Money talks, and that's all quantum maker D-Wave has to say

Cloud-based quantum computing access may be ready globally in five years

The quantum computing technology developed by D-Wave gets ongoing scientific debate, but it's also getting money, $28 million last week, bringing its total funding to about $150 million.

This Canadian company was started 15 years ago and is one of the most tenacious and longest-running tech start-ups around. It has built quantum computing systems used by NASA and Google in a joint project, Lockheed Martin, and an intelligence agency it can't name.

Its system has been termed controversial and runs an ongoing scientific gauntlet, as researchers ping-pong back and forth on their findings. One recent research paper didn't find evidence of a speedup in a benchmark test, but a Google test did. This doesn't matter. With investor money, D-Wave presses forward, building ever faster chips as the competition increases.

In the same week that D-Wave announced its new funding, IBM announced its plan to spend $3 billion over the next five years on new processor technology, including quantum.

With this latest round of funding, a broader deployment by D-Wave may not be far off. "We think this is the perfect technology to embed in the cloud," said Vern Brownell, the CEO at D-Wave.

D-Wave intends to use its latest investment on software development, including tools to expand its professional services capabilities and ultimately APIs for developers. Within a few years, the company hopes to have a cloud environment that can support "hundreds" of customers, and potentially have a platform available for global use in five years, Brownell said.

Quantum computing isn't replacing today's computing technology, or classical computing as it's now called, but Brownell said that for certain types of problems "you will see significant speedups."

"If we didn't expect there to be business value, we wouldn't be doing this," Brownell said. For now, it's the investors that see the value.

"The fact that D-Wave is the only company today offering a commercial solution, presents a very attractive environment for investors, especially those willing to balance higher risks and higher rewards," said Michael Feldman, a high-performance computing analyst at Intersect360 Research. "This latest round of money suggests the D-Wave technology is getting closer to a payoff."

Theoretically, quantum computing is capable of incredible compute power. A bit can hold one of two values, 1 or 0. A quantum computer uses subatomic particles that can hold states, 0 and 1 simultaneously, or a qubit. Instead of doing calculations one after the other, the computing power can increase exponentially. Two qubits can hold four distinct states but 10 qubits can have 1,024 states.

D-Wave has a 512-qubit chip and is working on a chip with more than 1,000 qubits.

The company said its approach will not only deliver entirely new forms of computing capability, but will be able to tackle compute problems that take a lot of computation, such as optimization problems, machine learning and sampling systems or Monte Carlo simulations.

Feldman said the "main impediment" for the company "is they have to prove that the technology works, that people can write software for it, and whether it's practical to use."

Brownell urged patience by asking people to remember what computing was like 40 years ago.

"This is the dawn of the quantum computing age," Brownell said. "We're sort of like Intel back in 1975."

This article, Money talks, and that's all quantum maker D-Wave has to say, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

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