At CES, IBM announced its first commercial 20-qubit quantum computer called IBM Q System One and the IBM Q Quantum Computation Center for its business customers. For some years IBM has been developing its own IBM Q quantum systems, also thanks to tests conducted allowing its customers the access to them via cloud and offering the possibility to develop specific applications, now the company has announced a system declaring a reliability comparable to that of a classic mainframe.
The quantum platform initially called the IBM Quantum Experience and later IBM Q Experience allowed IBM to improve its quantum systems. In November 2017 the company announced its first commercial services but the level was still very experimental. The IBM Q System One is supposed to represent a step forward, being a system created for commercial purposes. Now IBM Q Network’s member customers will be able to access the new quantum system in a program that will be expanded with the opening of the IBM Q Quantum Computation Center in Poughkeepsie, New York, during 2019. The center will host some of the most advanced quantum systems accessible via cloud.
The new policy is also visible aesthetically: the previous quantum systems were clearly lab machines, IBM Q System One is contained in a cube of about 2.70 meters (9 feet) of side that contains the cryogenic system used to maintain the very low temperatures needed to exploit the semiconductor properties of certain materials and all the other electronic components, including the classic computer system used to provide secure access to the quantum system via cloud.
The problem was to make these quantum systems reliable because they need an extremely stable environment to prevent the state of the various qubits from being disturbed. The advantage of quantum systems over classical ones is due to the fact that a qubit can have 0 and 1 as a value at the same time thanks to the superposition principle but any perturbation, electrical or other such as vibrations or temperature changes, could make that quantum processing fail.
According to IBM, these problems have been more or less solved, but the use of IBM Q System One will still be a test, even if at a new level. It’s no coincidence that the services will still be available only via cloud and not selling the physical computer as the company does with its classic mainframes.
It will be interesting to understand how many benefits customers will get by using IBM Q System One instead of classic systems. In the end this is the center of all the discussions that have been going on about quantum computers in the last few years, and IBM’s new system will not be the one that will end them. The key difference is that IBM is offering commercial services that need to provide a return to those who pay them so technical discussions will continue but at least answers will come based on very practical considerations.