IBM sets up its first quantum computer outside USA in a pioneering end-to-end remote procedure that might open up the world to quantum computing
For the first time, IBM has set up a quantum computer outside USA. Half-a-decade after its first quantum processor was made available over the Cloud, the company has physically installedits first quantum computer that has no relation with its New York-based data centres. It is located at the other side of the Atlantic – at the Fraunhofer Institute at Munich, Germany. In a way, this can be termed as the start of global quantum expansion for IBM. So long, users could only access the company’s quantum innovations by connecting to IBM’s Quantum Computation Center located at Poughkeepsie, New York.
The machine installed at the Fraunhofer Institute – the IBM Quantum System One – is Germany’s first superconducting quantum computer. IBM partnered with Fraunhofer to build the machine specifically for the institution’s use. The partnership was signed in 2020. Quantum System One was first released by IBM in 2019. Powered by a 27-qubit Falcon processor, it was the world’s first commercial quantum computer which users couldonly access over the Cloud. The German counterpart will be used by Fraunhofer’s scientists and academic partners. Other German organizations, too, can use it for research and academic purposes through contractual arrangements with the Fraunhofer Institute.
Going by pure numbers, IBM’s 27-qubit Falcon processors do not sound much – although they are still far ahead in performance when compared to conventional supercomputers. The 65-qubitHummingbird quantum chip is already in the works. A lot of buzz is also being generated over the 1,000-qubit system the company has promised by 2023. And, of course, they have already announced the visions of a million-qubit quantum beast!
So why so much noise over just a 27-qubit system? For one thing, because it is the first venture of its kind off US shores. And, more importantly, this partnership has been a learning exercise for the developers in more ways than one. Transporting the very sensitive and elaborate hardware to offsite location – that too overseas – was always challenging, but the pandemic situation made it near impossible. Under normal conditions the procedure would have involved shipping the components, after which a team of IBM specialists could travel to Fraunhofer and get the equipment rigged. But that part was now out of question and everything had to be done remotely.
A remote affair!
The procedure which the company followed is something that NASA employs for remote assembly of its complicated equipment – often beyond earth. IBM first needed to train the local engineers in Germany remotely in setting up quantum supercomputers. To train German engineers from the local IBM development lab, the company had tocurate a virtual course on quantum assembly. Naturally, every minute detail had to be included in that course – including the setting up of the actual quantum processors and computing gadgetry right up to the installation of the refrigeration and housing infrastructure.
Once the training was done and the required expertise gained, scientists from the US laboratory provided remote instructions to the newly-trained German experts to complete the assemblage and switch-on the system. It was a unique journey that helped the developers innovate novel methods and techniques to get the system in place on the other side of the world without physical presence. What’s more, everything was completed as planned and on schedule. Definitely, this will expedite further spread of quantum computing facilities over the globe.
The world is watching
And nations are really looking forward to it. This year IBM will also be installing Quantum System One at the University of Tokyo in Japan. While Germany has approved a funding of €2 billion for the promotion of quantum technologies in the country, Britain has also invested £1 billion in a National Quantum Technologies Programme.
In the US too, a $1.2 billion budget was allocated to the National Quantum Initiative Act. And Cleveland Clinic at Ohio is contracting IBM for a US$500 million quantum machine to be installed on its campus. That again would be an away-from-New York manoeuvre.
Mr. Quantum is really going places!