Quantum Computing in the Cloud: Amazon Joins IBM and Microsoft
Andrew Wheeler posted on December 17, 2019 |

Amazon is now offering some of its enterprise customers the ability to explore quantum computing over the cloud. Enterprise customers such as Boeing are collaborating with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to explore how developing and testing quantum algorithms in simulations could lead to breakthroughs in advanced material research. IBM has been offering quantum cloud computing services to select customers since 2016.

To be clear, there are no quantum computing applications in use at this time. And no quantum computer does anything that remotely resembles practical work. But big tech is anticipating a quantum computing age, and IBM, Microsoft, and now Amazon have been pestered long enough by their big enterprise customers to get started exploring this quantum future.

Braket

The AWS product is called Braket, a name that comes from the bra-ket notation used to describe quantum states. Bra-ket notation was created by the Nobel Prize winning physicist Paul Dirac in 1939.

According to Amazon, Braket is currently “in preview” but will launch to all AWS customers in 2020. Amazon is joining Microsoft, IBM and Google in the fight to commercialize quantum computing for enterprise customers.

Since the computing hardware that powers quantum computers is notoriously fickle, quantum cloud computing is attractive for enterprise customers that seek to benefit from the technology without having to be responsible for quantum computing hardware maintenance and repair. Quantum computers are also incredibly expensive to build, maintain and repair.

The select Amazon clients that will use Braket will have access to experiment with multiple quantum computers from companies like Rigetti Computing, IonO and D-Wave Systems.

Microsoft, IBM and Amazon are currently allowing their enterprise customers to experiment with quantum cloud computing and explore new applications to advance their specific industry interests. But IBM has been offering enterprise customers access to its quantum computers since 2016, and Microsoft announced last month that it would be offering its customers the use of multiple quantum computers, so what’s the difference between them?

The Differences in IBM, Microsoft and Amazon’s Quantum Cloud Computing Services

The first difference is perhaps the most significant: IBM has its own quantum computers, while Microsoft and Amazon do not. IBM developers can join their Q Network and use the open-source programming framework Qiskit to interact with their quantum computers. IBM’s Q System One, touted as the world’s first integrated universal quantum computing system for commercial applications, is only accessible through the cloud.

Pictured here is IBM’s Q System One. JPMorgan Chase is the main financial services partner with IBM to develop and pioneer quantum computing applications for the financial industry that will improve trading, risk analysis and portfolio optimization, among other things. Daimler AG will be working with IBM to create new use cases for quantum computing in the automotive and transportation sectors, including optimizing manufacturing processes and fleet logistics, as well as exploring quantum chemistry to discover new materials. Samsung is working with the Q System One over the cloud to understand how quantum computing could help improve its material science processes and explore the impact it may have on the company’s semiconductor and electronics interests. (Image courtesy of IBM.)
Pictured here is IBM’s Q System One. JPMorgan Chase is the main financial services partner with IBM to develop and pioneer quantum computing applications for the financial industry that will improve trading, risk analysis and portfolio optimization, among other things. Daimler AG will be working with IBM to create new use cases for quantum computing in the automotive and transportation sectors, including optimizing manufacturing processes and fleet logistics, as well as exploring quantum chemistry to discover new materials. Samsung is working with the Q System One over the cloud to understand how quantum computing could help improve its material science processes and explore the impact it may have on the company’s semiconductor and electronics interests. (Image courtesy of IBM.)

Microsoft announced its quantum computing cloud service Azure Quantum in early November. Azure Quantum offers both free and paid access to prototype quantum computers, as does IBM’s Q Network. Azure Quantum is not available at this time.

Microsoft’s quantum hardware partners are Honeywell, IonQ and QCI. Honeywell and IonQ use quantum processors that write data using single ions that cannot escape electromagnetic fields. QCI uses the other approach to quantum computing hardware. It uses superconductive circuitry, which is also the technique favored by Google, IBM and Amazon.

