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From a Shed in Perth to International Offices Across Four Continents: Q&A With DUG

A blog by Allan Kaye, CEO and co-founder at Vespertec; and Ben Langstreth, Senior Account Manager at Vespertec

Release date: 20 June 2024

How did DUG build some of the most powerful and green supercomputers on Earth?

As an NVIDIA Elite partner, we’re acutely aware of the issues our customers face in dealing with rising power and cooling demands in the data centre. This move, driven primarily by the uptick in AI and high-performance compute (HPC) workloads, has led us to actively develop relationships in the liquid cooling space to support next-generation deployments.

That’s why we’re partnering with DUG (DownUnder Geosolutions). DUG is an innovative ASX-listed technology company headquartered in Australia, known for its pioneering work in analytical software development, big data services, and reliable, green, high-performance computing (HPC). The team has leveraged its strong foundation of applied science to address complex, real-world challenges, creating some of the greenest immersion-cooled supercomputing facilities in the world.

By integrating DUG’s cutting-edge immersion cooling technology, we aim to enhance the efficiency, scalability, and sustainability of data centres, ensuring they meet the rigorous demands of modern computational tasks. So, as the head of one of our newest partners, we caught up with Matt Lamont, Founder and Managing Director of DUG to delve into the team’s journey, technologies, and the forward-thinking approaches that have set them apart in the data centre space.


  1. How does your foundation of applied science and history of converting research into practical, real-world solutions differentiate you from competitors?

Matt: DUG was founded on exactly that — innovative thinking to solve geoscience problems. Of course, when we started DUG, we had very little capital. We had lots of ideas, but no money! Starting in a shed in Perth, Australia, we were competing against major industry players. We simply could not afford to buy expensive off-the-shelf solutions. This forced us to be agile and develop our own technology.

We had to write our own seismic data-processing software and develop new ways to handle huge amounts of data. Seismic data sets are very large and need to be sliced and diced in several different ways. It was the perfect training ground to ultimately grow the DUG of today.

Indeed, our first office was a shed that we built in my own backyard. This ‘can-do’ attitude and culture has served us well ever since. Whether it’s software or immersion cooling hardware, we know we’ll be able to provide the best solution for our clients because we have always been the first client.

I think this is why our technology has been so successful. Our customers are getting access to the same turn-key solutions that we built for ourselves.


  1. The DUG Cool immersion cooling system seems very innovative. What were the key challenges in developing and implementing this technology?

Matt: We’ve built our own supercomputers and cooling systems from day one, including some rather, let’s say, creative designs in that very first shed! As the company grew, so did our need for efficient HPC.

We tried some off-the-shelf immersion-cooling systems, but they were too complicated, had too many points of failure, and were so expensive that they didn’t allow us to scale. So, we took a step back and realised we could do a much better job ourselves. We soon realised that what started as us finding a cost-effective solution could also be a path to building an innovative cooling system that would help scale our business.

This progressed very naturally. We began to think that, if DUG Cool is the best solution for our business, it would also work beautifully for others.


  1. How does the immersion cooling approach in DUG Cool extend the lifespan of computing hardware compared to traditional air cooling?

Matt:  Essentially, DUG Cool creates a thermally stable environment without hot spots, dust, or oxidation. The immersion fluid that we use is non-flammable, non-conductive and biodegradable. The fluid is around a thousand times better at removing heat than air.

This all translates to fewer failures and less downtime. In simple terms, the hardware stays much happier for much longer.  This also minimises maintenance, which helps with efficiency, reliability, and sustainability. The DUG Cool technology avoids all complex air-flow management issues and creates rooms that are significantly quieter (quiet enough to have a normal conversation in) which translates to much better health and safety outcomes, too.


  1. DUG has expanded from the resources sector into areas like radio astronomy and biomedicine. What drove this diversification strategy?

