University of Bristol switches on fastest, greenest supercomputer

Article by Adam Duckett

THE UK’S most powerful and greenest supercomputer – Isambard-AI – has begun to come online and researchers can soon apply to use it to make breakthroughs in the likes of drug and carbon capture developments.

The University of Bristol installed the first phase of its Isambard-AI supercomputer earlier this month and expects to complete the full installation later this summer. So far, 168 graphics processing units (GPUs) have come online, capable of 7.4 petaflops (or 7 quadrillion calculations per second), making it the third fastest supercomputer in the UK and 128th in the world.

Simon McIntosh-Smith, director of the Bristol Centre for Supercomputing at the University of Bristol, said: “Assuming there are eight billion people on Earth, and everyone performed one calculation per second, it would take 2.3 years for all eight billion people, working 24/7, 365 days a year, to do what Isambard-AI phase one could do in one second…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.”

Once fully installed it’s expected to become one of the ten fastest supercomputers in the world, according to the TOP500 list.

How is it the greenest?

Christy Nunn

Isambard-AI’s first phase is ranked second in the world for energy efficiency at 68.8 GFlops/watt. The system uses the latest efficient processors for AI – NVIDIA’S Grace-Hopper GPU – and direct liquid cooling which is more energy efficient than air cooling.

“The direct liquid cooling and relatively high wastewater temperatures, along with our temperate local climate, mean the system can use free air cooling 98% of the time, and will only need to use chillers 2% of the time,” a University of Bristol spokesperson explained.

Researchers funded by the UK Research and Innovation will be able to apply for time on Isambard-AI in response to calls put out by the funding agency. The spokesperson added that the government’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology is also looking at how to support startups and SMEs using Isambard-AI. For convenience, researchers will be able to use the supercomputer remotely over the internet.

The UK government invested £225m (US$287m) in Isambard-AI last November in a bid to make the UK a leader in AI and harness its capabilities for the likes of climate research and drug discovery. The university said it is unable to disclose the names of organisations likely to use it but expects to release case studies once the supercomputer is successfully in use.

Article by Adam Duckett

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