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Cambridge to host UK’s most powerful supercomputer

The Cambridge-1 supercomputer, based on technology from Nvidia, will be used for AI-powered drug discovery and analysis of NHS datasets

Cambridge is set to become home to the UK’s most powerful supercomputer: the Cambridge-1. Based on the Nvidia DGX SuperPOD system, Cambridge-1 will deliver 400 petaflops of artificial intelligence (AI) performance and 8 petaflops of Linpack performance.

According to Nvidia, the performance of Cambridge-1 will make it the 29th most powerful supercomputer in the Top500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers and put it in the world’s top three most energy-efficient supercomputers on the Green500 list.

GSK and AstraZeneca, together with researchers from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, King’s College London and Oxford Nanopore Technologies, plan to use the new system.

Discussing the use of AI in the pharmaceutical sector, James Weatherall, head of data science and AI at AstraZeneca, said: “The use of big data, supercomputing and artificial intelligence have the potential to transform research and development, from target identification through clinical research and all the way to the launch of new medicines.”

Cambridge-1 will also be used to support NHS medical researchers. Ian Abbs, chief executive and chief medical officer of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We need to ensure AI researchers have access to the largest and most comprehensive datasets that the NHS has to offer, our clinical expertise, and the required computational infrastructure to make sense of the data. This approach is not only necessary, but also the only ethical way to deliver AI in healthcare – more advanced AI means better care for our patients.”

Nvidia said Cambridge-1 would be the first of its supercomputers designed and built for external research access. The £50m system, powered by 80 Nvidia DGX A100 systems connected by Nvidia Mellanox InfiniBand networking, will be used to enable researchers to run AI training, inference and data science workloads at scale.

According to Nvidia, while traditional supercomputers can take years to deploy, the modular DGX SuperPOD architecture enables the system to be installed and operational in as little as a few weeks.

“The Cambridge-1 supercomputer will serve as a hub of innovation for the UK, and further the ground-breaking work being done by the nation’s researchers in critical healthcare and drug discovery”
Jensen Huang, Nvidia

Sebastien Ourselin, head of the school of biomedical engineering and imaging sciences at King’s College London, added: “Recent advances in AI have seen increasingly powerful models being used for complex tasks such as image recognition and natural language understanding. These models have achieved previously unimaginable performance by using an unprecedented scale of computational power, amassing millions of GPU [graphics processing unit] hours per model.”

Nvidia’s vice-president of healthcare, Kimberly Powell, said the company has been working with GSK on developing AI infrastructure based on the company’s DX800 architecture that can be used to power drug discovery applications.

Hal Barron, chief scientific officer and president of research and development at GSK, said: “AI and machine learning are like a new microscope that will help scientists to see things that they couldn’t see otherwise. Nvidia’s investment in computing, combined with the power of deep learning, will enable solutions to some of the life sciences industry’s greatest challenges and help us continue to deliver transformational medicines and vaccines to patients.”

“Tackling the world’s most pressing challenges in healthcare requires massively powerful computing resources to harness the capabilities of AI,” said Jensen Huang, founder and CEO of Nvidia. “The Cambridge-1 supercomputer will serve as a hub of innovation for the UK, and further the ground-breaking work being done by the nation’s researchers in critical healthcare and drug discovery.”

To tie in with its intention to acquire ARM, Nvidia previously announced that it intends to create an AI centre of excellence in Cambridge, featuring a new ARM-based supercomputer, which will serve as a hub of collaboration for AI researchers, scientists and startups across the UK. As these plans develop, Cambridge-1 will become a part of this centre of excellence. Nvidia said the centre would be expanded to include further supercomputers and support more industries across the UK.

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