Meet IBM Q System One

A couple of weeks ago, IBM slipped in a new quantum machine at CES. The new machine, dubbed IBM Q System One, is designed for both scientific and commercial computing. IBM described it as the first integrated universal approximate quantum computing system.

Courtesy of IBM

Approximate refers to the short coherence time of the qubits, explains Michael Houston, manager, Analyst Relations. Or, to put it another way: how long the qubits remain stable enough to run reliable and repeatable calculations. IBM Q systems report an industry-best average of 100 microseconds. That’s not enough time for a round of golf, but probably long enough to start running some serious quantum analytics.

As described by IBM, the new machine family, the Q systems, are designed to one day tackle problems that are currently seen as too complex or too exponential in scale for classical (conventional) systems to handle. Such Q Systems may use quantum computing to find new ways to model financial data or isolate key global risk factors to make better investments or find the optimal path across global systems for ultra-efficient logistics or optimizing fleet operations for improved deliveries.

The design of IBM Q System One includes a 9x9x9 cube case constructed of half-inch thick borosilicate glass to form a sealed, airtight enclosure that opens effortlessly using roto-translation, a motor-driven rotation around two displaced axes engineered to simplify the system’s maintenance and upgrade process while minimizing downtime. Overall, the entire system was intended to enable the most stable qubits, which allows for the machine to deliver the reliable commercial use.

A series of independent aluminum and steel frames not only unify, but also decouple the system’s cryostat, control electronics, and exterior casing, helping to avoid potential vibration interference that leads to phase jitter and qubit decoherence.

The object of all of this, Houston explains, is to deliver a sophisticated, modular, and compact design optimized for stability, reliability, and continuous commercial use. For the first time ever, IBM Q System One enables universal approximate superconducting quantum computers to operate beyond the confines of the research lab.

In effect, think of the Q System One as bringing the quantum machine to the data center, starting with Q System’s design that squeezes all the quantum computing electronics, controllers, and other components into a 9x9x9 foot cube made of half-inch thick glass to create a sealed, airtight enclosure that will allow the system to cool the qubits to low Kelvin temperatures and keep them cold enough and undisturbed from any interference for long enough to perform meaningful work. All the Q System One’s components and control mechanisms are intended to keep the qubits at 10 mK  (-442F) to operate

This machine, notes IBM, should look familiar to conventional computer data center managers. Maybe, if you think a 9x9x9, half-inch thick borosilicate glass cube is a regular feature of any data center you have worked in

In effect, IBM is applying the same approach to quantum computing that it has followed for decades with its conventional computers–providing everything you need to get it operating in your data center. Just plan to bring in some trained quantum technicians, specialists, and, don’t forget, a handful of people who can program such a machine.

Other than that, the IBM Q System One consists of a number of custom components that work together–remember they said integrated: Specifically, the new machine will include:

  • Quantum hardware designed to be stable and auto-calibrated to give repeatable and predictable high-quality qubits;
  • Cryogenic engineering that delivers a continuous cold and isolated quantum environment;
  • High precision electronics in compact form factors to tightly control large numbers of qubits;
  • Quantum firmware to manage the system health and enable system upgrades without downtime for users

Are you up for it? Maybe you’d prefer to try before you buy. The IBM Q Quantum Computation Center, opening later this year in Poughkeepsie, extends the IBM Q Network to commercial quantum computing programs,

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran information technology analyst, writer, and ghost-writer. Follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog, and see more of his work at

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