New Era of AI Supercomputing in the U.K. Ignited by Dawn Rising

In November 2023, the Cambridge Open Zettascale Lab declared the rollout of the U.K.’s fastest AI supercomputer: Dawn Phase 1.1 Driven by the newest Intel GPUs and CPUs aboard liquid-cooled Dell servers, the Dawn supercomputer combines cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced high-performance computing (HPC) technology to assist researchers in solving the world’s most complex challenges
Expediting discovery
Dawn significantly enhances the U.K.’s AI and simulation compute capacity and facilitates some of the biggest-ever computing workloads for scientific, industrial, and academic research applications. It’s likely to fuel discoveries and advancements across a broad range of compute-intensive research fields—from bioscience to fusion energy and climate modeling.
Director of Cambridge Zero and the Institute of Computing for Climate Science, Professor Emily Shuckburgh, commented, “The fusion of AI and simulation methods is a growing and increasingly necessary aspect of climate research.” “Dawn, an extraordinary new resource at Cambridge, will allow software engineers and researchers at the Institute of Computing for Climate Science to accelerate their work addressing the global challenges associated with climate change,” she added.
Cooperating for the future
Dawn emerged from an inventive co-design partnership among the University of Cambridge, the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), Dell Technologies, and Intel.
“Dawn significantly bolsters the scientific and AI compute capability available in the U.K., and it is functioning on the ground today at the Cambridge Open Zettascale Lab,” stated Adam Roe, EMEA HPC technical director at Intel. “I look forward to the kinds of early science this machine can produce and continue to enhance the Open Zettascale Lab partnership.”
The technology driving this powerhouse
The Dawn Phase 1 supercomputer operates 512 4th Generation Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors and 1,024 Intel® Data Center GPU Max 1550 accelerators on 256 Dell PowerEdge XE9640 server nodes. These Intel Max Series GPUs are Intel’s highest density processor, housing over 100 billion transistors into a 47-tile package and offering up to 128 gigabytes of high bandwidth memory. In addition, innovative direct liquid cooling (DLC) technology integrated into the Dell PowerEdge XE9640 servers provides Dawn with greater levels of compute density, performance per watt, and energy efficiency than traditional air-cooled HPC systems. In STAC-A2 benchmark testing, direct liquid cooling allowed the Dell PowerEdge XE9640 to cool over 3kW in a 2U form factor, offering 4.3x the space efficiency of an air-cooled HPC system and breaking the previous space-efficiency record by 2.3x.2
On the software end, UK SME StackHPC’s Scientific OpenStack equips Dawn with an AI- and simulation-optimized cloud supercomputing software environment. Dawn also employs the oneAPI open software ecosystem and frameworks to help developers quickly optimize for AI and HPC workloads and ensure code portability.
Expanding opportunities 10X-100X faster
Dr. Paul Calleja, Director of Research Computing Services at the University of Cambridge, emphasized the significance of Dawn for scientific research: “The U.K. needs leading-edge computational resources so that its research community can compete on the global stage. Nowadays, science uses simulation and AI as the main driving forces to accelerate that discovery process. Without the compute, without the AI capability, science is held back. With these capabilities, we can push the discovery process 10 times or 100 times faster than without them.”
The Dawn supercomputer also brings the country closer to reaching exascale computing—the compute threshold of a quintillion (10^18) floating point operations per second. This level of compute is needed for ultracomplex simulations and calculations, allowing future revolutionary discoveries in physics, bioscience, climate science, and other critical research.
“Fusion has long been referred to as an exascale grand challenge,” stated Dr. Rob Akers, Director of Computing Programmes & Senior Fellow at UKAEA. “Dawn will form an essential part of a diverse UKRI supercomputing ecosystem, helping to promote high-fidelity simulation and AI capability ensuring that UK science and engineering is first in the queue to exploit the latest innovation in disruptive HPC hardware.”
“I firmly believe that the many collaborations coalescing around Dawn will be a powerful ingredient for extracting value promised by the exascale – for the U.K. to deliver fusion power to the grid in the 2040s,” Dr. Akers added.
Investing in the AI frontier
Dawn is just the beginning. At November’s AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park, UK Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan announced the formation of the AI Research Resource (AIRR). This £300 million investment in AI innovation will partner Dawn with the Isambard-AI supercomputer at the University of Bristol to make a vast amount of AI-specialized HPC capacity available to public researchers, academia, and industry.
Secretary Donelan stated, “Frontier AI models are becoming exponentially more powerful. Britain is seizing the opportunity to lead the world in adopting this technology safely so we can put it to work and lead healthier, easier and longer lives.
“This means giving Britain’s leading researchers and scientific talent access to the tools they need to delve into how this complicated technology works. That is why we are investing in building the U.K.’s supercomputers, ensuring we cement our place as a world leader in AI safety,” Secretary Donelan emphasized.
Preparing for the next Dawn
As the name suggests, Dawn Phase 1 is only the initial step for the Cambridge Open Zettascale Lab’s AI supercomputer. Dawn Phase 2 pledges to elevate AI supercomputing in Great Britain to an even higher level.
“Dawn Phase 1 represents a significant advancement in AI and simulation capability for the U.K., deployed and ready to utilize now,” Dr. Calleja affirmed. “We’ve received very fast results from the machine, so for a system straight out of the blocks, it’s working extremely well.” Dawn made its debut at number 41 on the TOP500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers in November 2023.3 Dr. Calleja disclosed that Cambridge, Dell, and Intel aim to deliver Dawn Phase 2—with 10 times higher AI compute performance—as early as 2024.
Tariq Hussain, Dell Technologies head of UK Public Sector summed up the significance and potential of these types of partnerships for the future of AI development: “Collaborations like [this one], alongside substantial inward investment, are crucial if we want compute to unlock the high-growth AI potential of the U.K. … It’s also important to embrace the full spectrum of the technology ecosystem, including GPU diversity, to ensure customers can address the growing demands of generative AI, industrial simulation modeling and ground-breaking scientific research.”
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[1] Based on Cambridge Open Zettascale Lab’s own performance analysis compared to the TOP500 List June 2023, based on theoretical peak FP16 FLOPS throughput.
[2] Dell Technologies, You Can Have Your GPU and Cool It Too, November 6, 2023, accessed December 2023.
[3] TOP500 List November 2023

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