Quantum data centers might be the way of the future

Quantum computing is one of the most brilliant new developments in IT. And now, it’s starting to gain traction — but how much it filters into the world of data centers has yet to be seen.

Money flows into quantum and its role emerges. Last November, IDC released its forecast for the global quantum computing market, projecting that consumer spending on quantum computing will grow from $412 million in 2020 to $8.6 billion in 2027. Their thesis is that continued breakthroughs will drive activity and lead to wider adoption.

Computing power drives the appeal of quantum

Superposition and entanglement are concepts that drive the appeal of quantum computing because they increase potential computing power, as opposed to the way on/off or one/zero states define classical computing.

Fred Chong, chief scientist for quantum software at ColdQuanta, said there is an exponential increase in computing power with each qubit added to the computing that exploits these properties.

“They allow n qubits to simultaneously represent 2n numbers; digital computers can only represent one of those numbers at a time,” he said.

Quantum processing units could be very good at simulating physics and chemistry, optimizing problems like logistics or even certain types of machine learning. Jason Larkin, a researcher at the Software Engineering Institute of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), said that organizations are actively experimenting to find possible applications of the technology.

“IBM is already installing quantum computers,” Larkin said. “For example, they collaborated with Cleveland Clinic where they plan to combine quantum computing with quantum sensing technologies.”

And while acknowledging the complexity and challenges inherent in quantum, Larkin said there is unique power of the technology for applications such as probing the electronic structure of molecules.

“It’s also supposed to be a domain where things can be done in real time that take exponential amounts of time on classical computers,” he said.

Quantum computing may take more time to develop

Despite IDC’s predictions and Larkin’s enthusiasm, others are skeptical and don’t see any immediate future for quantum computing in typical data centers.

Franz Franchetti, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at CMU, makes a hard distinction between “real” quantum computing and the devices on the market or close to market.

“They are adiabatic or noisy mesoscale quantum and not real, scalable quantum computers,” said Franchetti. “I would assume that such experimental devices will appear with cloud providers but more as experimental systems to show how good the provider is.”

Likewise, Franchetti believes that it is too early for a clear architecture to emerge, although he admits that the software layer is now “reasonably standardised”. However, with current quantum computing devices, their applications are limited.

Chart showing quantum computing adoption rates

Mark Acton, a UK-based data center consultant, said hosting quantum computers may be a difficult hurdle for businesses in the near term. The future of quantum computing will depend on how the technology develops and how easy it becomes to host in a more standard data center. The supercooling requirements for quantum computing mean that traditional data centers are not yet set up to host this equipment, he notes.

“The only place where quantum computing is currently based is in purpose-built areas that are effectively research facilities,” Acton said. “Quantum computing in its current and near-future iteration will augment digital computing by being extremely fast and extremely efficient at some types of calculations and predictions, but will almost certainly not replace digital computing for more mundane applications and simple transactions.”

The future of quantum computing will depend on how the technology develops and how easy it becomes to host in a more standard data center.

The commercial data centers that are being built today will last 20 to 30 years and they are not currently designed to host quantum computing, according to Acton. Instead, it is more likely that quantum will enter specially designed or significantly refurbished data centers, but this largely depends on the degree to which the evolving architectures require cryogenic cooling and other specialized equipment for operations.

“There are competing quantum technologies and architectures,” Acton said. “Until we have a more standardized approach and a consistent delivery model, quantum computing will likely be based in custom data centers,” which are purpose-built and unique to quantum requirements rather than traditional commercial data centers.

Vendors currently offering commercial products or quantum applications include Artiq, Sinara, Zapata and IBM. Some of the other organizations involved in quantum, according to IDC, include startup IQM, quantum hardware startup Atos, Pasqal and Nvidia’s cuQuantum Appliance and cuQuantum software development kit. Outside the United States, the European High-Performance Computing Joint Undertaking funds the High-Performance Computer and Quantum Simulator hybrid project.


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