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University of Bristol secures £225M investment from UK government for building AI supercomputer


In a monumental leap toward establishing the United Kingdom as a global leader in artificial intelligence (AI), the University of Bristol has been awarded a £225 million out of a £300 million government investment. This funding is set to transform the nation’s AI capabilities with the creation of Isambard-AI, an AI supercomputer.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has been selected as the supplier to deliver the next-generation supercomputing technologies, with Isambard-AI set to arrive at the National Composites Centre in Bristol next summer. This technological marvel is poised to become the UK’s most powerful supercomputer, boasting over 5,000 state-of-the-art NVIDIA GH200 superchips and an astonishing processing capacity of 200 quadrillion calculations per second.

The unveiling of Isambard-AI coincided with the UK’s AI Safety Summit, which brought together more than 100 participants from academia, business, and politics. The summit sought to address the potential threat posed by “Frontier AI,” defined by the UK government as AI models capable of performing diverse tasks and matching or surpassing the capabilities of today’s most advanced models.

This substantial funding injection, unveiled at the AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park, is part of a comprehensive £300 million initiative to establish a new national Artificial Intelligence Research Resource (AIRR) for the country. Isambard-AI is expected to outperform the UK’s current fastest supercomputer by tenfold, solidifying its place among the most potent supercomputers globally upon its launch at the National Composites Centre in the summer of 2024.

All you need to know about Isambard-AI 

Isambard-AI represents a quantum leap for researchers and industry professionals, offering unprecedented computing power in the UK. It promises to catalyse AI-driven advancements across various domains, including robotics, big data analytics, climate research, and drug discovery.

Isambard-AI will be built using the HPE Cray EX supercomputer, a next-generation platform architected to support unprecedented performance and scale, and consist of 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 giant-scale AI, along with the latest HPE Slingshot 11 interconnect, and nearly 25 petabytes of storage using the Cray Clusterstor E1000 optimised for AI workflows.

When in production, Isambard-AI will achieve well over 200 PetaFLOP/s using the Top500’s Linpack benchmark, while also achieving over 21 ExaFLOP/s of AI performance to accelerate AI training for large-scale AI, such as large language models.

This represents a massive 10 times improvement over the next fastest system in the UK when Isambard-AI is live, and will enable Isambard-AI to perform over 21 quintillion AI-optimised floating point operations per second (i.e. 1.3 billion billion).

Isambard-AI will also feature sophisticated direct liquid-cooling capabilities as part of the HPE Cray EX supercomputer design to improve energy efficiency and overall carbon footprint impact. The system will be hosted in a self-cooled, self-contained data center, using the HPE Performance Optimized Data Center (POD), and will be situated at the National Composites Centre (NCC), based at the Bristol and Bath Science Park. NCC is one of seven research centres across the UK that form the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, helping to turn great ideas into reality by providing access to world-class research and development facilities and expertise that would otherwise be out of reach for many businesses in the UK.

HPE is also collaborating with the University of Bristol on a highly-energy efficient heat re-use model, extracting waste heat from the Isambard-AI system to use as renewable energy to heat local buildings, supporting the Net Zero carbon efficiency targets for 2030/2040 as mandated by the UK Government.

The Government’s new Frontier AI Taskforce will have priority access 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 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.

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