Quantum computing has the potential to create new machines that can vastly exceed the capabilities of today’s most powerful supercomputers. A quantum computer harnesses quantum mechanics to deliver huge leaps forward in processing power. Instead of the binary bits used by digital computers, quantum computers use qubits – subatomic particles such as electrons or photons – which can be harnessed to generate far more processing power than an equivalent number of binary bits. Quantum computing is expected to become somewhat commonplace between five and 10 years from now. AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and IBM Cloud, all have pilot quantum computing projects in various stages of progress.
The ongoing development of quantum computers will create a new class of data processing facility, which in many cases will be very different from the enterprise and cloud data centers seen today.
While quantum computers will provide more processing power for certain tasks, they are not expected to replace conventional servers, but rather complement their existence and purpose. “A standalone quantum computer certainly is not going to be a plug-in replacement for existing computers — not even high-performance computers,” she said. “There are some types of problems that a classical computer is always going to be better for,” said Dr. Celia Merzbacher, executive director of Quantum Economic Development Consortium.
Hence, there is a high possibility that colocation facilities will become some of the first existing data centers to house this new generation of machines. At the same time, a quantum computer and a traditional server have very different ways of operating, and deploying quantum will not be as easy as fitting a blade in a rack.
Quantum data centers technologies
Companies will need to take into consideration access and integration into strategic resources via cloud-enabled connection to a quantum-enabled data center. Cybersecurity, low latency, and high-speed/high-capacity interconnection will be required, as well as a new software layer and application to fully exploit the potential benefits.
To begin with, quantum processors are thought to be using 1.5kW of power at most, compared to an average server rack that needs 5kW to 10kW of power. What is even more interesting is that 1.5kW is mostly used for cooling, as the processor itself requires almost no power for computational purposes.
Due to these reasons, most quantum processors need to be supercooled to a value that is very close to absolute zero, and need to be maintained at that level – otherwise, the superposition of the qubit, where it can appear in multiple states at once, will be destroyed.
Quantum computer Google’s Quantum AI Lab, is about the size of a room, featuring a cryostat that maintains the quantum processor at a super-cold temperature of about 10 milliKelvin – making the cryostat one of the coldest places in the known universe.
Data center cooling will need to be completely re-imagined in order to keep up with quantum computing demands and the instability of qubits. To give a bit of a perspective, the cores of D-Wave, one of the first commercially available quantum computers, operate at -460ºF, or -273ºC, which is 0.02 degrees above absolute zero. As a result, cooling will need to be based on technologies that can deliver that temperature, with liquid nitrogen being the obvious choice.
So, power requirements will drop massively compared to today’s data centers, and the facility’s cooling will need to be redesigned in order to accommodate the extremely low temperatures required to keep qubits stable.
Other quantum computing technologies under development don’t require cooling core components to nearly absolute zero (-460F), as IBM and Google’s systems require. If they succeed in the market, quantum computing will be less likely to remain confined to being primarily a public cloud offering.
Honeywell and the startup IonQ are each developing quantum computers using “trapped ion” designs. Another startup, called PsiQuantum, is developing a quantum computer that uses photons as qubits, the quantum bits that are the basic unit of quantum information. Since none of these designs require drastic cooling, something that can be rack mounted and rolled onto the floor of a traditional data center might be possible.
The instability of the qubits brings another major modification to the layout of the traditional data center. Because of their instability, they tend to be affected by any disturbance happening around the quantum processor. These systems will need to be kept in an electromagnetically isolated space, and the data center rack itself will need to be changed completely – to the point where it effectively becomes a Faraday cage.
Another thing you need In a quantum data center is an entire rack of classical modules, the Quantum computer’s control systems, which are in many ways, is as important as the QPU itself. This monstrosity of a system is what converts classical data into quantum data and vice versa. Without it, good luck plugging your quantum computer into an ethernet jack. One way to address a lot of that noise is actually through these control systems. We need to develop new ASICs that are tailormade for sending and receiving quantum information more effectively and new control algorithms to further reduce instabilities in magnetic fields, external disturbances, laser noise, etc.
To effectively counter this, all current encryption and decryption algorithms need to be repurposed to function within a qubit environment. Like any other new technology, this will mean time and investment, and consumer-level access to a quantum computer. Colocation data centers are again the ones which will see minimal impact on expenditure, since they will already have relevant equipment in place and will be able to absorb the cost of implementing such algorithms.