Microsoft has at least one partner involved in Azure Quantum: Dow Chemical, which is exploring quantum computing to make headway on extremely difficult chemistry problems. Its service will be open to the public soon.

Amazon’s Braket is using IonQ (like Microsoft) and two others: the D-Wave 2000Q and the Rigetti 16Q Aspen-4.

The D-Wave 2000Q, also known as “The Fridge,” is a closed-cycle dilution refrigerator, meaning the superconducting processor generates zero heat. It is 180 times colder than interstellar space! It’s environment shielded to achieve an internal magnetic field 50,000 times less than Earth’s. The superconducting processor generates no heat, is cooled to 180x colder than interstellar space, and consumes under 25kW of power. (Image courtesy of D-Wave.)
The D-Wave 2000Q, also known as “The Fridge,” is a closed-cycle dilution refrigerator, meaning the superconducting processor generates zero heat. It is 180 times colder than interstellar space! It’s environment shielded to achieve an internal magnetic field 50,000 times less than Earth’s. The superconducting processor generates no heat, is cooled to 180x colder than interstellar space, and consumes under 25kW of power. (Image courtesy of D-Wave.)
The Rigetti 16Q Aspen-4 could potentially be used to calculate molecular properties, enabling chemists to create refined medications and help researchers develop more efficient energy storage and safe industrial materials. The California-based company is hoping that machine learning training on quantum computers will unfold new discoveries in pattern matching, voice recognition, computer vision and machine translation. It also hopes that quantum computers like the Rigetti 16Q Aspen-4 used by Amazon’s Braket customers will help enterprise customers solve complex optimization problems in shipping and logistics. Rigetti had already been offering users access to quantum computing over the cloud prior to the Amazon announcement. The company recently built a 128-qubit quantum computer, but cloud users can only access 16 qubits to run quantum algorithms and explore development over the cloud. (Image courtesy of Rigetti.)
The Rigetti 16Q Aspen-4 could potentially be used to calculate molecular properties, enabling chemists to create refined medications and help researchers develop more efficient energy storage and safe industrial materials. The California-based company is hoping that machine learning training on quantum computers will unfold new discoveries in pattern matching, voice recognition, computer vision and machine translation. It also hopes that quantum computers like the Rigetti 16Q Aspen-4 used by Amazon’s Braket customers will help enterprise customers solve complex optimization problems in shipping and logistics. Rigetti had already been offering users access to quantum computing over the cloud prior to the Amazon announcement. The company recently built a 128-qubit quantum computer, but cloud users can only access 16 qubits to run quantum algorithms and explore development over the cloud. (Image courtesy of Rigetti.)

As an addendum to the unveiling of Braket, Amazon announced that it is opening a new facility: AWS Center for Quantum Computing. It will be located near the Caltech campus in Pasadena, Calif., which will give some of the brightest minds on the planet access to a few things: Amazon’s quantum computing experts, a world-class facility, and other researchers who will join them in their experiments and work. Amazon is hoping the center will yield new technologies and innovations that will propel the company toward its goal of figuring out how to mass produce quantum computers and recognize which applications and problems are best solved on quantum computers.

Quantum computers are based on quantum bits, or qubits. Qubits can exist in a state of 1 or 0 like classical bits, but also in superpositions of 1 and 0. This opens up a huge new range of data attributes because the superposition can be any combination of the range of values of 1 and 0, rather than just 1 or just 0. This means that an infinite number of states are possible on a qubit.

The potential benefits of quantum computing are staggering. By exploiting the bizarre properties of quantum mechanics, quantum computers could vastly outperform classical computers in certain types of difficult calculations.

Bottom Line

A huge amount of work is needed before quantum computing will have any real practical or commercial uses. Innovations are happening, and real business value added via quantum computing is still nonexistent. But by this time next year, Amazon, IBM, Microsoft and Google will all have quantum cloud computing services available for enterprise customers.


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