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IBM Adds 2 New Processors to Quantum Computing Ecosystem

By Richard Adhikari
Nov 13, 2017 12:32 PM PT
ibm-quantum-computing

IBM on Friday announced 20-qubit and 50-qubit quantum processors for its IBM Q early-access commercial systems.

The 20-qubit processor -- featuring improvements in superconducting qubit design, connectivity and packaging -- has coherence times of 90 microseconds, which allows high-fidelity quantum operations, IBM said.

The 50-qubit processor is an operational prototype. It expands upon the 20-qubit architecture and has similar performance metrics.

IBM 50Q System
IBM 50Q System

IBM will offer these quantum processors as a service.

Clients will have online access to the first IBM Q systems with the 20-qubit processor by the end of this year.

The company declined to specify when the 50-qubit processor will be available as a service, IBM Research spokesperson Christine Vu told the E-Commerce Times.

During 2018, IBM plans to improve the quality of qubits in the 20-qubit processor, as well as circuit connectivity and operation error rates.

A 20-qubit processor "would enable very large computing problems [such as] cryptography protein interactions, chemical interactions and flow simulations," said Michael Jude, research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

"Essentially, it would enable the solution of many systems of nonlinear differential equations," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Why Quantum Computing as a Service

IBM launched a working Quantum Computer as a Service in May of 2016, and since then has brought online 5- and 16-qubit systems for public access through the IBM Q experience.

IBM is offering quantum computing as a service because it's still pretty much an experimental solution, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

This "lets IBM learn about the challenges as they crop up," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Quantum computing is nonpersistent computing, Frost's Jude noted. "The process of computing kills the computer. Once you've used a qubit, you can never use it again in the same computation."

Also, quantum computers have strict cooling requirements.

"You have to use them in a data center, because they have to be used at temperatures close to zero Kelvin," Tirias' McGregor pointed out.

Big Blue's Quantum Computing Ecosystem

Open source software tools, applications for near-term systems, and educational and enablement materials for the quantum community all are part of IBM's quantum computing ecosystem.

Earlier this year, IBM rolled out QISKit -- its open source quantum information software kit to program and run quantum computers. QISKit lets users create quantum computing programs and execute them on one of IBM's quantum processors, or on quantum simulators available online.

QISKit is now integrated with the IBM Data Science Experience, a compiler that maps desired experiments onto available hardware and provides worked examples of quantum applications, such as a new way to study chemistry problems using quantum hardware.

IBM has industrial partners exploring practical quantum applications through the IBM Research Frontiers Institute consortium.

The Impact of Quantum Computing

Quantum computing "is going to change everything," McGregor noted.

"It's the type of solution we need for AI because it's an exponential leap in processing performance," he said, "and we need that for AI solutions, especially for on-premises solutions."

IBM Research "is working on two distinct paths linking AI and quantum computing," company spokesperson Vu told the E-Commerce Times. "We don't know yet the practical application of quantum to AI, but we expect this interplay to yield new and fruitful avenues of research in both fields."

IBM is "laying a potential foundation to have the kind of industry presence in quantum computing they once held in computing," observed Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Google and HPE have been active in quantum computing, but "Google doesn't seem to have the attention span for long-term projects like this," he told the E-Commerce Times, and "HPE has already been sacrificed to a tactical strategy that's killing the company."


Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.


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