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UK’s new supercomputer comes online, awaits further 5,280 GPUs

Government has also joined Europe's EuroHPC programme; encourages researchers to tap large pot of cash.

Isambard-AI new UK supercomputer

The first phase of the UK’s newest supercomputer Isambard-AI is now online – entering the biannually published TOP500 ranking at #128. 

Bristol-based high-performance computing (HPC) system Isambard-AI is impressively efficient, ranking second in the sister “Green500” list.

But it’s not yet running on all cylinders. Right now the HPE Cray system is powered by some 168 NVIDIA GH200 Grace Hopper Superchips.

Each of those complex chips contains over 35,000 parts and weighs 70 pounds –  NVIDIA is scrambling to ensure supply keeps up with demand. 

Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith, Director of the Bristol Centre for Supercomputing at the University of Bristol, said: “When the remaining 5,280 GPUs arrive at the University’s National Composites Centre (NCC) later in the summer, it will increase the performance by a factor of 32.”

The news comes as the UK announced that it had joined Europe's High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking (EuroHPC), securing "enhanced access" to a total funding pot worth over £770 million. 

EuroHPC grants require match-funding from the UK – which is now encouraging researchers and organisations to bid for some of the cash

See also: NVIDIA sees a sovereign AI infrastructure race

Finland, Italy, Spain and Switzerland all make it into the Top 10 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers but the UK’s highest entry is Edinburgh’s Archer2 at #42, followed by Cambridge’s new Dawn system at #51. 

The Frontier system at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, USA remains the most powerful system on the list, with 8,699,904 combined CPU and GPU cores, an HPE Cray EX architecture that combines 3rd Gen AMD EPYC CPUs optimized for HPC and AI with AMD Instinct MI250X accelerators, and Cray’s Slingshot 11 network for data transfer. 

The only new system to find its way onto the Top 10 is the Alps machine at No. 6 from the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) in Switzerland. This system achieved an HPL score of 270 PFlop/s.

See also: PM Rish!GPT delivers something good

A second less powerful but still impressive system coming next year to the National Composites Centre (NCC) in the Bristol and Bath Science Park (home also to Isambard-AI), will showcase chipmaker Arm’s energy efficiency for non-accelerated high performance computing workloads.

Isambard-3 will deliver an estimated 2.7 petaflops of FP64 peak performance and consume less than 270 kilowatts of power, ranking it among the world’s three greenest non-accelerated supercomputers. 

The system — part of a research alliance among universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter — will sport 384 Arm-based NVIDIA Grace CPU Superchips to power medical and scientific research. Together, they will give researchers access to resources with more than 30-times the capacity of the UK’s current largest public AI computing tools, HMG said this week.

“They will be able to use the machines, which will be running from summer 2024, to analyse advanced AI models to test safety features and drive breakthroughs in drug discovery and clean energy” it said. 

See also: Supercomputer city: How Bristol became one of the UK’s hottest AI hubs

The investment will also connect Isambard-AI to a newly announced Cambridge supercomputer called ‘Dawn’. This computer – delivered through a partnership with Dell and UK SME StackHPC – will be powered by over 1000 Intel chips that use water-cooling to reduce power consumption. It is set to be running in the next 2 months and target breakthroughs in fusion energy, healthcare and climate modelling.

Chaired by Ian Hogarth, the Frontier AI Taskforce (explored in detail in The Stack here) will have priority access to the connected computing tools 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.

See also: HPE software update wipes 77TB from Japanese supercomputer