Edinburgh to be home to new national 'supercomputer'

By Laura Goodwin
Innovation Correspondent

Supercomputer at Edinburgh University
Image caption,
The current supercomputer was first unveiled in 2013

Edinburgh University is to be home to a new £79m national supercomputer.

The announcement was made as part of Chancellor Philip Hammond's Spring Statement.

It will replace the current supercomputer, the £43m Archer system which was first unveiled in 2013 and is capable of more than one million billion calculations a second.

The new model, Archer2, will be five times quicker than the UK's current capabilities.

While much of technology gets increasingly smaller with time, the current Archer has its own room at the Advanced Computing Facility at Easter Bush.

It has been housed in the Edinburgh University facility for over a decade.

The room is also filled with noise as thousands of servers process complex problems amid a drone of cooling fans.

At one point it was in the top 20 most powerful computers in the world.

Image caption,
Supercomputer Archer is housed at the University of Edinburgh

However the new Archer2 will elevate the UK's position within that table ensuring the UK is once again at the cutting edge of supercomputing capability.

Supercomputers are capable of analysing huge amounts of data and can deal with multiple requests at a time.

They are commonly used to model weather patterns, to calculate airflow around aircraft and to design cars.

Experts also believe they will be key to breakthroughs in medical treatments for conditions including HIV and arthritis.

'New science'

Paul Clark is the director of high performance computing systems at EPCC, the university's supercomputing centre.

He said: "Most other industrial nations invest heavily in their supercomputer infrastructure.

"Supercomputers are used across many sectors, they generate jobs, they generate innovation and new science.

"Making sure the UK is at the forefront of that is critical."

The university will work with United Kingdom Research and Innovation to install Archer2 over the next year.

Archer2 is part of a £200m investment by HM Treasury in research and technology.

Philip Hammond said that remaining at the forefront of the technology revolution was a key pillar of the government's strategy as he announced funding for the project.

He joked that perhaps with the right algorithms Archer2 might even be able to come up with a solution to the backstop.

Other projects to benefit include £81m for medical laser research in Oxfordshire and £45m to further genetic research in Cambridge.