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November 1, 2023updated 02 Nov 2023 9:10am

The UK is building a £225m AI supercomputer with 5,000 Nvidia ‘superchips’

The new machine will be made available to businesses and researchers looking to build next generation technologies.

By Matthew Gooding

A new £225m supercomputer that will be the fastest in the UK is being built at the University of Bristol. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has been selected to deliver the high-performance machine, which will be available to businesses and researchers so that they can harness the power of AI.

The new Isambard-AI supercomputer will feature 5,000 Nvidia ‘superchips’. (Photo by Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock)

Announced at the AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park today, the new machine, named Isambard-AI, will be up and running next summer.

Isambard-AI will be the UK’s fastest supercomputer

Funding for Isambard-AI is being provided by the UK government as part of a £300m package to create a new national Artificial Intelligence Research Resource (AIRR) for the country

The new system will be built with HPE’s Cray EX supercomputers and more than 5,000 Nvidia GH200 superchips. These chips, announced earlier this year, have the same amount of processing power as Nvidia’s current leading-edge AI GPU, the H100, but three times as much memory. HPE says this will allow Isambard-AI to reach up to 200 quadrillion calculations per second, making it one of the fastest supercomputers in the world.

It will be available to be used by a wide variety of organisations looking to train large language AI models, as well as process big data and harness the power of robotics. It is also hoped the new facility can play a role in important areas such as accelerating automated drug discovery and climate research.

Isambard-AI will connect with a new supercomputer cluster at the University of Cambridge, called Dawn, which is being developed to offer additional capacity as part of the new national AIRR.

Justin Hotard, executive vice-president and general manager, HPC, AI and labs at HPE, said: “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. We are proud to partner with the UK government and the University of Bristol to give UK researchers and industry access to Europe’s largest AI system for open science.”

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Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith, director of the Isambard National Research Facility at the University of Bristol, added: “Isambard-AI represents a huge leap forward for AI computational power in the UK. Today Isambard-AI would rank within the top ten fastest supercomputers in the world and, when in operation later in 2024, it will be one of the most powerful AI systems for open science anywhere.

“It’s immensely exciting to be at the forefront of the AI revolution and to partner with industry leaders HPE and Nvidia to rapidly build and deploy large-scale research computing infrastructure to create one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. 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.”

The UK is investing in supercomputing

Today’s announcement comes weeks after it was revealed that the University of Edinburgh will be home to the UK’s first exascale supercomputer. Named Frontier, it is set to come online in 2025.

The government’s new Frontier AI Taskforce will have priority access to Isambard-AI to support its work to mitigate the risks posed by the most advanced forms of AI, including national security from the development of bioweapons and cyberattacks. The resource will also support the work of the newly announced AI Safety Institute, as it develops a programme of research looking at the safety of frontier AI models and supports government policy with this analysis.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said: “Frontier AI models are becoming exponentially more powerful. At our AI Safety Summit in Bletchley Park, we have made it clear that Britain is grasping the opportunity to lead the world in adopting this technology safely so we can put it to work and lead healthier, easier and longer lives.

“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 UK’s supercomputers, making sure we cement our place as a world leader in AI safety.”

Read more: Government urged to create quantum computing taskforce for financial services

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