collects internet traffic and phone records in the United States through secret court orders to phone and Internet companies. The government has said the information is metadata and that it does not routinely monitor the contents of phone calls.
The NSA has been the target of heavy criticism by the American Civil Liberties Union and others who say the agencys actions amount to unconstitutional spying on American citizens.
Internal emails at NCSU show that the announcement of the new lab had originally been scheduled for early June, but was postponed when news of the surveillance programs broke.
A very important announcement about our new NSA-funded Laboratory for Analytic Sciences was suppose 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, wrote Randy Avent, NCSUs associate vice chancellor for research, in a June 6 email to NCSU administrators. 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.
Avent wrote to the NCSU officials of the need to quickly solidify the research plan for the new lab before deadlines for fiscal year funding. Because of contract delays, he wrote, they are now in a jam and have to spend the funds almost immediately or they will be swept up. For that reason, were going through a two-week marathon to plan the research agenda for next year and spend the money.
Avent could not be reached for comment Thursday. Woodson said he wasnt aware of the emails, but said it was not unusual with federal grants to have to expend money by a certain date.
The chancellor said big data is important for national security but also many other fields. Those with expertise in data analysis are in high demand, he said. Graduates of NCSUs masters in data analytics have job placement rates of 90 percent and command starting salaries of over $100,000.
In the announcement from the NSA, the agencys director of research, Michael Wertheimer, said NCSU is the ideal location for the new lab.
We have chosen the Research Triangle area for its vibrant academic and industry interest in large data analytics, and NC State for having the nations first, and preeminent, advanced degree program in data analytics, Wertheimers statement said. By immersing intelligence analysts with NC States 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.
NCSU already has a long history with big data. Business software giant SAS, which is based in Cary, traces its roots to N.C. State.
Billionaire co-founders Jim Goodnight, the companys CEO, and John Sall met when they were graduate students at NCSU and started the business in 1976. The privately held company generated $2.87 billion in revenue last year and has 13,708 employees worldwide, including 5,159 in Cary.
SAS boasts that its software simplifies and speeds up management of big data, or massive amounts of data measured in terabytes. One terabyte equals 1,024 gigabytes or about a thousand billion bytes.
STAFF WRITERS DAVID RANII AND JOSEPH NEFF CONTRIBUTED TO THIS STORY.