Innovation

Alibaba puts quantum computing in the public cloud, follows Intel and IBM's lead

Alibaba has just announced an 11 qubit quantum computer as part of its cloud offerings, making it the second-fastest public quantum computing platform in the world.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Alibaba has announced the launch of quantum computing for its cloud customers. The company is hosting an 11-qubit quantum computer, the second fastest cloud-hosted quantum machine available.
  • Quantum computing as a cloud service is new—IBM is the only other company offering this type of product. Whether it will be successful, practical, or lead to greater quantum computing innovation remains to be seen, though IBM has seen widescale use.

Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba, in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has added quantum computing to its cloud service. Alibaba Cloud now hosts a superconducting cloud computer offering 11 quantum bit (qubit) speed, making it the second fastest in the world behind IBM's 20-qubit cloud computer.

Alibaba Cloud users can now access the quantum computer to run code and conduct experiments. Alibaba Cloud's chief quantum technology scientist, Dr. Shi Yaoyun, said that users of Alibaba Cloud's quantum computer will help pave the way for future improvements in quantum computers world wide.

"By introducing quantum computing services on cloud, we make it easier for the teams to experiment with quantum applications in a real environment to better understand the property and performance of the hardware, as well as leading the way in developing quantum tools and software globally," Shi said.

Alibaba's entry into the world of quantum computing could be a signal to other major cloud players like Amazon and Google that not only is cloud-accessible quantum computing useful to its customers, but that it is a worthwhile investment as well.

How quantum computing works

Unlike traditional binary computing, which uses bits that can be in one of two states, 1 or 0, quantum computing uses a unit called the quantum bit, or qubit, which can be superpositioned, or in both binary states at the same time.

Not only that, but qubits can use a method called superdense coding, allowing them to hold two bits at the same time. Two superpositioned bits in one qubit means four times the data. In short, quantum computers are fast.

Quantum computers are designed to perform intense calculations much faster than a transistor-based computer could ever physically perform. Traditionally, the incredible power and cooling expenses of maintaining a superconducting quantum computer means access is reserved for high-end research institutions.

SEE: Research: Cloud vs. data center adoption rates, usage, and migration plans (Tech Pro Research)

If Alibaba and IBM are successful, their rollout of quantum computing power to their cloud services could make intense data crunching accessible to many more businesses and institutions—a change that could further accelerate the adoption of quantum computing and advance it further, faster.

What will determine the success or failure of quantum computing in the cloud is whether what's available can convince businesses that investment, either in time or effort, is worth it. IBM's Q Experience is free to use, and details on Alibaba's offerings aren't yet listed on its website. IBM's Q Network has partnered with research organizations and Fortune 500 companies, and the Q Experience has resulted in "over 60,000 users [running] more than 1.7M quantum experiments and generat[ing] over 35 third-party research publications." The market is clearly there, and Alibaba seems to want in.

Does quantum computing in the cloud sound like an ideal solution to your business? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Also see

DR JON HERAS, © DR JON HERAS/Science Photo Library/Corbis

About Brandon Vigliarolo

Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.

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