Shaping the Quantum future
OCTOBER 22, 2019 • BLOG POST • ABHISHEK SHUKLA , MANAGING DIRECTOR, GLOBAL VENTURE INVESTMENTS, HPE AND RAY BEAUSOLEIL, SENIOR FELLOW , LARGE SCALE INTEGRATED PHOTONICS, HPE
IN THIS ARTICLE
- Quantum computing has the potential to provide groundbreaking, transformative solutions for certain types of problems.
- We see IonQ quickly becoming a leading player in the emerging quantum computing marketplace.
- Through our radical Memory-Driven Computing approach, we’re looking to make HPC simpler and more accessible for our customers.
- We are imagining a future in which HPE customers can consume quantum computing on an as-a-Service basis.
With investment in IonQ, Hewlett Packard Enterprise aims to help customers solve an entirely new class of problems
With most Hewlett Packard Pathfinder investments, while we can’t predict the future, we can at least paint a picture of what it might look like. Take a company with a novel solution to a problem affecting many businesses. Add great leadership, a sound go-to-market strategy, a large addressable market, and you can easily envision their success. When it comes to quantum computing though, things get much fuzzier. What will be the killer commercial app for quantum computers? Unknown. Who are the key customers, and how big is the opportunity? Not quite sure. To solve the most complex quantum problems, is the technology even feasible? Still an open question.
For these reasons, HPE Pathfinder has been mostly watching quantum computing trends from afar, waiting to engage until we identified the right company with the right technology. In general, we’ve focused on other areas we believed would yield clearer benefits, sooner, for our enterprise and high-performance computing (HPC) customers. Yet, we know that quantum computing has the potential to provide groundbreaking, transformative solutions for certain types of problems. It’s why we continue to get questions from customers anxious to know our plans for this space.
Now, with HPE’s investment in IonQ, we think we have the best of both worlds. By backing one of the most exciting quantum startups, we can ensure that when the big questions do start getting answered, our customers will be early beneficiaries. And, we see IonQ quickly becoming a leading player in the emerging quantum computing marketplace.
Solving Complex Quantum Problems
HPE has long recognized the potential of quantum computing, but this is our first investment in this space. So why now, and why IonQ? First, because IonQ’s technology is leaps and bounds ahead of anything else out there. To understand why, let’s review some quantum computing basics.
Quantum computers offer a huge edge over classical systems for certain types of problems, especially those modeling fundamentally quantum systems. These problems don’t affect all businesses, but for certain applications (like semiconductor design, or modeling molecules with complex atomic interactions to develop new materials and pharmaceuticals), quantum computers can address problems that today’s most powerful HPC systems can’t.
Quantum computers do this by processing information in a way that’s radically different from classical computers. Where conventional systems store information in bits representing either zero or one, quantum computers use quantum bits, or “qubits,” which can be in a state of zero and one at the same time. Taking advantage of quantum properties like superposition and entanglement, they can perform massively parallel processing operations, calculating millions of possible outcomes at once.
Building a Better Qubit
Most companies developing quantum computers build qubits from superconducting rings of current. This approach has proven viable for small-scale experiments and proofs-of-concept. To date though, these systems can only work with a small number of qubits. The quality of their qubits is also generally poor (with unstable quantum superpositions that last a very short time), requiring significant error correction. When scaling up to just 15 or 20 qubits, these systems can’t perform anywhere near the number of gate operations needed to solve meaningful real-world quantum problems.
IonQ takes a different approach. Its qubits are made using trapped ions, which are individual atoms, levitated in space with electrodes, controlled by laser beams. In this architecture, each qubit has the precision of an atomic clock, with quantum entangled superpositions that can, theoretically, persist indefinitely. Unlike systems based on the superconducting method, there are no physical wires linking IonQ’s qubits, and the programming is accomplished with laser beams that can be reconfigured to run any type of quantum computational circuit.
IonQ’s technology has already surpassed all other quantum computers now available, demonstrating the largest number of usable qubits in the market. Its gate fidelity, which measures the accuracy of logical operations, is greater than 98% for both one-qubit and two-qubit operations, meaning it can handle longer calculations than other commercial quantum computers. We believe IonQ’s qubits and methodology are of such high quality, they will be able to scale to 100 qubits (and 10,000 gate operations) without needing any error correction. While most other quantum computing startups are still wrestling with fundamental problems in physics, the lingering challenges for IonQ are chiefly engineering ones.
A Promising Startup
IonQ brings more than just superior technology to the table. The company also has:
- An excellent team: IonQ’s leadership team consists of pioneering physicists with decades of aggregate research experience, who have already demonstrated the trapped ion approach to build the world’s most accurate atomic clocks. The only thing “new” to IonQ’s founders is that their decades-long research has reached sufficient maturity to build a company around it.
- A superior go-to-market strategy: The quantum computing startups getting the lion’s share of headlines right now tend to focus on selling highly specialized (and expensive) hardware to R&D departments of large enterprises. IonQ has a broader vision of delivering quantum computing as a cloud service, and the market is responding. IonQ has already secured investment from some of the world’s leading technology companies, including Amazon, Google, Samsung and now HPE.
- Near-term and long-term potential: While the future of quantum computing is still unknown, our investment in IonQ gives us excellent insight into an evolving landscape. The combined budget of academic and commercial R&D teams working on quantum computing exceeds $1.5 billion. If IonQ captures even a small percentage of the market, that is a robust and sustainable business.
Envisioning Tomorrow’s Flexible Compute
“We see IonQ’s technology and approach as a natural fit for HPE’s vision of the future of computing.” We’re looking to make HPC simpler and more accessible for our customers—at the right price point, delivered in a flexible architecture that can adapt to many different types of problems. We know that general purpose computers have their limitations. They are not fast enough, or energy-efficient enough, to meet the challenges of the future. Instead, we need different computational techniques for different problems. We call these “accelerators.” You can think of quantum computing as a type of accelerator. That is, after all, the thinking behind our composable Memory-Driven computing architectures.
Just as we make it possible for our customers to apply multiple types of CPUs and GPUs to solve different kinds of problems, we see a future where HPE customers can select quantum accelerators as easily any other type of compute and consume quantum computing on an as-a-Service basis. In a world where quantum is just one of many flexible compute options, HPE aims to take a leading role. We believe IonQ will help us do it.