Edinburgh puts itself on the global tech map with a radical approach to data innovation

world of data BY KEVIN O’SULLIVAN

On the outskirts of Edinburgh, a climate-controlled facility is qui- etly homing a row of large boxes, which at first sight look not too dissimilar to soft drinks vending machines. Te colourful array, however,

dispenses not fizzy juice but instead are powerful computers designed to perform billions of calculations in mere seconds. Affectionately named ‘Archer’,

these vast number-crunching machines, once the latest upgrade is complete, will be able to carry out truly unimaginable computa- tional leaps. Te ‘30-petaflop’ system is part

of a £79m upgrade to Britain’s supercomputing centre, which sits in a business trading estate outside of the capital. Once it is completed in sum-

mer, it will be one of the concrete steps on the way to remaking Edinburgh and its surrounds into the ‘data capital of Europe’, a vision inherent to the data focus of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal. One of the services the upgrade

will support is the new Edin- burgh International Data Facility

(EIDF), and its opening will be part of a timed sequence of unveilings for core elements that support the university’s Data- Driven Innovation (DDI) initia- tive. Jarmo Eskelinen, director of

the programme and former chief innovation and technology of- ficer at the Future Cities catapult in London, says: “Te facility is at the heart of the programme and much of the ambition we have for data will depend on the investment into its computational power. It is critical, and under- pins the entire programme.”

The EIDF is very much the hub for the city’s digital and data ambition; although configured as a high security data centre, many of its services will be delivered on the Cloud. Researchers from aca- demia, industry and Scotland’s public sector will increasingly be able to analyse large data sets to drive the coming wave of automa- tion and artificial intelligence. Tis has the potential to revolu- tionise the way we do healthcare, predict weather patterns, test engine safety in aviation, and model financial risk. It would not be an exaggeration


Finding its ‘edge’ in a

to say that the £660m DDI initia- tive will be the centrifugal force powering a host of new research facilities that are being built in the coming years. Already, the Univer- sity of Edinburgh’s Bayes Centre, which opened in October 2018, has disrupted the notion of what constitutes an academic building. Te open plan, multi-storeyed

facility has become a hive of activ- ity for PhD researchers in diverse data-related research fields to mix

with companies and third sector organisations pushing the bound- aries of technology: names includ- ing BigML, Cognihealth, Jearni, neurolabs and SageCity mingle with Te Data Lab – Scotland’s AI and data science innovation centre – and Nesta, the innova- tion foundation. Tat co-location and co-working model will be pursued when DDI activities of three other hubs eventually come on stream. In 2021, the National

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