July 13, 2024

The UK today said it had selected Edinburgh to host its first exascale next-gen supercomputer, which will be 50 times faster than its current highest capacity system.

The University of Edinburgh will house the country’s new exascale computing facility, which the government says will “safely harness its potential to improve lives across the country.” It will build on the technology and experience from the planned Bristol supercomputer — the AI Research Resource (AIRR), or Isambard-AI. 

“If we want the UK to remain a global leader in scientific discovery and technological innovation, we need to power up the systems that make those breakthroughs possible, said Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation, and Technology. 

“This new UK government funded exascale computer in Edinburgh will provide British researchers with an ultra-fast, versatile resource to support pioneering work into AI safety, life-saving drugs, and clean low-carbon energy,” she continued.

Today’s announcement comes hot on the heels of last week’s declaration that the EU will build its first exascale computer in Germany. 

Part of national next-gen computer upgrade project

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A brief recap — an exascale supercomputer is a high-performance computing (HPC) system that can perform a billion billion floating point operations per second (this is measured as one exaflop). This kind of computing power can help solve problems in areas such as fusion energy, material science, drug discovery, climate change, and astrophysics. 

As of this summer, there was only one supercomputer with exascale capacity — Frontier in Tennessee, USA. It will be surpassed in 2024 when the 2-exaflop capacity El Capitan comes online in California. 

Currently, the most powerful computer system in the UK is the ARCHER2, also housed in Edinburgh. It has a peak performance of 28 petaflops (a petaflop = one thousand million million flops per second), which doesn’t even land it in the top 10 worldwide. The new exascale system will be approximately 50 times faster. 

“We have already seen the vital work being carried out by ARCHER2 in Edinburgh and this new exascale system, backed by the UK government, will keep Scotland at the forefront of science and innovation,” said Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack. He further added that as well as supporting researchers in work on AI safety, the new project would bring highly skilled jobs and support economic growth for the region.

In the meantime, Bristol will also see the Isambard 3 supercomputer installed later this year. Plans for both the Edinburgh exascale computer and the Bristol AIRR were announced in March, as part of a £900mn investment to upgrade the UK’s next-generation computer capacity. 

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