The UK will struggle to cement its position as a science and technology “superpower” and unlock its growth potential without a long-term, nationally coordinated public compute infrastructure strategy.
That’s according to the findings of the government’s Future of compute review, which describes the UK’s current public compute infrastructure as being “fragmented”, lacking long-term vision and in need of “several interventions” if it’s to play its part in unlocking the “world-leading high-growth potential of the UK”.
The UK’s compute landscape consists of three “somewhat overlapping” deployment areas, according to the report, which are becoming more tightly aligned.
These areas include artificial intelligence (AI) applications, science-related modelling and simulation workloads, and cloud.
“All three of these types of compute are converging – AI compute can be done on the cloud, high-performance computing (HPC) access models are becoming more cloud-like, and HPC is supporting more and more AI workloads,” the report stated.
But public investment in compute for AI resources is “seriously lagging” despite the “economic value of AI” being “undeniable”, and this is one of the reasons why, as stated in the report, “several interventions” are needed now “if we want compute to unlock the world-leading, high-growth potential of the UK”.
These interventions include the publication in 2023 of a 10-year “strategic vision” for the UK national compute infrastructure, as well as the establishment of a national coordination body to deliver on this plan, and immediate investments in building out an exascale compute-focused technological roadmap so the UK does not fall behind other nations.
Furthermore, the roadmap should be published by spring 2024 and detail how the UK’s strategic vision for compute will be implemented, the report added.
“The UK’s public compute infrastructure is fragmented and we do not currently have a long-term plan,” the report continued. “We need a national coordination body to deliver the vision for compute that can provide long-term stability and adapt to the rapid pace of change in compute technology.
“We [also] need to increase capacity for AI research immediately to power the UK’s impressive AI research community and plan for further AI capacity as part of our exascale system.”
At the same time, the UK also needs to invest in building out a skilled workforce and find ways to capitalise on the “long-standing and valuable” collaborations it has previously struck with the United States, Japan and various European Union members to support its plans.
The report makes 10 recommendations in total that its authors state must be implemented in a “holistic” fashion to enable the UK’s compute strategy to play its part in helping the government achieve economic growth, meet its net-zero targets, and secure the nation’s status as a science and technology superpower by 2030.
“By acting now, the government will not only ensure the UK remains a prosperous country, but also deliver invaluable societal benefits,” the report continued. “The UK is currently an international technology hub, a leader in research and innovation, and hosts world-leading universities.
“To capitalise on and further grow these strengths, the government must ensure the country has the necessary compute resources now, over the next decade and beyond. Inaction will be to the detriment of the UK’s scientific capability, innovative economy and overall international reputation.”