Isambard-AI, the UK’s most powerful and sustainable supercomputer, is now up and running

The University of Bristol, home of the Isambard-AI supercomputer, pictured from above at dusk.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Isambard-AI, the UK's most powerful supercomputer, is now officially up and running in what's being touted as a major step forward for AI research across the country. 

Housed at the University of Bristol, the multi-million-pound machine is one of the world's fastest supercomputers and is the second most sustainable in the world, according to researchers.

The new facility will be used by a wide range of organizations for AI research, such as training large language models (LLMs), healthcare and robotics, or AI safety. It's also expected to be used to accelerate automated drug discovery and for climate research.

Viscount Camrose, the UK government’s minister for AI, said the launch of Isambard AI marks a “groundbreaking moment for UK science, innovation, and technology”.

"This world-class equipment will revolutionize research possibilities here in the UK, with our world-first AI Safety Institute among the organizations who are set to benefit by harnessing one of the most powerful computer systems on the planet to drive forward their vital research."

Under the hood of Isambard-AI

Isambard-AI was built using a HPE Cray EX-based system, and leverages more than 5,400 Nvidia GH200 superchips, researchers said.  

Its phase one performance stands at around 7.4 PFLOP/s on the TOP500 – meaning the 168 GPUs can perform 7.4x10^15 operations per second, while for AI the performance is even higher, at 647 PFLOP/s of 8-bit floating point (647x10^15).

Similarly, it ranks 129th in the latest edition of the global TOP500 list of high-performance computing (HPC) systems - and is set for further improvements, according to Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith, director of the Bristol Centre for Supercomputing at the University of Bristol.

"Isambard-AI phase 1 signifies the start of the Isambard-AI service," McIntosh-Smith said.

"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."

Professor Judith Squires, deputy vice chancellor at the University of Bristol, noted that Isambard has been delivered in record time. The project received £225 million in funding from the UK government last year, and has received significant support to achieve operational targets.


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"The speed with which this project is being delivered is testament to the expertise and ambition of our hard-working HPC and AI teams here at the University," Squires said.

The launch of Isambard follows news that the UK has this week joined the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking (EuroHPC), giving it enhanced access to the Horizon Europe-funded portion of the programme, worth over £770 million between 2021 and 2027.

UK scientists can now access eight supercomputers across Europe for research into drug discovery, AI and other applications.

"Supercomputers are essential tools that our best and brightest researchers need to deliver breakthroughs that will grow the economy and improve all our lives, from healthcare to energy security," said science, innovation and technology secretary Michelle Donelan

"I urge researchers to seize this exciting opportunity and bid for EuroHPC support."

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.