UK Exascale comes a big step closer

22 May 2023

In June 2022, the world’s first officially recognised Exascale supercomputer was announced at the International Supercomputing Conference in Germany. Named “Frontier”, the supercomputer is an HPE Cray Ex system, built on the same underlying platform as ARCHER2 but with different processors.

To win the prize, Frontier demonstrated sustained numerical performance of 1.102 Exaflop/s while consuming around 21MW of electrical power. To get this performance within reasonable power and cost budgets, the system is built from a combination of traditional CPUs and GPU accelerators. Each node (or server) in the system has one CPU (an AMD Trento processor) and four GPUs (AMD’s MI250X accelerators) with the GPUs providing a huge boost in numerical performance. 

As a comparison, ARCHER2 has 5,860 nodes which deliver 19.5 Petaflop/s of performance. Frontier has 9,472 nodes which deliver 1.102 Exaflop/s – making each node 35 times more powerful than ARCHER2 but using 10 times less power per Flop. We can now multiply two 64-bit floating point numbers using 19 picojoules – truly remarkable energy efficiency.

This is a tremendous achievement for the world of supercomputing and hopefully something we’ll be able to demonstrate in the UK shortly. For more than a decade EPCC has been working to provide an Exascale supercomputing service for the UK’s scientific and industrial research communities. In March 2023, this goal moved much closer thanks to the publication of the Future of Compute Review report and subsequently the Government’s Spring Budget. The report builds upon the work by Sir Patrick Vallance’s team at the Government Office of Science and recommends that “the Government should commit to the path to Exascale, via the adoption of a phased approach. This would deliver Exascale-ready public capability immediately, adding further hardware that increases the capability to full Exascale by 2026”.

The Spring Budget then included the commitment that “in line with two of the key recommendations of the Future of Compute Review, the government will invest, subject to the usual business case processes, in the region of £900 million to build an Exascale supercomputer and to establish a new AI Research Resource, with initial investments starting this year”. We are now in that approvals process with the expectation of an initial system in 2024, growing to full Exascale by 2026.

EPCC, with the full support of the University of Edinburgh, has been preparing our ACF data centre for Exascale for the past six years. To date we have invested £20m in Computer Room 4 (currently configured as a 6MW room) and a further £9m in a new 30MW power supply to site dedicated to the new room. We are ready, today, to host the initial system. With the addition of further cooling and power distribution capability we will be ready to install the full Exascale system in 2026.

The Government’s announcements are really important for UK science and industry. They recognise the importance of large-scale computing to drive innovation through advanced modelling and simulation and also the ability to train the largest AI models. The UK will be back where it belongs – at the forefront of computational science and innovation.

HPC services at EPCC


Prof Mark Parsons
Mark Parsons