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UK Government invests £225m to create the UK’s most powerful supercomputer

Written by Mon 6 Nov 2023

The UK Government is set to invest £225 million ($278 million) to create the UK’s fastest supercomputer, named Isambard-AI. 

Hosted at the University of Bristol, Isambard-AI will be 10 times more powerful than the UK’s current fastest supercomputer and will rank within the top 10 fastest supercomputers in the world today.

The University of Bristol said the supercomputer will be a hub for organisations across the UK, enabling them to leverage AI’s potential.

“Isambard-AI will offer capacity never seen before in the UK for researchers and industry to harness the huge potential of AI in fields such as robotics, big data, climate research, and drug discovery,” said Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith, Director of the Isambard National Research Facility at the University of Bristol.

Isambard-AI will be housed at the National Composites Centre (NCC), situated at the Bristol and Bath Science Park. It is due to open at the NCC in the summer of 2024.

“This underpins our vision of bringing together world-class innovators, academic researchers and cutting-edge technology to solve some of the world’s most complex engineering challenges … Building on our expertise and state-of-the-art capability in accelerating industrial transformation from fundamental research to industrial application,” said Richard Oldfield, Chief Executive Officer at the National Composites Centre.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) will build and deliver Isambard-AI. The edge-to-cloud company will use next-generation Cray ED- supercomputers and 5,000 NVIDIA GH200 superchips. The supercomputer will be capable of reaching 200 quadrillion calculations per second.

“The Isambard-AI system will harness world-leading supercomputing, including high-performance networking co-developed at HPE’s Bristol labs, to provide the performance and scale required for compute-intensive AI projects,” said Justin Hotard, Executive Vice President and General Manager of High Performance Computing and AI & Labs at HPE.

The funding for Isambard-AI forms a wider £300 million ($371 million) investment package to create a new national Artificial Intelligence Research Resource (AIRR). Isambard-AI will connect with the University of Cambridge’s supercomputer cluster, named Dawn, to expand the overall capacity within the new national AIRR initiative.

“In building one of the world’s fastest AI supercomputers, the UK is demonstrating the importance for nations to create their own infrastructure,” said Ian Buck, Vice President of Hyperscale and High-Performance Computing at NVIDIA.

The UK Government’s AI Safety Institute, formerly the Frontier AI Task Force, will have priority access to both the Isambard-AI supercomputer and Dawn. This access is to support its efforts in addressing the risks associated with AI, like national security threats from bioweapons and cyberattacks.

Isambard-AI builds on the success of the GW4 Isambard Supercomputer. It started as a GW4 collaborative research community and was the world’s first Arm-based computer to go into production use.

“Through GW4 Isambard, we have already seen progress made across research into vital areas such as Parkinson’s disease, osteoporosis and supporting patients with heart failure,” said Dr Joanna Jenkinson MBE, Alliance Director at GW4.

Science, Innovation, and Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan, said Britain aims to lead the world in adopting AI technology safely to enhance public well-being and longevity.

“This means giving Britain’s leading researchers and scientific talent access to the tools they need to delve into how this complicated technology works. That is why we are investing in building the UK’s supercomputers, making sure we cement our place as a world leader in AI safety,” said Donelan.

The investment followed Durham University’s launch of a £10 million ($12.1 million) supercomputer to investigate the mysteries of the universe.

Last month, the Government announced Edinburgh had been chosen to host the UK’s first exascale supercomputer. The supercomputer is 50 times more powerful than the current generation of systems running in the country.

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Written by Mon 6 Nov 2023

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