Changes to the data center space are coming along with mass availability of quantum computers. Racks will be changed; power consumption will increase, but not as much as one would expect with the arrival of a new generation of computing and cooling will play an even more important role than it currently does.
Quantum-based networks, data centers
Quantum networking will realize the capability to interface directly with the massive computing capacity of quantum computers and to enable the exchange of information, keeping it within the realm of the quantum world. New concepts like data teleportation and entanglement will open to massive scalable and energy-efficient networks while simultaneously keeping data secure at each physical layer through quantum encryption. These architectures will revolutionize the data center not only for computational capacity but to enable use cases that are not possible in the classic realm, making massive computational, storage, and information exchange capabilities a reality.
“Quantum networking could enable a new type of secure connection between digital devices, making them impenetrable to hacks,” Centoni stated. “As this type of foolproof security becomes achievable with quantum networking, it could lead to better fraud protection for transactions. In addition, this higher quality of secure connectivity may also be able to protect voice and data communications from any interference or snooping. All of these possibilities would re-shape the internet we know and use today.”
Cisco’s vision is twofold–to build quantum data centers that could use classic local area network concepts to tie together quantum computers to communicate to solve big problems or a quantum-based network that transmits quantum bits [qubits] from quantum servers at high speeds to handle commercial-grade applications, said Ramana Kompella a Distinguished Engineer and the head of research in the Emerging Tech and Incubation group at Cisco.
“We envision a hybrid networking environment that would support classic signaling and other technologies using photonics to transmit qubits server-to-server,” Kompella said.
Photonics technology, which uses light to transmit data and control a variety of networking mechanisms, will also play a big role in most quantum environments, Kompella said. “Currently, the focus of quantum computing hardware projects is to showcase units of less than one hundred qubits, while challenges begin when we want to scale the systems to thousands and eventually millions. Which technology platform has a better chance for faster scaling depends on the complexity of the hardware system and the architecture,” Shabani wrote. ”Modularity is a way to lower the system complexity, which in the case of quantum computing can be achieved by having quantum chips connected via photonic interconnects in a distributed fashion. Besides scalability, photonic networks allow all-to-all connectivity between modules which results in a major boost in the computational power of the system.”
As one of the first applications of quantum cybersecurity, quantum cryptography presents both promises and potential threats for the cryptographic infrastructure. On one side, quantum computers can be used to decrypt data that has been encrypted using classical computing. However, it also holds the promise of having secure communications channels for secret key distribution.
For example, quantum cryptographic devices, based on QKD, typically employ individual photons of light and take advantage that measuring a quantum system, in general, disturbs it and yields incomplete information about its state before the measurement. Eavesdropping on a quantum communications channel, therefore, causes an unavoidable disturbance, alerting the legitimate users. Quantum cryptography exploits this effect to allow two parties who have never met and who share no secret information beforehand to communicate in absolute secrecy under the nose of an adversary. Quantum techniques also assist in the achievement of subtler cryptographic goals, important in the post-cold war world, such as enabling two mutually distrustful parties to make joint decisions based on private information while compromising its confidentiality as little as possible.
The quantum internet indeed will be primarily for security use cases where users need to securely communicate location to location over many miles, Kompella said. “Technologies to develop the quantum internet and the security use case are being developed all around the world,” Kompella said.
Other applications will be developed such as privacy-preserving apps, also known as blind computing, where quantum servers handle work without “knowing” all of the information about the work. Fraud detection, particle simulation and climate applications are all targets for distributed quantum technology to work on, Kompella said.
It’s important to recognize that the quantum internet is not anticipated to replace the classical internet – for instance, even Local Operations and Classical Communication (LOCC) operations rely on classical communications – instead, the quantum internet will run in conjunction with the classical internet to form a new hybrid internet. This exciting horizon poses some key challenges and definitively new standardizations and alignment between classical and quantum internet definitions that will drive efforts and new definitions in the coming decades. It’s critical to prepare now to be ready for when these technologies become commercially available at scale.
Quantum Computing Should be Plug and Play
With the control hardware slowly being standardized, all that is left is the software layer that defines the interface to the device. In essence, what is required is a “Docker Container” of sorts, that allows any user to plug into any Quantum Device on the ARTIQ SINARA platform. The Quantum Device can physically reside in the data center, or it can be remote. All the user needs to do is supply the IP address of the device, and viola, you have a Quantum Data Center at your finger tips.
While we may be a decade away from quantum computing, planning ahead and preparing for the data centers of the future will be paramount to fully realize the benefits of this technology, wrote Domenico Di Mola VP of Engineering at Juniper Networks.
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