IBM Q Network Promises to Commercialize Quantum

The dash to quantum computing is well underway and IBM is preparing to be one of the leaders. When IBM gets there it will find plenty of company. HPE, Dell/EMC, Microsoft and more are staking out quantum claims. In response IBM is speeding the build-out of its quantum ecosystem, the IBM Q Network, which it announced today.

IBM’s 50 qubit system prototype

Already IBM introduced its third generation of quantum computers in Nov., a prototype 50 qubit system. IBM promises online access to the IBM Q systems by the end of 2017, with a series of planned upgrades during 2018. IBM is focused on making available advanced, scalable universal quantum computing systems to clients to explore practical applications.

Further speeding the process, IBM is building a quantum computing ecosystem of big companies and research institutions. The result, dubbed IBM Q Network, will consist of a worldwide network of individuals and organizations, including scientists, engineers, business leaders, and forward thinking companies, academic institutions, and national research labs enabled by IBM Q. Its mission: advancing quantum computing and launching the first commercial applications.

Two particular goals stand out: Engage industry leaders to combine quantum computing expertise with industry-oriented, problem-specific expertise to accelerate development of early commercial uses. The second: expand and train the ecosystem of users, developers, and application specialists that will be essential to the adoption and scaling of quantum computing.

The key to getting this rolling is the groundwork IBM laid with the IBM Q Experience, which IBM initially introduced in May of 2016 as a 5 cubit system. The Q Experience (free) upgrade followed with a 16-qubit upgrade in May, 2017. The IBM effort to make available a commercial universal quantum computer for business and science applications has increased with each successive rev until today with a prototype 50 cubit system delivered via the IBM Cloud platform.

IBM opened public access to its quantum processors over a year ago  to serve as an enablement tool for scientific research, a resource for university classrooms, and a catalyst for enthusiasm. Since then, participants have run more than 1.7M quantum experiments on the IBM Cloud.

To date IBM was pretty easy going about access to the quantum computers but now that they have a 20 cubit system and 50 cubit system coming the company has become a little more restrictive about who can use them. Participation in the IBM Q Network is the only way to access these advanced systems, which involves a commitment of money, intellectual property, and agreement to share and cooperate, although IBM implied at any early briefing that it could be flexible about what was shared and what could remain an organization’s proprietary IP.

Another reason to participate in the Quantum Experience is QISKit, an open source quantum computing SDK anyone can access. Most DancingDinosaur readers, if they want to participate in IBM’s Q Network will do so as either partners or members. Another option, a Hub, is really targeted for bigger, more ambitious early adopters. Hubs, as IBM puts it, provide access to IBM Q systems, technical support, educational and training resources, community workshops and events, and opportunities for joint work.

The Q Network has already attracted some significant interest for organizations at every level and across a variety of industry segments. These include automotive, financial, electronics, chemical, and materials players from across the globe. Initial participants include JPMorgan Chase, Daimler AG, Samsung, JSR Corporation, Barclays, Hitachi Metals, Honda, Nagase, Keio University, Oak Ridge National Lab, Oxford University, and University of Melbourne.

As noted at the top, other major players are staking out their quantum claims, but none seem as far along or as comprehensive as IBM:

  • Dell/EMC is aiming to solve complex, life-impacting analytic problems like autonomous vehicles, smart cities, and precision medicine.
  • HPE appears to be focusing its initial quantum efforts on encryption.
  • Microsoft, not surprisingly, expects to release a new programming language and computing simulator designed for quantum computing.

As you would expect, IBM also is rolling out IBM Q Consulting to help organizations envision new business value through the application of quantum computing technology and provide customized roadmaps to help enterprises become quantum-ready.

Will quantum computing actually happen? Your guess is as good as anyone’s. I first heard about quantum physics in high school 40-odd years ago. It was baffling but intriguing then. Today it appears more real but still nothing is assured. If you’re willing to burn some time and resources to try it, go right ahead. Please tell DancingDinosaur what you find.

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran information technology analyst, writer, and ghost-writer. Please follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog. See more of his IT writing at and here.

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