QaaS — democratization of quantum computing with cloud
The future of quantum computing is Quantum-as-a-service
Quantum computing has come a long way in the last 3 to 4 decades. What started as an intriguing concept by physicist Richard Feynman in 1981, has had many moments of glory in the journey: Peter Shore’s first algorithm of large integer factorization for quantum computing in 1994, the first experimental 2-qubit quantum computer in 1998, first commercial quantum computer by D-wave in 2010, Google claiming quantum supremacy in 2019 and finally, quantum tech startup funding by VCs surpassing USD 1.7B in 2021.
Accelerating technology advances in this field are rapidly making quantum computing commercially viable and available. Democratization of quantum computing is led by the cloud service providers like Google, IBM, Amazon, Microsoft, as well as companies like Riggetti, D-Wave and Xanadu. The real quantum advantage can be achieved by combining the power of quantum computing with the general compute and AI services of cloud providers.
How developers can take advantage of cloud quantum services
There are two ways in which developers can access cloud quantum services:
- Quantum simulator provides the development and test environment access to simulate quantum computers. A Quantum simulator is a software program that runs on classical computers and enables quantum algorithms execution in a quantum-like environment that predicts the measurement outcomes of a quantum circuit.
- Access to the quantum computers via the cloud APIs is provided for more specialised use cases or research work.
The following diagram shows typical steps in the development of a quantum algorithm using a simulator and quantum processor.
With APIs and SDK, quantum cloud providers provide a platform for developers, researchers and companies to develop and test their quantum algorithms on real quantum computers or simulators via the cloud.
The key players in the cloud quantum services market are IBM Quantum, Google Quantum AI, Amazon Braket, Microsoft Azure Quantum, Alibaba Aliyun, Riggeti Forrest, D-Wave Leap, and Xanadu with IBM and Google leading the race!
The following diagram of Amazon Braket illustrates how developers can make use of simulators and quantum hardware in the cloud:
In this article, the comparison of the first 4 cloud quantum service providers ( IBM Quantum, Google Quantum AI, Amazon Braket, Microsoft Azure Quantum) is presented.
How do the major cloud quantum service providers stack up?
IBM Quantum (originally IBM Q Experience)
IBM leads the cloud quantum computing market in terms of hardware, SDK, software, partner network, and patents. Its key focus is to become a full-stack quantum computing partner for enterprises. IBM launched the most powerful quantum processor yet, a 127-qubit Eagle processor in Nov 2021. It also unveiled plans for IBM Quantum System Two, the next generation of quantum systems. Moreover, it is planning to launch a 1,000-qubit chip, IBM Quantum Condor, by the end of 2023. With 20 quantum computers connected to the cloud, 1 trillion quantum circuits run so far on IBM’s quantum hardware and 100+ patents, IBM leads the race of cloud quantum computing!
Developers can access IBM cloud quantum services via Qiskit (an open-source quantum software development platform). It provides free access to IBM Quantum open systems. Other advanced access options are available for researchers, educators, and startups. It also offers the professional quantum developer certification program.
Google Quantum AI / Quantum Engine
Google has many “firsts” to its credit! With its Sycamore processor, Google claimed quantum supremacy in Oct 2019. It is a major milestone in the journey of quantum computing! In Aug 2020, the Sycamore processor performed the first quantum simulation of a chemical reaction. Google has a 2-pronged approach: it is leading in such scientific breakthroughs as well as focusing on building full-stack quantum computing capabilities with a special focus on quantum AI.
Access to quantum computing services to scientists who are developing algorithms for NISQ processors is available via an application process. Developers can test their quantum algorithms on quantum simulators. In addition, IonQ quantum computer access is provided via GCP free credits.
Amazon AWS started its quantum quest recently and has made a significant foray into cloud quantum services with multiple patents. Its primary focus is to democratize quantum services access as well as strengthen its core AWS services ecosystem. It recently launched Quantum computing research in Poland with Amazon Braket. It also started AWS Center for Quantum Computing which will act as a resource hub to promote cooperation between quantum experts from Amazon, the California Institute of Technology, and other key research institutions to develop new quantum computing technologies.
Braket provides access to QPU (quantum processing units) as well as 3 types of simulators. Developers can access Braket services using AWS free tier (though the access the limited at this point, one free hour of quantum circuit simulation time per month during the first twelve months of use).
Microsoft Azure Quantum
After missing the early bandwagon of quantum computing (it does not have its quantum processor), Microsoft is aiming to acquire a pole position in the area of post-quantum cryptography (PQC). It has made significant investments in key PQC initiatives as part of the NIST post-quantum project. Microsoft is focusing on the democratization of cloud quantum services via providing access to quantum hardware by partners like IONQ, Honeywell, Rigetti, Quantum Circuits, Toshiba, and 1Qbit. In addition, it provides cloud-based access to algorithms developed at Microsoft and 1QBit. Microsoft Quantum Computing Kit includes libraries for chemistry, machine learning, and numerics.
Azure Quantum has the most liberal access credit plan for the developers. It provides free access via $500 Azure Quantum credits.
Quantum programming made easy using SDKs
As a developer, if you want to write and execute quantum algorithms on quantum computers or simulators, you would need quantum SDKs, most of which are open-source libraries based on python language. The following diagram provides a comprehensive view of quantum programming stack — hardware, languages, circuits, algorithms and libraries:
The buzzing ecosystem of quantum computing along with scientific advances, increasing funding and big baits by cloud service providers indicate that industry leaders can no longer just be bystanders and they need to ensure that their businesses are ready for this cutting edge technology. Many companies in sectors such as pharma, chemical, finance, aerospace (as well as government defence sector) are already working on quantum research in stealth mode. Such companies who are already involved with experimentation will take a quantum leap in the coming decade when this technology matures and more industry use cases will become mainstream. On the other hand, the democratization of quantum computing will keep on expanding with more resources and access services being made available to developers.
(This article was originally published on LinkedIn. In part 2 of this article, a comparison of remaining players in quantum cloud services will be presented, so stay tuned…!)