AWS Establishes Foothold in Quantum Processing

Summary Bullets:

R. Bhattacharyya

• AWS launched three initiatives designed to help customers explore quantum processing as well as develop quantum expertise and identify quantum applications

• Amazon Braket gives users the opportunity to experiment with quantum algorithms; the AWS Center for Quantum Computing promotes collaborative research and development; and the Quantum Solutions Lab will help identify use cases for the technology.

Although quantum computing is still in the early stages, and practical applications for it still need to be developed, there is no doubt that the technology’s impressive processing power holds the potential to have a major impact across vertical industries. It’s only a matter of time before the ability to create and deploy quantum solutions becomes a competitive differentiator, allowing some companies to better leverage the wealth of data they have collected to uncover new insights. But building proficiency in new technologies takes years and can be expensive; however, many experts argue that the time is right to start developing internal quantum expertise. With a technology that is just emerging, how and where should enterprises start?

This week, AWS launched three new quantum initiatives designed to help enterprises struggling with this challenge. Its new Amazon Braket platform gives data scientists the opportunity to work with qubits and test quantum circuits in a simulated environment, and then run them on quantum hardware from D-Wave, IonQ and Rigetti. (AWS plans to add additional options in the coming months.) With the managed service, data scientists can deploy quantum algorithms on a range of hardware options (versus working with only one vendor), which allows for more flexible testing and experimentation. To further innovation in quantum, AWS also announced plans to open an AWS Center for Quantum Computing next to the Caltech campus in California, where it envisions bringing together experts to address the possibility of developing technology that enables broader production of quantum computers and to explore applications for quantum computing. Additionally, AWS plans to establish an Amazon Quantum Solutions Lab where customers can explore Quantum use cases alongside with Google experts and partners (1Qbit, Rahko, Rigetti, QCWare, QSimulate, Xanadu, and Zapata are already signed up) and develop internal teams of quantum experts. AWS envisions holding educational workshops and sponsoring brainstorming sessions at the lab.

It’s no surprise then that the large hyper-scale cloud providers are eager to cultivate demand for quantum processing while at the same time establishing a foothold in the quantum space. (Google, Microsoft, and IBM are all exploring Quantum opportunities). Quantum computing may be one of the first, true, cloud-only technologies. It is cost prohibitive for most organizations to consider purchasing their own quantum computers. Furthermore, the hardware is too unstable to maintain easily. Quantum computers are extremely susceptible to magnetic, electrical, and thermal interference, and require highly specialized environmental conditions. Therefore, most organizations that want to utilize quantum processing will need to purchase cloud-based services. However, unlike its competitors Google and IBM, Amazon hasn’t developed its own quantum processor. Instead it is looking to be a facilitator, offering a platform to help companies start exploring the quantum computing capabilities of other vendors, similar to Microsoft’s approach. This may change given its investment in the AWS Center for Quantum Computing, which is exploring hardware development. However, for the time being it’s a wise approach given growing preference by customers to have a variety of processing options at their disposal – whether on-premises, in the cloud, in multi-clouds, or at the edge. Furthermore, the initiatives establish a foothold in the quantum space, which Amazon desperately needs to keep up with its peers.

But what will customers use quantum processing services for? Today, quantum is expected to have applications in energy management, engineering, pharmaceuticals, and machine learning, but there are likely numerous other applications yet to be uncovered. And since the technology is evolving quickly, much remains to be seen. Just a few months ago Google confirmed that its Sycamore quantum computer had achieved quantum supremacy, meaning it had performed calculations that today’s high speed computers could not accomplish in a reasonable amount of time. (The Sycamore quantum processor, utilizing 53-qubits, performed calculations in 200 seconds that would have taken traditional supercomputers over 10,000 years to complete.) It is likely that further breakthroughs are forthcoming.

Against this backdrop of change and uncertainty, is it too early to begin experimenting with quantum? And is it worth the time and money? Answers to these questions will vary by individual company and industry. For those that want to kick the tires of quantum, AWS is a familiar partner and good place to start. But it certainly isn’t the only vendor providing quantum simulation and quantum solutions. IBM offers IBM Q, a commercial portfolio that includes quantum simulation as well as quantum processing at its Quantum Computation Center; Atos offers Quantum Learning Machine for quantum simulation; and hardware vendors such as Rigetti also offer solutions for enterprises interested in experimenting with quantum algorithms. But regardless of whether companies decide to move ahead now or adopt a wait and see approach, quantum is an emerging technology worth watching, especially by companies using complex scientific and mathematical algorithms to operate and differentiate their businesses.


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