Microsoft to invest £2.5bn in doubling AI datacentre capacity in UK


Microsoft is to invest £2.5bn over the next three years in the UK to more than double the size of the datacentre footprint underpinning its artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.

It has also committed to training more than one million UK citizens in using AI technologies, and has pledged to partner with the government and UK universities to research AI safety measures.

“Microsoft will spend £2.5bn over the next three years to expand its next-generation AI datacentre infrastructure, bringing more than 20,000 of the most advanced graphics processing units [GPUs] – which are crucial for machine learning and the development of AI models – to the UK by 2026,” said a government statement about the investment.

The software giant further claims the £2.5bn constitutes the largest investment it has made in the UK in its 40-year history, and will allow the company to expand its AI infrastructure within its existing datacentre locations of London and Cardiff. The company said it is also exploring a potential expansion of its datacentre footprint into Northern England.

The investment has won the support of UK prime minister Rishi Sunak, who talked up the important role this investment will play in the UK’s bid to become an AI superpower.

“Microsoft [is] one of the founding fathers of modern technology and today’s announcement is a turning point for the future of AI infrastructure and development in the UK,” said Sunak.

“The UK started the global conversation on AI [at the UK government’s AI Safety Summit], and Microsoft’s historic investment is further evidence of the leading role we continue to play in expanding the frontiers of AI to harness its economic and scientific benefits.”  

The chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the investment comes hot on the heels of the £500m commitment to building out the UK’s compute capabilities he announced in November’s Autumn Statement.

“The UK is the tech hub of Europe with an ecosystem worth more than that of Germany and France combined – and this investment is another vote of confidence in us as a science superpower,” he said.

“And it follows the £500m investment in compute that I committed to in my Autumn statement last week, taking our investment in advanced computing for AI to £1.5bn – a down payment on the job and economic growth it will bring to the UK.”

Microsoft opened its first UK datacentre region in September 2016, with the Ministry of Defence as its anchor tenant, and the move is credited with helping the firm increase the amount of money the public sector spends with it each year.

Clare Barclay, CEO of Microsoft UK, said the investment is a show of Microsoft’s commitment to helping meet the growing demand for AI technologies in the UK.

“The pace of change in AI demands action today to build a prosperous future for the UK tomorrow,” she said. “As business and the public sector embrace the AI opportunity, we are building the infrastructure that will support the growth they need, training the people who can deliver it responsibly and securing our society against emergent threats.”  

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