Bristol to host UK’s exascale AI supercomputer

Bristol to host UK’s exascale AI supercomputer

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

Bristol is to host the UK’s AI Research Resource (AIRR), an exascale  supercomputer called Isambard AI.

The Isambard AI supercomputer will be one of the most powerful in Europe with exascale performance and will be hosted by the University of Bristol at the National Composite Centre (NCC).

 The AIRR programme is a £900m investment in AI technology to serve as a national facility to help researchers maximise the potential of AI and support critical work into the potential and safe use of the technology.

The cluster will be made up of thousands of graphics processing units (GPUS) to train the large language models that are at the forefront of AI research and development today.

Bristol already plays host to cutting-edge computing technology, with the Isambard 3 supercomputer due to be installed later this year to support research in AI and machine learning at the NCC, while the University of Bristol is home to the UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Interactive Artificial intelligence.

“Isambard-AI will be one of the world’s first, large-scale, open AI supercomputers, and builds on our expertise designing and operating cutting-edge computational facilities, such as the incoming Isambard 3,” said Simon McIntosh-Smith, Professor of High Performance Computing at the University of Bristol and project lead.

Isambard 3 is using Nvidia’s ARM Neoverse Grace CPU Superchip in a production system of at least 55,000 cores. This will provide more than six times the computational performance and six times the energy efficiency of Isambard 2 and will be hosted in a self-cooled, self-contained HPE Performance Optimized Data Centre (POD) at the NCC. Backed by the GW4 group of four universities in the region, Isambard 3 will also feature a storage system comprised of the Cray ClusterStor E1000 storage system to deliver expanded storage with intelligent tiering to support data-intensive workloads, such as AI model training.

This gives a significant view into the thinking for Isambard AI to reach exascale AI supercomputer levels.

“AI is expected to be as important as the steam age, with ramifications across almost every area of academia and industry. To be selected to host a new national AI supercomputer speaks to the University’s cutting-edge research into AI and machine learning,” said Professor Phil Taylor, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at the University of Bristol.

“We have unique expertise in rapidly building and deploying large-scale research computing infrastructure and we’re excited to play an integral part in establishing the UK as an international hub for AI.”

The NCC is based at the Bristol and Bath Business Park and 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.

“This investment in Isambard AI is hugely exciting and paves the way for pioneering research with transformational potential. We are delighted that the University of Bristol and the National Composites Centre will be home to this national asset,” said Katherine Bennett, CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. “As part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, the NCC is already a Centre of Excellence for digital engineering. Hosting Isambard AI will provide a springboard for continuing to accelerate the journey from digital innovation to impact.”;


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