Despite having been in development for decades, quantum computing largely remains the domain of researchers and scientists, with commonplace commercial use cases still a far-off prospect for IT providers that may one day want to ply their trade in the quantum realm.
However, this might finally be changing, with industry analyst firm Technology Business Research (TBR) suggesting that the quantum computing market will evolve from research-centric to commercial use cases as the technology reaches “quantum advantage” within the next four years.
Once this occurs, the analyst firm suggests, developments will be rapid and organisations with the foundation built to take advantage of quantum computing will quickly reap the rewards of their early investments.
Indeed, TBR predicts that quantum computing will impact multiple aspects of the IT environment, from power consumption to data generation to classical computing tie-ins.
Moreover, and of particular importance to enterprises and the IT providers that service them, the swift impact of quantum computing is expected to be a key factor in determining who wins and who loses in the looming technological transformation such technology could result in.
By now, the idea behind quantum computing is fairly well established. Unlike classical computing, which uses digital bits as binary switches to carry out calculations, quantum computing makes use of the unusual properties of subatomic quantum bits – or qubits – to perform calculations.
While traditional computing relies on ones and zeros, qubits can be both one and zero at the same time. In theory, this property allows calculations to be done in tandem with each other on a huge scale which, in practical terms, means being able to crunch huge amounts of data quickly, solving problems that are too complex or time-consuming for existing computers.
Here’s how industry analyst firm Gartner describes the technology:
“Quantum computing is a type of non-classical computing that operates on the quantum state of subatomic particles. The particles represent information as elements denoted as quantum bits (qubits). A qubit can represent all possible values simultaneously (superposition) until read. Qubits can be linked with other qubits, a property known as entanglement. Quantum algorithms manipulate linked qubits in their undetermined, entangled state, a process that can address problems with vast combinatorial complexity.”
Microsoft, Google, IBM and other technology companies are all developing quantum computers – and quantum computing programming models – using a range of approaches.
A range of ancillary services, including classical computer-powered environments designed to emulate quantum computers, letting developers test out quantum algorithms without having to fork out for quantum run-time, have also sprung up around the promise of real quantum hardware.
Among the first round of clients was Australia’s University of Melbourne, along with, JPMorgan Chase, Daimler AG, Samsung, JSR Corporation, Barclays, Hitachi Metals, Honda, Nagase, Keio University, Oak Ridge National Lab and Oxford University in the UK.
The organisations served as founding members of the IBM Q Network, set up to provide partner organisations with quantum expertise and resources, along with cloud-based access to universal quantum computing systems and their associated technology stacks, starting with the 20-qubit IBM Q system.
Microsoft is also working on quantum hardware and an accompanying technology stack. In February this year, Microsoft’s Azure Quantum, a public cloud ecosystem for building quantum computing applications, was made available for use in a public preview phase.
A key component of the platform is Microsoft’s open source Quantum Development Kit with the Q# language for quantum programming.
Meanwhile, in 2019, Google claimed to have achieved a breakthrough in computing research by using a quantum computer to solve in minutes a complex problem that would take the top supercomputer at the time thousands of years to crack – claims that IBM questioned at the time.
Indeed, Google has been racing rivals, including IBM and Microsoft, to be among the first to commercialise the technology and sell it through cloud computing unit, as the other leaders in the pack have done.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) has taken a slightly different approach, eschewing internally developed quantum computing infrastructure and instead partnering with existing quantum hardware players like D-Wave, IonQ, and Rigetti.
That said, Microsoft also partners with IonQ, along with the likes of Honeywell and Quantum Circuits Inc for its quantum computing capabilities.
In late 2019, AWS released – in preview – its Amazon Braket offering, a fully managed AWS service that provides a development environment for users to explore and build quantum algorithms, test them on quantum circuit simulators and run them on different quantum hardware technologies.
Drawing upon its quantum hardware providers, the company made Braket generally available in the United States last year.
Given this recent history in the commercial quantum computing space, initial access to quantum computing infrastructure for the broader market alike has largely been a cloud-centric story.
But as the power of quantum computing becomes more widely understood, accelerating access to quantum technology and quantum-like capabilities has become a key focus of vendors in the industry worldwide, according to TBR senior analyst Stephanie Long.
In fact, the development of COVID-19 vaccines has worked to highlight the value quantum computing can have in accelerating drug discovery, creation, manufacture and distribution once the technology can be fully harnessed.
This is just one, if prominent, real-world use case for such technology. Direct application of quantum computing also exists in climate change, a top global concern, and sustainability, a focus of major corporations, Long suggested.
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