Bristol and Cambridge to host 2024 AI supercomputers


Bristol and Cambridge are to become home to two of the UK’s newest and most powerful supercomputers – Isambard-AI and Dawn.

Earlier this year, the government announced an investment of £225m to create the UK’s most powerful artificial intelligence (AI) supercomputer with the University of Bristol and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). The funding is part of a £300m package to create a national Artificial Intelligence Research Resource (AIRR) for the country, which was announced at the government’s AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park this week.

The system will be configured with 5,448 Nvidia GH200 Grace Hopper Superchips, which combine Nvidia’s ARM-based Grace CPU with a Hopper-based GPU optimised for power efficiency and scale. The hardware uses HPE Slingshot 11 interconnect and nearly 25PB (petabytes) of storage using the Cray Clusterstor E1000 optimised for AI workflows.

The supercomputer, called Isambard-AI, will support UK researchers and industry. Application areas include emerging technologies such as training large language models (LLMs), big data and robotics. HPE said the supercomputing facility would also play a vital role in important areas such as accelerating automated drug discovery and climate research.

Isambard-AI is said to be 10 times more powerful than the UK’s current fastest supercomputer and will be one of the most powerful in the world when it opens at the National Composites Centre (NCC) in summer 2024.

HPE is building the system based on its next-generation HPE Cray EX supercomputers.

Isambard-AI will connect with a new supercomputer cluster in Cambridge, called Dawn, which is being co-designed by Intel, Dell Technologies and the University of Cambridge.

Dawn will be hosted at the Cambridge Open ZettaScale Lab. According to Dell, it will be the most powerful AI supercomputing cloud and will run scientific OpenStack cloud software developed with UK SME StackHPC. The hardware is based on PowerEdge XE9640 servers, 4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors and Intel Data Center GPU Max Series accelerators, which use Intel’s oneAPI programming environment.

Michelle Donelan, secretary of state for science, innovation and technology, 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 the UK’s supercomputers, making sure we cement our place as a world leader in AI safety.”

Simon McIntosh-Smith, director of the Isambard National Research Facility at the University of Bristol, said: “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.”

Paul Calleja, director of research computing services at the University of Cambridge, said: “Dawn Phase 1 represents a huge step forward in AI and simulation capability for the UK, deployed and ready to use now. The system plays an important role within a larger context, where this co-design activity aims to deliver a Phase 2 supercomputer in 2024 which will boast 10 times the level of performance. If taken forward, Dawn Phase 2 would significantly boost the UK’s AI capability and continue this successful industry partnership.”


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