Points of View

HFS Highlight: Microsoft focusing Azure Quantum on real-world problems but IBM still leads the way

May 22, 2020 Jamie Snowdon

Last year Microsoft announced plans to deliver Quantum computing services via its Azure platform, supporting hardware platforms from IonQ, Honeywell, and Quantum Circuits Inc and delivering its own hardware via the platform when it was available. More recently, this month (May 2020), Microsoft announced that customers and partners can also start using Azure Quantum primer.


IBM isn’t the only tech giant offering quantum computing solutions on the cloud, AWS has also been building out it’s own capabilities, and Google announced plans to launch its own services in April 2020. Even so, IBM is widely regarded as leading the way in quantum computing hardware and delivery via cloud since its 2016 launch of IBM Q experience - an online platform that gives users in the general public access to a set of IBM's prototype quantum processors via the Cloud, alongside tutorials and growing community fo experts and enthusiasts. Whilst the status of quantum hardware is still nascent, launching services to help potential users (and investors) familiarise themselves with the technology is an important step both for quantum computing as a whole and for the mindshare of the provider. Particularly, given the drawn-out competition to deliver viable technology. IBM has also expanded the Q network recently to include hardware company Archer Materials and is supporting non-IBM hardware on it’s QISKIT development kit.


Microsoft joins the fray with a focus on highlighting real-world applications


What is especially interesting about the Azure announcement is the focus on solving current business problems. By focusing on “quantum-inspired optimization,” they are looking to apply quantum thought and technology to existing computing problems, with the aim to start getting results quickly. Interestingly, the preview version of the platform is already being used to solve real-world problems. Jij and Toyota Tsusho are using Quantum Azure to optimize traffic light management. And OTI is using it to simulate organic materials for the design of metal-organic compounds using in OLED displays.


A major barrier to long term quantum success is near term apathy


It is vital that these use cases, even if they are nascent, are understood. A big barrier to the success of quantum is the lack of investment – both in terms of money for the core research in the technology, but also into algorithms. The more potential use-cases that show promise for near term business application, the lower the risk profile for investment and the nearer on the horizon the technology will seem to businesses.


This also gives potential users and developers a new sandbox with additional types of quantum computers. Azure is a platform for multiple quantum computer variants including superconducting, and trapped ion. This is important because, and we’ve said this before, organizations that invest in talent and the discovery of quantum can be prepared for the next generation of hardware – with the uncertainty around all of the technologies having multiple types makes sense. Emulation and cloud versions of quantum are available for experimentation right now.


Bottom Line: Focusing on current problems is helping to lower the horizon for quantum computing value realization


The focus on delivering results during the experimentation phase is a good angle for the platform. We’ve seen this approach taken by Fujitsu – with its quantum-inspired CMOS hardware. Anything that helps potential organizations get value from the journey to quantum is of benefit at this stage in the quantum computing lifecycle.

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