Nvidia plans to launch UK’s ‘most powerful supercomputer’ by end of year

6 Oct 2020

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Nvidia’s Cambridge-1 supercomputer will be used by companies such as GSK and AstraZeneca, as well as researchers from academia and the NHS.

On Monday (5 October), technology business Nvidia announced plans to build what it believes will be the UK’s “most power supercomputer”, which will be used to advance AI research in healthcare.

The company, which is headquartered in Santa Clara, said that the computer will be available to healthcare researchers in the UK who want to use AI to solve pressing medical challenges, including those presented by Covid-19.

Nvidia expects its Cambridge-1 supercomputer to come online by the end of the year. It will be an Nvidia DGX SuperPOD system, capable of delivering more than 400 petaflops of AI performance and 8 petaflops of Linpack performance, according to the company.

It estimates that the Cambridge-1 would rank in 29th place in the latest Top500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. Currently topping the list is Japan’s Fugaku supercomputer.

Research into healthcare

Among the first companies to use the Cambridge-1 for research will be pharma giants GSK and AstraZeneca. Dr Hal Barron, chief scientific officer and president of research and development at GSK, said that he is “delighted” to see this type of technology made available to scientists in the UK.

“AI and machine learning are like a new microscope that will help scientists to see things that they couldn’t see otherwise,” Barron said. “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.”

In a statement, Nvidia said that researchers from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, King’s College London and Oxford Nanopore Technologies also plan to take advantage of the system.

Jensen Huang, founder and chief executive of Nvidia, said: “Tackling the world’s most pressing challenges in healthcare requires massively powerful computing resources to harness the capabilities of AI.

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

The announcement comes less than a month after Nvidia announced plans to acquire Cambridge-based Arm in a $40bn deal. At the time, the company said it would create an AI centre of excellence in Cambridge, featuring an Arm-powered AI supercomputer.

Key focus areas

Nvidia said that the system in Cambridge will aim to support and further enable the UK ecosystem of healthcare and life science researchers. It will have four key focus areas: joint industry research; university-granted compute time; supporting AI start-ups; and educating future AI practitioners.

In regards to joint industry research, Nvidia said that the supercomputer could help solve large-scale healthcare and data science problems that otherwise could not be tackled due to their size. This could result in improved patient outcomes, increased success rates and decreased overall healthcare costs, according to the company.

It will also be donating access to Nvidia’s graphic processing unit as a resource for specific studies to contribute to research seeking cures for various conditions. To support start-ups, the firm is providing opportunities to learn and collaborate so that it can support the next generation of businesses and provide early access to AI tools.

Nvidia’s system will serve as a destination for researchers, it added, while providing hands-on experiences to prospective experts.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic