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The market ops for quantum props

What the tech industry's continuing fascination with quantum computing means for IT players

Some of the world's biggest tech players have been dabbling in quantum computing for years, but it remains to be seen what opportunities it will offer the broader IT market, partners included.

By now, the idea behind quantum computing is fairly well established. IBM outlines the basic principles on its research website:

"Classical computers encode information in bits. Each bit can take the value of 1 or 0. These 1s and 0s act as on/off switches that ultimately drive computer functions. 

"Quantum computers, on the other hand, are based on qubits, which operate according to two key principles of quantum physics: superposition and entanglement.

"Superposition means that each qubit can represent both a 1 and a 0 at the same time.

"Qubits can act as more sophisticated switches, enabling quantum computers to function in ways that allow them to solve difficult problems that are intractable using today’s computers."

In theory, a quantum computer could harness these properties to execute multiple computations simultaneously.

While the technology largely remains in the sphere of research, IBM, Microsoft and Google are among those that have pumped resources into pushing quantum computing closer to a state that will see it used more broadly in various industry sectors, such as security, health and financial services.

In May, for example, IBM put a 16-qubit quantum computer online for IBM Cloud platform customers to experiment with, just three months after announcing its quantum cloud service.

In April, Microsoft moved to double the size of its Station Q quantum computing lab in Sydney.

Canadian quantum computing company D-Wave Systems, meanwhile, has announced it has its own 2000 qubit quantum computer ready for use.

Technology Business Research (TBR) analysts believe that not many companies will be able to invest in quantum straight away.

But big names such as Google have already shown interest in the available options in the market. So far, however, what is being seen is that companies are partnering to acquire those technologies.

Google partnered with NASA in a joint venture for a D-Wave installation. The same happened with USC Information Sciences Institute and Lockheed.

TBR’s analysis suggests the need for joint acquisitions will disappear with cloud and the important point is the joint ventures that could arise to address the need for operating systems, programming languages, programming tools and repeatable frameworks.

“Technologically, companies need to work together to find innovative means of storing qubit data. Unlike bits, which are two dimensional, qubits are three dimensional and increase computation power exponentially. Many experiments are being done on innovative storage structures, such as Microsoft’s partnership with the University of Washington to develop practical DNA storage,” the research read.

Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), NCR and Unisys could be successful if they start investing in it straight away, TBR believes.

According to the research, France-based services provider, Atos, has emerged as one of the few firms bridging the gap between current and emerging trends, simultaneously promoting its Digital Transformation Factory framework while investing in its Atos Quantum Learning Machine simulator.

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Where are the market opportunities?

According to IBM, once it can enable 50 qubits, quantum will outperform any classical computing instance that can be developed, enabling humans to begin addressing many of the world’s “intractable problems”.

Technology-led services firms would be better off investing on preparing for demand for quantum application development and data science skills and support for diverse system architectures involving quantum and silicon.

TBR analysts have highlighted some of the main areas where they believe the market opportunities for quantum computing will lie, including security, health and financial services.

The first area of opportunity for the technology, according to TBR, is data science and algorithm processing. Qubits can simultaneously hold the values of one and zero which, in simple terms, allows a quantum computer with a five-qubit processor to perform a calculation for 32 different input values at the same time.

Mining larger and larger data sets will trigger the development of increasingly complex algorithms where quantum speed will be paramount to meeting real-time output expectations of business, the analyst firm predicts.

Security is another area especially in intelligence agencies. The health industry is also likely to be a big area of focus. Big pharmaceutical companies will focus R&D on molecular structures, which will be ripe for quantum computing to build larger simulation models.

The demand from financial services to gain a competitive advantage through algorithmic modeling could spur proof of concept tests once quantum cloud computing stabilises.

The quantum development

Quantum will progress on a business cycle where the human aspects will be nearly identical to what has taken place in the development of the silicon microprocessor chip over the past 60 years, according to TBR.

The cycle will be more compressed considering how cloud has changed consumption models.

Hardware designs are not yet stable, or ready for manufacturing at scale. Few, if any, tangible use cases exist beyond the traditional deep scientific research segments traditionally served.

A flood of venture funding money is expected to flow into the quantum domain once it becomes more stable. There will be space for niche players to exist, according to TBR.

There will be co-option by more general-purpose computing architectures, such as IBM’s quantum architecture that will pressure niche players to keep pushing the envelope.

And finally, TBR’s analysts believe the greater the general purpose price performance appeal, the faster use cases will emerge.

What comes next?

While the technology is yet to hit the mainstream and, as yet, claims no firm de facto programming languages, the current activities in the quantum computing space all seem to point to genuine use cases further down the track. 

IBM, for example, is working to build out a community and to simplify the learning curve through the build out of logical connectors bridging classical computing constructs and emerging quantum computing constructs.

At the same time, extensive education and training materials will be required for skills development to address quantum computing.

As TBR stated: "The quantum computing landscape is not necessarily technology in pursuit of a use case, but rather it is technology in pursuit of a well-trained workforce that can translate its power into productive commercial outputs".