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Could quantum computing be one of the first cloud-only technologies?

Although quantum computing is still in the early stages, and practical applications for it still need to be developed, there is no doubt that the technology’s impressive processing power holds the potential to have a major impact across vertical industries.

It’s only a matter of time before the ability to create and deploy quantum solutions becomes a competitive differentiator, allowing some companies to better leverage the wealth of data they have collected to uncover new insights. But building proficiency in new technologies takes years and can be expensive; however, many experts argue that the time is right to start developing internal quantum expertise. With a technology that is just emerging, how and where should enterprises start?

Putting quantum computing to use

Last week, Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched three new quantum initiatives designed to help enterprises struggling with this challenge. Amazon Bracket allows data scientists to work with qubits and test quantum circuits in a simulated environment, and then run them on quantum hardware from D-Wave, IonQ and Rigetti. (AWS plans to add additional options in the coming months.)

To further innovation in quantum, AWS also announced plans to open an AWS Center for Quantum Computing next to the Caltech campus in California, where it envisions bringing together experts to address the possibility of developing technology that enables broader production of quantum computers and to explore applications for quantum computing.

Additionally, AWS plans to establish an Amazon Quantum Solutions Lab where customers can explore quantum use cases alongside with Google experts and partners (1Qbit, Rahko, Rigetti, QCWare, QSimulate, Xanadu, and Zapata are already signed up) and develop internal teams of quantum experts.

It’s no surprise then that the large hyper-scale cloud providers are eager to cultivate demand for quantum processing while at the same time establishing a foothold in the quantum space. (Google, Microsoft, and IBM are all exploring Quantum opportunities). Quantum computing may be one of the first, true, cloud-only technologies. It is cost-prohibitive for most organisations to consider purchasing their own quantum computers. Furthermore, the hardware is too unstable to easily maintain. Quantum computers are extremely susceptible to magnetic, electrical or thermal interference and require highly specialised environmental conditions. Therefore, most organisations that want to use quantum processing will need to purchase cloud-based services. However, unlike its competitors Google and IBM, Amazon hasn’t developed its own quantum processor. Instead, it is looking to be a facilitator, offering a platform to help companies start exploring the quantum computing capabilities of other vendors, similar to Microsoft’s approach. This may change given its investment in the AWS Center for Quantum Computing, which is exploring hardware development. However, for the time being, it’s a wise approach given growing preference by customers to have a variety of processing options at their disposal – whether on-premises, in the cloud, in multi-clouds, or at the edge. Furthermore, the initiatives establish a foothold in the quantum space, which Amazon desperately needs to keep up with its peers.

Use cases for quantum

But what will customers use quantum processing services for? Today, quantum is expected to have applications in energy management, engineering, pharmaceuticals and machine learning, but there are likely numerous other applications yet to be uncovered. And since the technology is evolving quickly, much remains to be seen. Just a few months ago Google confirmed its Sycamore quantum computer had achieved quantum supremacy, meaning it had performed calculations that today’s high-speed computers could not accomplish in a reasonable amount of time. (The Sycamore quantum processor, using 53-qubits, performed calculations in 200 seconds that would have taken traditional supercomputers over 10,000 years to complete.) Further breakthroughs are expected.

Quantum simulation possibilities

Against this backdrop of change and uncertainty, is it too early to begin experimenting with quantum? And is it worth the time and money? Answers to these questions will vary by individual company and industry. For those that want to kick the tires of quantum, AWS is a familiar partner and good place to start. But it certainly isn’t the only vendor providing quantum simulation and quantum solutions. IBM offers IBM Q, a commercial portfolio that includes quantum simulation as well as quantum processing at its Quantum Computation Center; Atos offers Quantum Learning Machine for quantum simulation, and hardware vendors such as Rigetti also offer solutions for enterprises interested in experimenting with quantum algorithms. But regardless of whether companies decide to move ahead now or adopt a wait and see approach, quantum is an emerging technology worth watching, especially by companies using complex scientific and mathematical algorithms to operate and differentiate their businesses.

NS Tech and GlobalData are part of the same group