Aussie company picks Houston for 'fastest supercomputer in the world'

The project team, from left to right: Gordon Kellerman (Skybox), Bryan Bennett (Bennett DCS), Ben Grigg (DUG), Randy Anderson (DUG), Stuart Midgley (DUG), Mark Lommers (DUG), Emily Smyth (DUG), Rob Morris (Skybox).

By Chris Mathews – Reporter, Houston Business Journal An Australian oil and gas seismic technology company has chosen the Houston area for a data center after a global search, which represents the city’s biggest such deal to date.

Perth, Australia-based DownUnder GeoSolutions (America) LLC, or DUG, a global geoscience solutions firm, with office locations in Australia, the U.K., Malaysia and Houston, signed a 15-megawatt co-location data center lease in Houston.

DUG scoured the planet to find a data center location with the capacity to house its fourth supercomputer. The firm passed on locations in Ireland, Norway, Malaysia and Australia, even though many of those countries offered tax incentives, something Texas could not offer. 

But DUG co-founder and managing director, Matthew Lamont, selected Houston for two major reasons — the low cost of power, and the available infrastructure of the data center, a facility in Katy owned by Dallas-based Skybox Datacenters LLC. 

“This was an exhaustive world-wide search for a data center location,” Lamont said in an Oct. 11 statement. “Houston was a natural choice given the low cost of power and the fact that Skybox had the available infrastructure ready to go. This facility will allow us to install the fastest supercomputer in the world at this time to meet the ever-increasing demand for energy. We are excited to expand our presence in Houston and expect to be operational by February 2019.”

Data center deals center around power, and 15 megawatts is a significant amount of power. 

“We are honored DUG chose Skybox for this revolutionary data center,” Rob Morris, managing partner of Skybox Datacenters, aid in a statement. “Our proximity to one of the largest substations in Houston and the ability to ramp up quickly were major factors in the decision."

The Skybox facility at 22000 Franz Road sits directly adjacent to a 400-megawatt substation, powered by Houston-based CenterPoint Energy Inc. (NYSE: CNP). Built for resiliency, the data center has a six-inch thick concrete roof deck, and can sustain hurricane force winds up to 190 mph. 

"The Skybox data center (in Katy) is a beautiful facility and it's perfect for what we're trying to achieve," Lamont said in a phone call from Perth, Australia, to the Houston Business Journal. "On top of that, we were stunned after looking in Ireland, Norway, Australia and everywhere else, this facility is just six miles from our office in Houston. So it worked out brilliantly well." 

DUG will occupy 15,000 square feet in the Skybox data center to house over 40,000 servers. The supercomputer will have over 250 petaflops of computing capacity, "equal to one thousand million" calculations per second, according to the release. That computing speed is needed to process the mass amount of geophysical and seismic data that DUG's oil and gas exploration clients collect while searching for a place to drill. 

Houston-based Bennett Data Solutions LLC served as DUG's consultant in brokering their deal with Skybox. Bryan Bennett, president and CEO of Bennett Data Solutions, has been working with data centers for over a decade, and said this is the biggest deal he has ever helped come to fruition. 

“This is the largest data center transaction in Houston's history and a significant win for the city as it triumphed over several major global cities during the year-long selection process,” Bennett said in the statement.

Part of what makes this deal so unique is the use of DUG's patent-pending liquid immersion cooling technology. Each of the over 40,000 servers will be fully submerged in an environmentally-friendly dielectric liquid, eliminating the need for refrigeration and fans to cool down the machinery. According to DUG, this reduces energy consumption by 45 percent. In fact, this project would be quite impossible to pull off in 15,000 square feet of space without the use of liquid immersion cooling, according to Morris with Skybox. 

DownUnder GeoSolutions immersion cooling technology

A look at DownUnder GeoSolutions' immersion cooling technology


Once construction inside of the Skybox facility is completed by early 2019, DUG's custom-designed immersion tanks will sit on flooring built three feet above the ground — on top of the pipelines that will circulate the cooling liquid. DUG, Skybox and Bennett are currently interviewing contractors who will undertake the construction project inside of the data center. 

DUG was founded in 2003 and entered Houston six years ago, according to Lamont. It currently employs some 55 people in its 13,612-square-foot office space at 16200 Park Row in the Energy Corridor. The company employs around 350 worldwide.

Source: Houston Business Journal by Chris Matthews