IBM’s Q Network and the Road to Commercial Quantum Computing

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  December 20, 2017

The IT industry loves to talk-up cool new technologies. Though impressive, it’s typically half an exercise in PR and half self-referential backslapping. What is less discussed is the careful process and considerable effort required to bring those products and services successfully to market.

It isn’t just a matter of beating the bushes for willing clients. That’s especially true in the case of unique technologies for which no appreciable market exists. You also have to engage able, energetic partners, and work to educate potential customers.

Consider the iPhone which recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of its launch. What Apple has chosen to remember and highlight includes the legendary vision and P.T. Barnum-class promotional genius of its then-CEO Steve Jobs and its own remarkable skills in product and GUI design. What has arguably received less than its due are the efforts the company’s partners played in ensuring that success.

Those include AT&T, the iPhone’s initial exclusive mobile carrier which did a decent job of dialing-up network capacity to feed growing bandwidth demands. More important, though, were the developers who populated the Apple Store with thousands and eventually millions of apps and services that helped define the iPhone and expand its capabilities.

Their value certainly wasn’t lost on Google which made developer outreach central to its efforts around Android. That effectively stuck a stick into Apple’s spokes and made the smart phone market far more competitive and profitable than it would have been otherwise.

The essential value of partner and developer efforts also cast light on the Q Network announced by IBM last week, and the role it is likely to play in the evolution and adoption of the company’s IBM Q quantum computing platform.

Getting from “A” to IBM Q

What exactly is the Q Network? IBM says it is designed to provide organizations quantum computing expertise and resources, as well as cloud-based access to its 20 qubit IBM Q systems and, eventually, next generation systems like the 50 qubit prototype IBM Q system the company announced on November 10, 2017.

What does the company hope to accomplish with the Q Network? According to Dario Gil, VP of AI and IBM Q at IBM Research, the effort, “Will serve as a vehicle to make quantum computing more accessible to businesses and organizations. Working closely with our clients … we can begin to explore the ways big and small quantum computing can address previously unsolvable problems applicable to industries, such as financial services, automotive or chemistry.”

In other words, the company believes that (like other quantum systems under development) IBM Q will be capable of supporting new, even unique capabilities of value to a wide variety of businesses, research labs and government agencies.

Joining the Q Network Queue

To that end, IBM announced an initial dozen, impressive members of the Q Network. They include, Barclays, Daimler AG, Hitachi Metals, Honda, JPMorgan Chase, JSR Corporation, Keio University, Oak Ridge National Lab, Oxford University, Samsung Nagase and the University of Melbourne. Not surprisingly, they are focusing on quantum computing in highly individual ways. For example,

  • Daimler AG will work with IBM to advance quantum computing for the automotive and transportation industry in areas such as finding and developing new materials through quantum chemistry, complex optimization problems for manufacturing processes or vehicle routing for fleet logistics or autonomous/self-driving cars, and the intersection of quantum and machine learning to enhance AI capabilities.
  • JPMorgan Chase, the premier global financial services partner with IBM, will focus on financial industry use cases, including trading strategies, portfolio optimization, asset pricing and risk analysis.
  • JSR Corporation, a leading chemical and materials company, will explore quantum computing’s application to materials for electronics, environmental and energy applications.
  • Samsung will explore use cases where quantum computing may impact the future of the semiconductor and electronics industry.

Q Network Hubs and consulting

Not surprisingly, IBM’s focus as a global enterprise has implications for its quantum computing efforts. The company plans to establish regional Q Network Hubs across four continents with planned locations at IBM Research, Keio University in Tokyo, Japan, the Oak Ridge National Lab in the U.S., Oxford University in the U.K. and the University of Melbourne in Australia.

The company’s intent is to increase access to and advance research into quantum systems, with broader goals of accelerating the education, skills development and implementation experience that quantum computing evolution requires. The Hubs will broadly enable IBM’s industry and research collaborators by supporting online access to IBM Q systems and joint development efforts. In addition, they complement the company’s Q Experience services and solutions which to-date have enabled 60,000+ users to run over 1.7M experiments on IBM quantum processors via the IBM Cloud.

The company also introduced Q Consulting, a new service offering which provides clients access to consultants, scientists and industry experts who can help them understand the business value of quantum computing and provide customized roadmaps to help clients become quantum ready. IBM Q Consulting experts and developers are focusing initially on logistics and modeling use cases in industries like mining, banking, life sciences and electronics.

Final analysis

On its own, IBM’s efforts in quantum computing, including its 20-quibit system and 50-qubit prototype, and the Q Experience services on IBM Cloud would be worthy of deep respect. Though other companies and organizations are developing their own solutions and services for quantum computing, IBM’s efforts are generally more mature and its investments more sizable.

Those points and the overall progress of IBM Q make the platform ripe for the company’s Q Network plans and strategy. In essence, IBM has brought quantum computing a long way and plans to press even further ahead. But it also recognizes the critical roles of business and research partners in evolving the IBM Q platform, shaping practical and commercial quantum solutions and introducing potential customers to the technology’s potential value.

If this all sounds somewhat familiar, it should. Like other unique technologies, quantum computing needs to follow a common, even pedestrian path toward public understanding and acceptance or risk ending up forgotten by the wayside. IBM recognizes the importance of this dynamic, and its new Q Network and other efforts reflect both the depth of the company’s understanding and the likelihood of its eventual success.

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