Government picks Edinburgh to house UK’s top supercomputer

Ministers have announced plans to establish the UK’s first exascale computing platform – which is expected to be 50 times more powerful than the existing foremost supercomputer – in the Scottish capital

The government has chosen Edinburgh as the host city for the UK’s most powerful computer.

The new national Exascale facility will be based at the University of Edinburgh, ministers have announced. Exascale computing refers to a system that can perform a quintillion calculations per second – estimated to be about a million times more powerful than a standard laptop.

According to the most recent Top500 rankings of the world’s most powerful computing machines, there remains only “true exascale machine” in operation – the HPE-built Frontier machine at the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The government hopes that the new technology will allow researchers to accelerate their work on challenges such as climate science, health research and artificial intelligence, as well as bringing new high-skilled jobs to the Scottish capital.

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The new system will be 50 times more powerful than ARCHER2 – which is currently the UK’s most powerful supercomputer and, like its planned successor, is based at the University of Edinburgh.

Secretary of state for science, innovation and technology Michelle Donelan said: “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. 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. It is part of our £900 million investment in uplifting the UK’s computing capacity, helping us forge a stronger Union, drive economic growth, create the high-skilled jobs of the future and unlock bold new discoveries that improve people’s lives.”

Details of the planned exascale site in Edinburgh comes shortly after it was announced that the University of Bristol will house a new AI-specialised supercomputer, dubbed Isambard-AI.

The two computing systems have been supported by a £900m investment programme “to upgrade the UK’s next-generation compute capacity”, according to the government.

Sam Trendall

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