Matt: Seismic data processing has been a major user of supercomputers for a long time. So, we have become experts at building large HPC systems for that reason. However, we soon realised that our skills were needed everywhere — in almost every industry. With the information revolution and data explosion that we’re in right now, it was an opportunity for us to diversify our client base and expand.


  1. Can you discuss DUG’s partnership with Vespertec and how your strengths will complement one another?

Matt: We believe that DUG and Vespertec’s values and goals are perfectly aligned. Vespertec helps its clients increase the performance of their data centres. It helps them reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) and maximise efficiency at scale via innovation and application of new technologies. That’s exactly what we have done with DUG’s data centres over the last 20 years!

We have innovated and honed our technology to achieve the exact same goals for our clients. Our partnership will further enable both companies to help clients efficiently scale using the DUG Cool immersion technology.


  1. DUG has made significant investments in green high-performance computing. How do you balance performance needs with environmental sustainability?

Matt: For us, efficiency and sustainability are intimately linked. As an Aussie company, we know that preserving our social license to operate means continuing to play our part in transitioning to sustainable practices. This applies not only to what we do internally, but also with respect to the services we provide our clients.

With no chillers or fans, the DUG Cool system significantly reduces power usage. In total, it reduces our power usage by up to 51%. It uses 85% less synthetic refrigerants and 25% less water compared to an air-cooled facility. We also procure renewable energy to power our largest data centre in Houston.

As a global leader for sustainable data centre technology, we remain committed to innovative solutions that set industry standards for energy efficiency. We are proud to operate some of the greenest supercomputing installations on the planet.


  1. What role does software like DUG Insight play, and how does it integrate with the hardware and HPC solutions?

Matt: We want our technology to be as invisible to the end-user as possible. We don’t want them thinking about how to make the technology work. A lot of HPC environments put a tremendous burden on the users to manage all kinds of things that really should be managed by computers. This is what DUG Insight provides.

DUG Insight was built from the ground up to be a productivity enabler, either on your desktop or via the DUG HPC Cloud.

At the end of the day, I think so much of DUG Insight’s power and efficiency comes from the fact that it’s all one integrated system. We design and operate everything to work together — from the hardware in the data centre to the software on your desktop. Because we have total control over the entire stack, we have the freedom to add features or solve problems in the places that make the most sense.


  1. Do you have any recent case studies or success stories of which you’re particularly proud?

Matt: In recent years, we’ve carried out some great work in the fields of medical research, astronomy, earth observation, and shipbuilding that we’re particularly proud of.

With the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, our tailored HPC solutions have greatly accelerated the processing of complex genomic data, enhancing research capabilities in the battle against chronic diseases and genetic disorders.

In astronomy, our collaboration with the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) is a standout example. We optimised its data processing for the Murchison Widefield Array, achieving runtimes 125 times faster than before, which enabled it to process two years’ worth of backlogged data in mere hours. This has helped them make a significant contribution to the global understanding of the early universe.

For LatConnect 60, an Australian smart-satellite provider, we provided HPC as a Service  to enable more precise and frequent satellite imagery updates to support their agriculture analytics services. High resolution Earth observation data-processing tasks, which once took weeks to process, were able to be completed in a few hours.

Lastly, our support of Austal, an Australian shipbuilder, has showcased our ability to provide tailored support and bespoke code optimisation expertise.  Our immersion cooling technology has also helped Austal meet its increasing computational demands, while contributing towards  their environmental, social and governance (ESG) requirements.


  1. What are some of the biggest challenges or trends you see impacting the HPC and data analytics space in the near future?

Matt: The biggest challenge is managing data centre energy demand and growth—that is, scale. How do we all scale while balancing our ESG requirements? Modern CPUs and GPUs need more power and run hotter, which requires better thermal management. Of course, at the same time, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data continue to drive HPC workloads higher and higher.

This takes us back to one of the fundamental reasons that we developed DUG Cool in the first place: the ability to scale to any size, efficiently, reliably, and sustainably. This is exactly what the DUG Cool solution provides.

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