The UK government has revealed technical and funding details for what will be one of the world’s fastest AI supercomputers, to be housed at the University of Bristol.
Dubbed Isambard-AI, the new machine, first announced in September, will be built with HPE’s Cray EX supercomputers and powered by 5,448 NVIDIA GH200 Grace Hopper Superchips. The chips, which were launched by Nivida earlier this year, provide three times as much memory as the chipmaker’s current edge AI GPU, the H100, and 21 exaflops of AI performance.
An exaflop is a measure of performance for a supercomputer that can calculate at least one quintillion floating point operations per second. Isambard-AI will be able to reach up to 200 quadrillion calculations per second
The UK government announced Wednesday that it will spend £225 million ($273 million) on the supercomputer.
Funding for Isambard-AI, named after the 19th century British civil and mechanical engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, comes from the £300 million ($366 million) package announced by the government earlier this year to build a new AI Research Resource (AIRR), a national facility to help support AI research and promote the safe use of the technology.
The supercomputer will reportedly be 10 times more powerful than the UK’s current fastest supercomputer and among the most powerful in the world when it opens at the National Composites Centre (NCC) in the summer of 2024.
"We are immensely proud to be hosting Isambard-AI at the National Composites Centre. 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,” said Richard Oldfield, chief executive officer at the National Composites Centre, in comments posted alongside the announcement.
"Building on our expertise and state-of-the-art capability in accelerating industrial transformation from fundamental research to industrial application, we're excited to be the home of the UK's national AI supercomputing facility."
The AIRR will be used by a wide range of organisations from across the UK for AI research and development, playing a vital role in accelerating automated drug discovery and climate research.
UK ramps up its supercomputer investments
Isambard-AI is not the only supercomputer set to open in the UK over the next few years. Earlier today, the government announced the Bristol-based supercomputer will connect with a new supercomputer cluster called Dawn, set to be housed at the University of Cambridge.
Made up of Dell PowerEdge XE9640 servers, Intel 4th Gen Xeon Scalable processors and Intel Data Center GPU Max accelerators, Dawn is being developed to offer additional capacity as part of the new national AIRR.
In addition to the supercomputers at the universities of Bristol and Cambridge, the University of Edinburgh will be home to the UK’s first exascale supercomputer, which will be able to perform a quintillion calculations per second. Dubbed Frontier, the supercomputer will be only one of a handful of its kind when it opens in 2025.
Funding for all these new computers comes from the £900 million package ($1.1 billion) the government has pledged to spend on driving the country’s AI research and innovation capabilities.
“Frontier AI models are becoming exponentially more powerful,” said Science, Innovation and Technology secretary, Michelle Donelan. Speaking at the UK government’s AI Safety Summit, she added that Britain is “grasping the opportunity to lead the world” in adopting this technology safely so we can put it to work.
“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,” she said.