Cloud-based quantum computing lets startups compete with Goliaths

Once out of reach for smaller companies, quantum computing services level the playing field. Providers offer access, development kits, and training at more affordable prices.

Cloud-based quantum computing lets startups compete with Goliaths

Back in the days when I was working with “supercomputers,” it was clear to me that these beasts capable of producing high MIPS (million instructions per second) were far too expensive for smaller businesses. Only enterprises that could foot the bill for a high-end supercomputer could benefit from its power to crunch numbers and data at a speed that would set their solutions apart in terms of innovative value they could bring to the business that could afford them. I felt this was not fair.

An entire part of the economy was locked out of the higher-end computing power that they could have used for research, development, diagnostics, artificial intelligence, and other applications with intense processing requirements that are just too much for affordable commodity hardware to handle. Indeed, this was a key barrier to entry that megacompanies relied on to protect their market position from pesky upstarts that can move much faster. 

Of course, the cloud changed everything. What once required a huge investment now can be obtained using a credit card and a cloud account. Today, any company with the (fewer) dollars to leverage high-end, once-unobtainable computing services can now access high-performance computing systems, including the emerging quantum computing. This game changer has been evolving for the past few years.

Cloud providers such as IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google have all invested heavily in quantum computing and are offering cloud-based access to their quantum computers, making the technology accessible to mainstream enterprises. The services can be shared among many companies, and each pays only for the resources they use. But it doesn’t end there.

The cloud providers seem to be all over this. Providers are now offering tools and frameworks to help businesses develop quantum applications. Microsoft’s Quantum Development Kit provides tools and libraries to help developers write and debug quantum programs. IBM’s Qiskit framework provides an open source software development kit for building quantum programs.

Cloud providers are also investing in education and training to help businesses understand and develop quantum applications. IBM offers a Quantum Experience platform that allows users to experiment with quantum computing through a web-based interface. Microsoft provides online courses and training materials to help developers learn about quantum, including building and deploying applications.

Finally, cloud-based quantum computing providers are helping with the talent and advice needed to use quantum computing effectively. They support collaboration and networking with other organizations and experts in the quantum field at all levels. IBM’s Q Network is a global community of organizations working together to advance quantum computing and explore its potential applications. Developers and architects can participate.

Of course, you must be careful to not overapply quantum computing, which I see as the largest danger. There’s a risk that, much like artificial intelligence, companies will use quantum computing to solve business problems that really don’t need quantum computing. They’ll spend 10 times the money and time to solve a problem that could be more efficiently solved with traditional computing technology. I’m seeing this happening now, which is alarming.

Key applications for quantum computing include traffic optimization, financial modeling, transportation and logistics, materials design, and healthcare diagnostics. Someone writing an accounting application using quantum will find that high-powered technology can also result in negative value when it’s misapplied.

Nothing comes without challenges, however. Hopefully, we can expand the reach of quantum clouds beyond niche industrial use cases toward wider applications, industries, and problem domains without misapplying it. Cloud providers will need to become more efficient at providing quantum computing services, including things like error handling and other issues that occur during normal operations. Also, they must bring down prices, which many enterprises are still finding higher than expected.

Startups are typically more aggressive and can operate faster than their larger and more bloated competition that now owns the market. In the past, they did not compete on a level playing field, but quantum computing can turn the tables in their favor. We may see major disruptions in industries other than taxicab systems. At the end of the day, consumers should benefit from this creation of value-driven innovation using cheaper quantum.

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