The future of petaflops in Geraldton

The backers of a new high-performance computing data centre planned for Geraldton in Western Australia say it could become the first carbon-free facility of its kind in the world.

The Geraldton High Performance Computing (HPC) Campus has just been named as one of the recipients of the Western Australian Government’s Investment Attraction Fund, with $5 million to go to DUG Technology (Australia) Pty Ltd towards the centre.

The HPC tech company, which has grown from a shed in Perth in 2003 to a company with offices in Perth, London, Houston and Kuala Lumpur, has designed and runs some of the world’s more powerful supercomputers, including “Bubba” in Houston. It is also the name behind the “Bruce” supercomputer in Perth, the “Bodhi” in Kuala Lumpur, and the “Bazza” in London.

The facility planned for 44.5 hectares at Geraldton is expected to be one of the largest HPC installations in the world.

“This project has the potential to be transformational for the business and for WA in data processing and storage,“ DUG’s Managing Director Matt Lamont says. “We have been committed to this project since 2021 and have been working through project funding solutions and groundworks required to the site.”

DUG’s partnerships include working with Biotechnology company GenieUs Genomics on personalised treatments for neurodegenerative diseases; with ship designers Austal to improve the performance of defence and commercial vessels; and with LatConnect 60 on high-resolution satellite imagery for enhanced crop management.

The Geraldton facility’s first data hall will have a capacity of 400 petaflops per second. One petaflop is one quadrillion, or one thousand trillion, operations per second. Ambitious plans for the campus extend to 10 data halls with a mind-boggling potential total of 4 exaflops (4000 petaflops).

“Our Geraldton Campus will be home to one the largest and fastest data centres on the planet,” Lamont says. “How fast? Multi-exaflops. That’s like asking millions and millions of laptops to go to work at the same time.”

But what will make it green?

Invest and Trade Western Australia lists the project as the “Geraldton Climate-Positive High Performance Computing Campus”.

Lamont says the site in warm, dry and windy Geraldton helps the cause.

“The Geraldton High Performance Computing Campus will be one of the world’s first climate-positive data centres, ultimately powered by renewable energy. And Geraldton is the perfect spot for our climate-positive data centre, thanks to the abundance of renewable solar and wind power,” he says.

Dug managing director matthew lamont and research principal troy thompson.
DUG Managing Director Matthew Lamont and Research Principal Troy Thompson. Image: DUG Technology.

“The latency from Geraldton to Perth is just 3 milliseconds, hence the user experience will be

near identical to working with the existing West Perth data centre. Fibre links from Geraldton to Singapore open new market opportunities.”

The company also has plans for an onsite hydrogen battery system.

But the other ace DUG has up its sleeve is its immersion cooling technology, DUG Cool. The technology addresses the issue of the huge amount of heat generated by supercomputers by using a dielectric-fluid cooling solution – effectively submerging the computers in oil.

“Data centres have a carbon footprint as large as that of the aviation industry – accounting for up to 2% of global carbon emissions,” Lamont says.

“With DUG Cool, we submerge our computers in a special non-conductive, biodegradable fluid that does away with the fans or expensive cooling found in a traditional data centre. This means we save more than 50% on our power bill because we use less electricity and reduce harmful refrigerants by 85%.”

The first computers are expected to be installed in September 2024.

The Greenlight Project is a year-long look at how regional Australia is preparing for and adapting to climate change.

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