The University of Bristol, a GW4 Alliance institution, has been chosen to host a new national supercomputer research facility, focused on artificial intelligence (AI), the government announced today.
The new AI Research Resource (AIRR) will serve as a national resource for researchers and industry experts spearheading AI innovation and scientific discovery – and places Bristol at the centre of the AI revolution.
To be known as Isambard-AI, it is expected to be the most powerful supercomputer in the UK and among the most powerful in Europe when it opens at the National Composites Centre (NCC) next year. Plans for the supercomputer were announced by the government in March, backed by a £900 million investment to transform the UK’s computing capacity and establish a dedicated AI Research Resource.
The new multi-million-pound facility will be used by a wide range of organisations from across the UK to harness the power of AI, which is already the main driver of emerging technologies like big data and robotics. The new supercomputing facility will also play a vital role in other important areas such as accelerating automated drug discovery and climate research.
The announcement builds on the success of the GW4 supercomputer Isambard, the world’s first Arm-based supercomputer to go into production use, and follows on from a successful government delegation visit to the site of the recently announced £10m GW4 Isambard 3 facility back in July 2022.
The new Isambard-AI project is being led by Bristol experts Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith and Dr Sadaf Alam with their team in High Performance Computing (HPC), working in collaboration with researchers from across the GW4 Alliance universities.
Tackling global challenges through advanced cyber and digital transformation has been identified as a core strategic priority within the Alliance’s recently launched Strategic Vision 2023 -2028 and, through the Alliance’s research capabilities, resources and relationships with experts and industry, is an area which is it uniquely placed to address.
Simon McIntosh-Smith, Professor of High Performance Computing at the University of Bristol, project lead and PI of GW4 Isambard, said: “We’re delighted to be chosen as the site to host the UK’s first ever Artificial Intelligence Research Resource.
“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.”
These next-generation capabilities are expected to put both the city and region on the global map for AI and high-performance computing (HPC), and further cement the West of England’s reputation as a place to collaborate and innovate.
Professor Phil Taylor, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at the University of Bristol, and GW4 Board Chair, said: “AI is expected to be as important as the steam age, with ramifications across almost every area of academia and industry. 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.”
Dr Joanna Jenkinson MBE, Director of GW4 Alliance said: “Building on the success of the GW4 Isambard supercomputer, we are delighted the University of Bristol has been selected to develop the UK’s national AI supercomputer facility.
“GW4 Isambard started as a GW4 collaborative research community and was the world’s first Arm-based supercomputer to go into production use. Due to the success of Isambard, we secured further funding and I was pleased to attend a government delegation visit to the site of the recently announced £10m GW4 Isambard 3 facility. I am delighted the strength and innovation of GW4 Isambard and the importance of supporting academic collaboration has helped enable this national project.
“This momentous investment will supercharge our region’s digital growth and AI capabilities, hugely supporting the government’s ambitions to establish the UK as a scientific and technologic superpower.”
Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said: “We are backing the future of British innovation, investing in a world-leading AI Research Resource in Bristol that will catalyse scientific discovery and keep the UK at the forefront of AI development.
“The Isambard-AI cluster will be one of the most powerful supercomputers in Europe, and will help industry experts and researchers harness the game-changing potential of AI, including through the mission-critical work of our Frontier AI Taskforce.”
The NCC, based at the Bristol and Bath Business Park, 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.
Katherine Bennett, CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, said: “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. 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.”
The UK will host the world’s first AI Safety Summit on 1 and 2 November, bringing together leading countries, technology organisations, academic and civil society to discuss the risks created or exacerbated by the most powerful AI systems, and how to address and mitigate them. The Summit will also look at how the benefits of safe AI can be unlocked to improve lives.
Building on success
Proceeding this announcement of the new Isambard-AI facility, the GW4 Alliance, together with partners Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), NVIDIA and Arm, were awarded £10 million in May by UKRI into develop Isambard 3, creating a new, TOP500-class supercomputer service for AI and high-performance computing (HPC).
GW4 Isambard started as a GW4 collaborative research community, with GW4 researchers and global supercomputer leader Cray Inc. and the Met Office receiving £3m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in 2016 to deliver a new Tier 2 high performance computing service for scientists.
Due to the success of Isambard, GW4 and partners secured a further £4.1m from EPSRC in February 2020 to create Isambard 2, the largest Arm-based supercomputer in Europe.
Initially hosted by the Met Office to develop more sophisticated weather forecasting and climate prediction modelling, Isambard has also been used to investigate next-generation healthcare and to develop innovations in medicine. Research conducted on Isambard was also vital in the fight against COVID-19, contributing to the design of the vaccines by modelling the virus and how vaccines might work against it.
Isambard 3’s significantly upgraded performance will enable new research in a wide range of areas, including in clean energy, modelling optimal configuration of wind farms on both land and water, and modelling fusion reactors to provide green energy in the future.
Since 2016, there has been a total investment in GW4 Isambard of over £17 million from UKRI. Through this investment, Isambard is an award winning, internationally leading service, with over 800 registered users from across the alliance and around the world, including industry partners.
Earlier this year a government delegation from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), and HM Treasury visited Bristol to hear about the University’s Digital Research Infrastructure strategy and visit the site of the new £10m GW4 Isambard 3 supercomputer facility.
The new Isambard-AI facility will be located alongside the GW4 Isambard 3 supercomputer based to be hosted at the National Composites Centre on the Bristol and Bath Science Park in north Bristol.
Building on the success of the GW4 Isambard supercomputer, we are delighted the University of Bristol has been selected to develop the UK’s national AI supercomputer facility to be based at the Bristol and Bath Science Park.
It's fantastic to see the strength and innovation of GW4 Isambard and the importance of supporting academic collaboration has helped enable this national project.
This momentous investment will supercharge our region’s digital growth and AI capabilities, hugely supporting the government’s ambitions to establish the UK as a scientific and technologic superpower.