February 27, 2024

Are quantum computers ready for the data center?

Quantum software company QCWare is launching a hybrid platform with quantum emulators, quantum computers and classical supercomputers running together in a new data center in Germany. It’s the latest in a series of similar projects seeking to integrate quantum machines into data center infrastructure, but deployments are still in an early stage, industry experts say.

Despite a series of high-profile announcements, including that Equinix will bring an Oxford Quantum Circuits machine to its Tokyo IBX data center, and that IBM will expand its Quantum Cloud, the quantum computing industry is still in his relative childhood.

Data center owners are cautious when it comes to new technologies, one analyst told Tech Monitor. (Photo: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock)

Quantum computers are slowly increasing in performance, with higher numbers of qubits and greater coherence, but they remain error-prone and noisy. This makes it difficult to process information accurately. Fault-tolerant machines are on the horizon, and with new developments in topological qubits, as well as improved error corrections, some experts predict that we will see quantum advantage, the point at which quantum machines can surpass their classical counterparts, within of the next three years. five years. Others are less optimistic, suggesting that this is still at least a decade away.

The most common types of quantum machines also require cooling close to absolute zero, making them energy expensive. At a time when data center owners are under increasing pressure to reduce energy use, the demand has to be there to justify spending on quantum hardware. And because many operate on low margins, they tend to err on the side of caution.

Data center expert Paul Bevan, research director at Bloor Research, says that for now quantum computers tend to be found primarily in supercomputing centers and national laboratories. He said Technical monitor We are starting to see gradual deployment in mainstream data centers, particularly those belonging to public cloud hyperscalers, but it is still very early.

This is because “occupancy rates for co-location, wholesale and resale facilities are quite good,” Bloor says. “There was not the slowdown that many suspected after Covid-19, we did not see a massive setback,” he explains. The rapid expansion of the cloud has picked up some of the slack and the rise of generative AI is further increasing demand for computing space.

He said there is a long lead when it comes to investing in new state-of-the-art data centers and while they can be installed quickly, the planning and financing process can take up to a decade.

“Quantum technology remains a niche market. Equinix is ​​unusual, more forward-thinking than usual,” says Bloor. “The real goal of data center owners and investors is energy efficiency. They are being attacked from all sides on this issue and so they are asking, “How can I avoid getting hit for energy use?” Add to that the fact that it is a low-margin business, and you can see why there might be a reluctance to adopt a niche technology.”

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How quantum computing will come to the data center

Quantum computing also goes against the principles of cloud computing, Bloor says. “In the cloud, you develop fast, fail, iterate, and then iterate again,” he explains. “We are nowhere near that with quantum technology. “You have to engineer it to a point where it works, and right now there are still challenges to address to get it to work effectively and continuously so it can go beyond the lab.”

Data is likely to have the biggest impact on whether data center owners take the step of installing expensive quantum hardware. That’s where companies like QCWare come into the picture, through hybrid and co-location solutions. It has partnered with QuiX Quantum to locate hardware in a new data center in the Netherlands that will integrate high-performance computing infrastructure with native quantum computing technology. It will be fully operational in August and the company says it will include shared memory access between quantum and classical hardware.

This is an example of the benefits of having quantum and classical hardware in the same data center, the company believes. “It offers significant performance improvements and cost savings over existing commercial hybrid quantum services,” he says.

Bevan says this is a good example of early use cases. The quantum machine is based on photonics and can therefore operate at room temperature. Add to that the fact that this is a newly built data center operated in partnership with a quantum startup, and the announcement still makes sense within the broader conservative approach to data center investment.

Hybrid and co-location quantum data centers

But the rewards for bringing quantum data centers to life could be significant. Bringing quantum computers to where the data lives solves a number of security and latency issues, says Stuart Woods, chief operating and strategy officer at quantum venture capital firm Quantum Exponential. He is more optimistic about the future of quantum computers in data centers and suggests that the cloud makes it easier for companies to take risks.

“Six months ago, you and I could go to AWS, Azure, IBM and get four different versions of quantum computers,” he said. Technical monitor. “That’s progress, but as I move from December to January of this year the data centers are waking up. Equinix is ​​an example where they installed a lot of storage and cloud computing during Covid-19 and ended up with more capacity than they needed.”

He said these data centers are slowly starting to realize that installing quantum hardware gives them another option. Quantum Exponential is an investor in Oxford Quantum Circuits, the partner Equinix worked with on its first quantum colocation in March. Woods says the benefit of having quantum hardware in situ with real data is significant.

“Previously, with AWS and others, we had to create exotic data sets, using synthetic data, to run tests on quantum computers, since we couldn’t move the data across borders and most machines from companies like IBM or AWS They were in a handful. of countries. But now we’re in a new place where we’re starting to see quantum computers coming into data centers in places where we have real-world data just a shelf above us.”

He said this means that an IT engineer working for a bank that hosts data in Equinix’s data center in Tokyo will be able to run that data through quantum hardware. “That’s what’s happened over the last four months and I think that’s where things will evolve,” Woods says.

Read more: Could quantum computing make our energy grid sustainable?

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