Preparing for a quantum future starts with building the right computing architecture

As the era of digital transformation advances and the need for large-scale computing (what we call Big Compute™) increases, mentions of “quantum computing” and interest in this technology are rapidly increasing. The potential value at stake is enormous: BCG estimates that quantum computing will be worth $5 to $10 billion to users and vendors over the next three to five years, and over the next 15 to 30 years Could generate $450 to $850 billion. But as the hype around quantum computing builds, companies need to determine how and when it will disrupt their businesses, and what they need to do today to prepare for it.

More and more companies are showing interest in implementing quantum computing due to their increasing computing needs, but as with most innovative technologies, getting started is the hardest part. A survey found that the biggest hurdle to quantum adoption is the complexity of integrating quantum into existing IT infrastructure, an answer shared by 49% of companies that have adopted or are planning to adopt quantum computing. Additionally, 37% of these organizations cite a lack of advanced computing capabilities to build on as another major hurdle to quantum adoption. Despite these challenges, the potential for broad quantum advantage in the coming years means companies should begin the process of becoming “quantum-enabled” to prepare. Technology potential is growing fast, so it could be easy to get left behind.

Most work on quantum deployment today focuses on identifying use cases – and with good reason. Many companies have a variety of potential use cases, and it’s not always clear what computational challenges are appropriate for quantum, especially in the short term while the technology is still maturing. This is a reasonable starting point and typically involves working with data scientists, new talent with relevant expertise, and outside experts to identify problems that can be addressed with quantum. Interdisciplinary teams from research, technology and business will bring different perspectives on where quanta could add value. But while this is a crucial first step, don’t get lost in the algorithmic puzzle of adapting quantum to your business problems. Once you have found the best solution for your business, the work begins.

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Dealing with the growing variety of quantum and classical computing options

Quantum computing offers an explosion of options when it comes to choosing where to send a compute job. There are several competing quantum device technologies (each with multiple companies active in the field). A “qubit,” the fundamental unit of quantum computing, can consist of electrons in a superconductor, ions trapped by lasers in a vacuum, and even impurities in a diamond. Because of the differences in how these techniques work, each can excel at certain types of computational problems. These new beasts in the quantum zoo expand on an already vast menagerie of classic computing options like CPUs, GPUs, TPUs, FPGAs, and more. Successfully managing this computational diversity will bring both great rewards and great challenges.

Furthermore, quantum computing will only exist together with classical computing and has to be integrated into current computer architectures. There will never be a full quantum computing architecture – there are many tasks where classical computers will always be better than quantum computers. Even well-suited quantum applications still require a lot of classical computing to support the quantum device.

Overcoming architectural challenges

The right computer architecture is key to get the most benefit from quantum computing, so it is important to face any challenges that exist today. The good news is that machine learning (ML) workloads and high-performance computing (HPC) use cases can also benefit from a quantum-enabled architecture. These areas all share complex mathematics, intensive compute and data requirements, and expensive, long runtimes to solve computationally complex problems.

To address these challenges, a unified computing workflow platform that orchestrates data, models, and computations across classical and quantum devices can be a great asset. Computational workflows are increasingly used in machine learning and analytics, and are particularly well-suited to quantum. In addition to orchestrating the distribution of tasks across computing resources, workflows also help teams collaborate. Experts can focus on individual components if they have expertise, and the workflow describes how these components are assembled into a complete solution. Finally, in addition to code execution, workflow orchestration systems can also automate data management to support large-scale research and solutions.

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Once you have the workflow, that math recipe for your application, the strategic question is how best to execute it within certain constraints. Do you want to maximize speed, minimize costs or achieve the highest quality? While tools may automate these decisions in the future, for now, plan to use benchmarking tests to compare the performance of different computing strategies before choosing one for production. Expect routine benchmark testing as quantum hardware and software evolve to ensure the best configuration is used for a given application. Tools to streamline benchmarking and help compare execution strategies ensure IT budgets are spent wisely.

Unifying infrastructure and building computational workflows today will help position companies for a successful quantum future. More advanced quantum devices will become available in the next few years. When an enterprise’s current architecture for large-scale computing is organized, modular, and flexible—and delivers the peak performance that classical computing can provide—they are in a strong position to embrace quantum. Much like bolting a turbocharger to a rattletrap, a fragmented, bottlenecked, poorly designed architecture can nullify any quantum computer acceleration. It’s best to start putting your house in order now.

IT leaders should start by exploring potential use cases for quantum in their organization, working closely with subject matter experts across all lines of business, but don’t stop there. Today’s modernization of computing infrastructure for quantum readiness will pay dividends now, and when a broad quantum advantage materializes, the right infrastructure and expertise are already in place.