What is quantum cloud computing, and how does it work?

8 months ago 11

Quantum cloud computing makes quantum computing resources available to organizations, academics and other users through cloud technology.

Cloud-based quantum computers function at greater speeds, with higher computing power than conventional computers, because they employ the principles of quantum physics when solving complex computational problems.

Different types of quantum computers exist, such as quantum annealers, analog quantum simulators and universal quantum computers. Quantum annealers are considered the least powerful among quantum computers but work well to solve optimization problems. Analog quantum simulators, on the other hand, are powerful systems that can solve physics and biochemistry problems.

Universal quantum computers are the most powerful and widely used type of quantum computer. They are also the most difficult to build. Universal computing can potentially access up to 1 million qubits (basic units of quantum information). However, the current technology can only access around 100 to 400 qubits.

Quantum computing vs. Classic computing

How is all of this relevant to blockchain technology? Because quantum computing is incredibly powerful, it has understandably raised concern in the blockchain community, as it could potentially be used to the detriment of blockchain technology as we know it today.

First, quantum computing can hypothetically be used to gain an unfair advantage over other proof-of-work (PoW) miners and possibly dominate blockchain mining. This places decentralized PoW networks such as Bitcoin (BTC) and Litecoin (LTC) under the threat of centralization.

Second, quantum computing can also theoretically decrypt encryption codes used by blockchains. This means that quantum computing could enable an attack on a blockchain network using cryptography. However, it’s not all doom and gloom for cryptographic systems, as quantum cloud computing may also offer an effective solution for protecting and strengthening blockchains from quantum attacks.

Quantum cloud computing employs quantum principles to distributed computing, while cloud computing uses remote servers to provide distributed computing services.

Cloud computing simply refers to providing services such as data storage, servers, databases and networking via the internet. Instead of storing data on physical servers onsite, for example, an organization can opt for cloud storage services to cut hardware maintenance and other costs.

Quantum cloud computing, on the other hand, derives from quantum computing — a form of computing that uses quantum mechanics principles to solve complex problems. It provides quantum computers for users to access quantum-enabled services and solutions through the cloud.

Companies using cloud computing, such as Google, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft, are also at the forefront of developing quantum computers to refine computing technology and enable more users to access quantum computers through the cloud. IBM’s Osprey quantum computer, for example, features 433 qubits. The company reportedly plans to scale up to 4,000 qubits by 2025.

Related: Cryptocurrency vs. quantum computing: A deep dive into the future of cryptocurrencies

Akin to platform-as-a-service solutions, quantum cloud computing services work by connecting users directly to quantum processors, emulators and simulators.

Physical quantum computers are very complex, making cloud-based access an ideal setup for those needing to harness the power of quantum computing without purchasing their own machine.

According to IBM, its quantum hardware systems are roughly the size of an average car — mainly comprised of cooling systems to ensure that the superconducting processor remains at the ultra-cold ideal operating temperature.

Quantum hardware systems consist of superfluids that work to super-cool the system; superconductors, which form a Josephson junction to carry charges through quantum tunneling; and qubits facilitating behavior control and information relay.

Qubits can perform an important function called superposition, which allows them to place the quantum information they hold in a state of superposition or a combination of all the possible configurations of the qubits. This phenomenon allows for the creation of multidimensional computational spaces, facilitating the solution of complex problems.

Another thing that bears understanding when talking about quantum computing is the concept of entanglement — a quantum mechanical effect. Entanglement refers to correlations between the behavior of two separate things. In the context of quantum entanglement, as qubits become entangled, they cause changes to other qubits, allowing the system to find solutions faster than conventional computers.

Contrary to the widespread but mistaken belief that quantum computing can solve complex problems by trying every possible configuration to a problem in parallel, quantum computers leverage qubit entanglement to explore probabilities. Then, they carry out an algorithm to increase the chances of coming up with the best possible answer.

Quantum computing can potentially solve previously intractable problems in various fields, such as economics, drug design and development, finance, logistics, and more.

For example, large-scale quantum cloud computing platforms can be used to solve problems related to optimization in logistics and scheduling of resources in a business context. In healthcare, quantum cloud computing can potentially analyze large volumes of patient data to find the most effective treatments for specific illnesses.

Moreover, in the cybersecurity field, quantum computers can use their enhanced computing power to help combat cybercrime and data breaches. The benefits of quantum cloud computing are plenty. One significant benefit is that it allows organizations to access the power of quantum computing without purchasing their own machine and cooling systems.

It also allows quantum researchers, such as quantum physics students and scholars, to understand quantum principles better, and perform experiments without physically needing to access a quantum computer.

Among the current applications of quantum cloud computing are those related to quantum algorithm testing.

Specifically, quantum algorithms are created on conventional computers and tested on quantum computers to ensure viability. Because of the high technical cost and barriers to entry involved with quantum computing, cloud quantum computing allows businesses and researchers to leverage the technology to explore various quantum computing applications.

Quantum computing is still in its early days in terms of development and implementation, so adoption is still low. However, making the technology available through distributed cloud computing is a game-changer that opens the doors to many potential applications in the future.

Experts project that implementing cloud-based quantum computing might be more challenging than artificial intelligence, which has boomed considerably over the past decade. 

This challenge is partly due to the complex technical requirements of quantum computers. Because quantum hardware systems require extremely cold operating conditions, cloud providers will need to construct dedicated spaces for quantum computers. The data centers in existence today are ill-equipped for this purpose.

Furthermore, quantum computing and its related software are still in their early stages of development and implementation, so the overall industry is still considered nascent. Programmers will also need to acquire new arithmetic and logic skills, as typical digital programming approaches differ vastly from the ones required for quantum computing.

That said, experts remain optimistic about the potential of cloud quantum computing, believing that it can provide significant benefits for various industries such as finance, logistics, healthcare and technology.

As the technology evolves, it is still highly likely that cloud-based quantum computing will be widely available in the near future, making it easier and more cost-efficient for businesses to access this powerful technology.  

Cloud companies will likely be the first quantum-as-a-service providers, as the service will simply expand current offerings. If deployed and marketed effectively, quantum cloud computing may be as pervasive as artificial intelligence and machine learning implementations.

Related: 10 emerging technologies in computer science that will shape the future

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