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Edinburgh to lead new era of UK supercomputing

09 Oct 2023

The UK’s first next-generation supercomputer – 50 times faster than any of the country’s existing machines – is to be hosted by the University of Edinburgh.

The UK Government has announced the University as the preferred location for the exascale supercomputer, which will be able to perform one billion billion calculations each second.

Once operational, it will provide high-performance computing capability for key research and industry projects across the UK.

Exascale will help researchers model all aspects of the world, test scientific theories and improve products and services in areas such as artificial intelligence, drug discovery, climate change, astrophysics and advanced engineering.

The computer – one of only a handful of its kind in the world – is funded by the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). It will be managed by EPCC, the University’s supercomputing centre.

Exascale will be housed in a new £31 million wing of EPCC’s Advanced Computing Facility, which has been purpose-built as part of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal.

This investment means Edinburgh is one of the few places in Europe able to host a computer of such enormous scale, experts say.

Installation of the first phase is due to begin in 2025.

Ian Hatch, Edinburgh Innovations’ Head of Business Development for the College of Science and Engineering, said:

This is fantastic news for the EPCC, the University of Edinburgh and all our partners. The industrial opportunities of exascale computing range from optimising manufacturing processes to developing new materials, molecular modelling, designing better renewable energy technology and space exploration, as well as a raft of applications in financial services, pharmaceuticals and life sciences.
Computing at this scale will enable our experts and industry partners to tackle the biggest and most complex problems together. ”

Professor Sir Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, said:

We are thrilled to be chosen to host this significant leap forward in the UK’s supercomputing capabilities.
Bringing the Exascale computer to Edinburgh is a testament to our expertise in managing such world-class facilities, and the depth of global talent in computer science and AI within the University.
“Exascale’s power will help all who work with it to untangle some of the world’s knottiest problems, ensure the UK is prepared for the data-driven future, and further establish Edinburgh as the data capital of Europe. ”

Professor Mark Parsons, EPCC Director, said:

I’m immensely proud that Edinburgh through EPCC has been chosen to host the UK’s first Exascale system.
“These supercomputers are immensely complex systems, and we’ll use everything we’ve learnt over the past 30 years to run the best possible service for our thousands of users from across the UK’s scientific and industrial research communities. ”

The University has been home to the UK’s high-performance computing services for more than 30 years, and it hosts the country’s current national supercomputer, ARCHER2.

Funding for the new supercomputer was announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in the Spring Budget as part of an investment of around £900 million in both exascale and a separate AI Research Resource.

Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary 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 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 £900m investment in uplifting the UK’s computing capacity, helping us drive stronger economic growth, create the high-skilled jobs of the future and unlock bold new discoveries that improve people's lives. ”

Exascale is the latest in a series of nationally strategic computing and AI developments at Edinburgh since the University established research hubs in the disciplines 60 years ago.

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Ian Hatch

Head of Business Development at the College of Science and Engineering