First look at the Cambridge-1, the UK's fastest supercomputer

An engineer working on the Cambridge-1 supercomputer
(Image credit: Kao)

The Kao data centre in Harlow has released the first images of its new Cambridge-1 supercomputer, the fastest machine in the UK.

Nvidia announced it would build the Cambridge-1 last year, shortly after its planned acquisition of ARM was confirmed.

Traditionally, supercomputers are slow installations, taking years to plan and build, but the Cambridge-1 is already in operation at the Kao data centre just 20 weeks after its inception.

The speed of the installation is all the more impressive as it has been built amid a global pandemic and three separate lookdowns in the UK. The Kao data centre, which featured in this months IT Pro 20/20, has been operating for the best part of the last year with mission-critical staff only, working in rotating shifts and under strict operational guidelines. On top of that, quarantine periods for international travel has resulted in most of the deployment being overseen remotely from the US.

Cambridge-1 is a 400-petaflop supercomputer, said to rank among the world's top three most energy-efficient machines on the current Green500 list. It will be used in medical research by a host of companies including GSK, AstraZeneca, as well as NHS organisations and universities.

Nvidia approached Kao Data in October to discuss the Cambridge-1 project. Kao's CEO Lee Myall said the company was "hooked" as soon as it saw the plans for the UK's most powerful supercomputer, but it was fully aware of the expectations it would bring.

The Cambridge 1 supercomputer at the Kao data centre

"Collaborating with Nvidia comes with an expectation that you'll be operating alongside some of the smartest minds in the industry; that innovation is everything and that you'll be performing at pace. Supercharged pace. Nvidia's Cambridge-1 project has exceeded those expectations," Myall said.

"We went from first contact to a fully agreed plan of deployment in less than a month. And our partnership with one of the world's leading technology companies has paved the way for something truly remarkable to unfold within our Harlow campus."

Bobby Hellard

Bobby Hellard is ITPro's Reviews Editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018. In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.

Bobby mainly covers hardware reviews, but you will also recognize him as the face of many of our video reviews of laptops and smartphones.