The next quantum computing trick? The power of networked clusters
Regardless of their underlying technology, to achieve scale, quantum computers will need to become modular and networked. In 2021, we will see the first demonstration.
Quantum technology is often related to three different areas of networking. The first is to improve the security of the Internet, by adding quantum encryption to its communication technology. Second, build the Internet of tomorrow using next-generation quantum technology. And the third is to build more powerful quantum computers. It is in this third area that we will see significant progress.
There are two proven methods of making a faster, more powerful computer. The first is to increase the performance of individual components, such as processor speed. The second is to become modular and increase the number of components, for example by adding more processors. IBM’s Summit supercomputer uses this second approach. It is the size of two tennis courts and has 9,216 processors boosted by 27,648 graphics processing units.
The same two approaches apply to quantum computers. IonQ, IBM, Google and others are working on bigger and better Quantum Processing Units (QPUs), the equivalent of processors in traditional computing. But it’s also possible to scale up by simply building more quantum computers and “networking” them, as we see with the cloud today. As your compute needs increase, the number of servers increases to meet the demand. If you have a 100 qubit QPU and your application needs 2000 qubits, you can simply “network” 20 QPUs to create a cluster that acts as a single, more powerful quantum computer.
In “traditional” IT, going modular often results in some sort of performance penalty, or additional overhead in terms of money and time. However, in order for multiple quantum computers to work together, we need to entangle the qubits between the QPUs. Entanglement allows two qubits to stay connected so that actions performed on one affect the other, even when they are separated by great distances. Once the qubits are entangled, they no longer care about the locality, distance or source of the qubit, meaning there is no overhead to run them after the initial setup cost.
In 2021, we will see the first demonstration of modular quantum computers that are “networked” with the aim of building a single, but much larger example. This will happen in the real world quantum industry, outside of theoretical experiments in university labs, and will show us a clear path towards the creation of more powerful quantum computers.
Peter Chapman is CEO and President of quantum computing startup IonQ
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