21 Mar 2023
Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning have quickly transformed the speed and scale of business decisions and we are tantalisingly close to mimicking the human brain. So much so that today, Alan Turing would be proud! But these processes still can't quite understand the brain or "make a simulation of nature", as physicist Richard Feynman put it. That's set to change, however, thanks to quantum computing.
Our experience of AI and other GPU-accelerated technologies has always been via traditional or "classical" (to quote Feyman again) computers, such as digital devices and business servers. As powerful as they are, these computers can't quite deliver the true potential of machine intelligence or simulation and it’s thought that in future, Quantum computers will - providing the power to complete algorithms at previously unimaginable speeds and accuracy. But how will this impact data centre operators, and how are UK organisations using quantum computing and photonics to start solving real-world problems?
After 30 years of hypothetical conversations quantum computing is finally emerging from labs and into commercial reality. In fact, Quantum is already transforming the work of organisations such as the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which in June 2022 acquired the world’s first quantum computer that runs at room temperature. This game-changing move has helped to put the UK right at the forefront of international quantum developments.
Business and political communities are also clearly excited by quantum computing, which has recently caught the watchful eye of The Times Katie Prescott. As a background, a couple of years ago, Boris Johnson promised the UK would "go big on quantum", and pledged that Britain would boldly secure 50% of the global quantum computing market by 2040.
As such, UK start-ups such as Orca Computing and Oxford Quantum Circuits have today attracted tens of millions of pounds of investment to help them turn quantum into a commercial technology, but for several reasons, Prescott has some concerns the UK’s status as a leader could vanish into a black hole.
Nonetheless, last month, we were delighted to host a consortium of pioneers (shown below) in the fields Quantum Computing at our high performance data centre campus in Harlow, and were joined by none-other than ORCA Computing, KETS Quantum Security, Riverlane, Bristol University and Bath University, as they shared their trail-blazing plans at the ‘Quantum Data Centre of the Future’ event.
For those who are aren’t familiar with ORCA, the company develops photonic quantum systems for machine learning, with the primary aim of unlocking new applications, accelerating innovation, and transforming entire industries with a fault-tolerant roadmap for universal quantum computing. It is one of 14 organisations and universities working together within the ‘Quantum Data Centre of the Future’ project to develop a vision for how quantum communication and computing systems will effortlessly integrate with classical data centres.
“Many people misunderstand the concept of quantum computers and consider them to be these chandelier-esq systems that are stunningly beautiful and eye-catching, but where the critical computing and networking is hidden from sight,” said Robert Murray, CEO and Co-Founder, ORCA Computing. “The reality, however, is completely different, and at ORCA, our aim is to solve real-world problems by bringing quantum computing to life within a real-life, data centre. This includes looking at the requirements for greater resiliency and security, while building quantum-classical hybrid systems that are both platform agnostic, but compatible with legacy environments.”
Interestingly, ORCA is what we at Kao Data would describe as truly disruptive. It combines its proprietary technology with off-the-shelf rack-mounted components, providing a unique approach to deliver the performance, scalability and usability requirements of generative machine learning and optimisation in traditional HPC environments.
Moreover, their technology can be deployed rack-mounted in a traditional, air-cooled data centre environment and amazingly utilises only 2kW per rack of power - creating a quantum-ready architecture that can be deployed almost as easily as many of the traditional servers and systems we see in data centres every day! ORCA made headlines last summer when the MoD selected it as its partner to develop quantum technology in military defence – something which Stephen Till, Senior Fellow of the MoD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, called a "milestone moment".
The MoD has since acquired one of Orca’s PT-1 models, which as I mentioned, is one of the first quantum computers to run at room temperature. This means it can be moved around and operated on various premises, giving it much greater versatility, not to mention more potential usage in multiple fields, compared to any other quantum computers developed so far.
Another key example of quantum in-action is Oxford Quantum Circuits (OQC), which aims to make Quantum Computing as a Service (QCaaS) as much a part of everyday business reality as Software as a service (or SaaS) or Platform as a service (PaaS). As part of its ongoing bid to make quantum available to businesses in the UK and worldwide, it is working with the Science and Technology Facilities Council to provide access to quantum technology via data centres and developer hubs.
In 2020 it received a £7m government grant to industrialise the design, manufacture and testing of superconducting quantum devices at commercial scale, and is now working with partners including SeeQC UK, Oxford Instruments and the University of Glasgow to achieve its goal. Its quantum computer is currently hosted by Cyxtera, who were our guests at the Quantum Data Centre of the Future’ event, and is cooled using a cryogenic system, rather than air-cooling.
Classical computers can be breathtakingly powerful, especially when run on high-performance infrastructure and fed with vast amounts of data. But the way they process data, via a series of discrete 0s and 1s (bits), doesn't take full advantage of the laws of physics as we know them.
Quantum computing takes the principles of quantum physics and uses it to create a new and much more powerful way of processing information. Instead of bits, it processes in qubits, which can continuously encode multiple combinations of outcomes at the same time – far more like the human brain does.
As a result, quantum technology enables far greater algorithmic speed and accuracy, and effectively allows scientists to do things they've long wished. For example, a quantum algorithm can predict what a complex molecule might do, enabling scientists to model the natural world in the way Feynman foresaw. Labs can use quantum technology to simulate the responses of the human body, with exciting implications for drug discovery and medical testing. Scientists can model the planet’s future climate with incredible accuracy.
Quantum computers are demanding beasts, and still require bespoke, industrial-scale infrastructure operated by specialised teams familiar with intensive forms of computing.
Orca's PT-1 is the first to run at room temperature, making it a trailblazer in terms of usability, but currently, it requires infrastructure that's not yet widely available. Kao Data is one of few data centre operators in the UK able to cater specifically for these types of deployments, and thereby enable quantum-ready forms of AI and machine learning.
Looking forward, it’s clear we’re just getting started on the use cases for quantum computing, but real-world examples are creeping closer by the day. It’ll be interesting to see how organisations like Orca move from design to development and commercialisation of such an incredibly innovative solution, and maintain their leadership in the race to quantum productisation.
What’s key, however, is that the quantum applications of the future are supported by high performance infrastructure platforms that have both the power, and the expertise to make Feynman’s ideals a reality. I, for one, am excited to see the new leaps of innovation at next years ‘Quantum Data Centre of the Future’ event.