UK AI Supercomputer, ‘One of the Most Powerful in Europe,’ to Be Installed at Univ. of Bristol

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The University of Bristol will host the AI Research Resource (AIRR), dubbed Isambard-AI, the UK announced, part of a £900 million supercomputing initiative made public last March. The UK said the system will be one the most powerful in Europe.

“The world-class AIRR cluster will vastly increase the UK’s compute capacity – essential to achieving the UK’s AI ambitions and securing its place as a world-leader in harnessing the rapidly developing technology,” the UK said in announcement issued by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. “The cluster, which will be made up of thousands of state-of-the-art graphics processing units, or GPUs, will be able to train the large language models that are at the forefront of AI research and development today.”

System details were not disclosed.

The announcement comes during a period of aggressive expansion  of Europe’s HPC infrastruture. Two of the top four systems on the TOP500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers now reside in countries within the EU, which the UK withdrew from in 2020 after the Brexit referendum.

“The $1.1 billion contract for an HPC-AI supercomputer and research center in Bristol is very good news for the UK,” said Steve Conway, senior analyst at HPC industry analyst firm Intersect360 Research. “Especially after Brexit, it was unclear how committed the UK was to pursuing global leadership in HPC. The Isambard contract means that UK researchers will have access to leadership-class resources for HPC, AI and other advanced technologies.”

Isambard-AI is named after Isambard Kingdom Brunel, an engineer whose creations include Bristol’s Suspension Bridge.

“AI is expected to be as important as the steam age, with ramifications across almost every area of academia and industry,” said Professor Phil Taylor, pro vice-chancellor for research and enterprise at the University of Bristol. “Bristol’s proud to be at the forefront of this revolution. To be selected to host a new national AI supercomputer speaks to the university’s cutting-edge research into AI and machine learning. 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.”

Bristol is about to expand its advanced computing capabilities with the Isambard 3 supercomputer, due to be installed later this year to support research in AI and machine learning, while the University of Bristol is home to the UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Interactive Artificial intelligence. Both Isambard 3 and Isambard-AI will be based at the National Composites Centre, in collaboration with the GW4 group of universities – an alliance made up of the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.