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Atos signs £5m supercomputing deal to support Oxford University-led AI research push

University-led push to accelerate the pace of machine learning and artificial intelligence research in UK enters new phase with the deployment of a second supercomputer

Oxford University is expanding its artificial intelligence (AI)-focused supercomputing capabilities with the help of Atos, after signing a four-year, £5m contract with the French IT services company.

The deal will see Atos provide the university with access to a deep-learning supercomputer, based on Nvidia’s DGX SuperPOD architecture, which will be used by the UK academic community to accelerate research into AI, machine learning and molecular dynamics.

The setup, once deployed, will be the largest AI-focused supercomputer in the UK, it is claimed, with 500 Nvidia-based graphics processing units (GPUs).

The deployment is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and will be the second supercomputer of its kind to be deployed under the university’s ongoing Joint Academic Data science Endeavour (JADE) project.

The first phase of the JADE project saw the university pool resources with a consortium of eight other universities, and the data science research-focused organisation, the Alan Turing Institute, to create a supercomputing facility.

The second phase of the project is being supported by an additional 14 universities, and is designed to build on the success of the first by tripling the amount of supercomputing capacity made available to these organisations.

“The JADE facility has provided a nucleus around which a national consortium of AI researchers has formed, making it the de facto national compute facility for AI research,” said a posting on the EPSRC website. “By providing a much-needed shared resource to these communities, JADE has also delivered an outstanding level of world-leading science.

“JADE2 will build upon these successes by providing increased computational capabilities to these communities and delivering a stronger, more robust service to address the lessons learned from the initial service.”

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Wes Armour, a professor at the university, said the success of the first phase of JADE had led to increased demand from UK researchers for access to supercomputing capabilities, which is why JADE2 is needed.

“Building on the success of the JADE collaboration with Atos, and by significantly expanding the JADE consortium’s computing capacity, the new deep learning supercomputer supplied by Atos will allow us to meet this demand and help many institutions to make some potentially ground-breaking discoveries,” said Armour.

“It will cement JADE’s status as the de facto national computing facility for academic AI research.”

Agnès Boudot,  senior vice-president and head of high-performance computing and quantum at Atos, said the system – which will be hosted at a specialist facility in Daresbury, Warrington – will support the UK in its bid to become a world leader in the field of AI and machine learning.

“We are proud to be working with the University of Oxford on the delivery of JADE2, which will provide researchers and industry with more computing power to enable new scientific breakthroughs and innovation in machine learning and AI,” said Boudot.

“We believe this high-performance system, coupled with our expertise, will help the UK to address key AI and machine learning challenges, while supporting the UK’s ambition to be a world leader in these areas.”

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