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6 quantum computing questions IT needs to ask

Quantum computers work differently, and so do the applications that run on them. Here's how IT needs to be involved in your quantum computing strategy
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In 3 questions to guide your quantum applications strategy, I shared some thoughts on what organizations need to consider before heading out into the unknown waters of quantum applications.

Quantum computers work differently, and so do the applications that run on them. As research charges ahead, new ways of behavior are discovered. Attempts to harness and control these differences are constantly in motion.

[ Related reading: Post-quantum cryptography, an introduction. ]

Recently, physicists discovered a "time crystal," which theoretically has the potential for time travel. No, it is not like sending you back in time, rather it can perform computer operations slightly out of sync with present time. You can imagine what that could do with global stock markets. But if you stick to what you know, the most obvious implication is that quantum computers will be faster and can complete many different scenarios simultaneously. Classic computers are slower and have to process everything in sequence. Another major difference is that quantum applications can deliver the most plausible answer by using interference that cancels out wrong answers and amplifies correct answers.

6 things IT needs to consider 

This article focuses on things the IT department needs to think about and highlights some areas to explore while there is still time.

1. What data are you using?

For me, data format is a reasonable place to start because most organizations have both relatively new systems and older systems that generate, collect, and store huge amounts of data. The older systems often do the heavy lifting. This means they make things happen in the real world—and they also bring in the money. 

The challenge is the older systems' data format and fields may not be compatible with newer systems. In addition, the fields and tables might not contain what you'd expect. There is also the complexity of free text fields that store keywords. Do not underestimate the challenge of making existing data available for quantum application to work with.

2. What technology and tools will you use?

I do not expect that you need to build a quantum computer from mail order components to take advantage of quantum applications. But you do need to sort out how to safely connect to a quantum computer as a service (QCaaS), which would include networks, firewalls, gateways, and safety protocols.

The important question in developing quantum applications is finding tools that can provide a 10-year lifespan with guaranteed software support. There are many open source tools for quantum-based application development. A company could take on one (or more) open source projects, but this can be a challenge and a costly commitment. The issue is not only keeping your software up to date (and retaining staff to develop it) but also to develop quantum software that's compatible with the rest of your IT environment. When considering lifespan, consider abandoned open source projects for quantum software applications.

Python, JavaScript, and C++ are common software development tools for quantum applications today, but monitor trends closely. This is an emerging technology, so you can expect major technological breakthroughs. These breakthroughs may change the landscape of software development tools.

[ Learn best practices for implementing automation across your organization. Download The automation architect's handbook. ] 

3. Should you choose big players or open source?

You have several options for a quantum application platform. IBM is providing the Qiskit development framework that conveniently uses the Python programming language. Microsoft provides a proprietary quantum development kit that uses its #Q software language and integrates with Visual Studio and Azure.

Which quantum computing platform will prevail? It's difficult to say, so open source solutions are a wise choice for maximum flexibility. Open source most likely guarantees a migration path to new technology or platform once it becomes relevant.

4. Will you need a hybrid quantum platform?

Mixing regular computers with quantum technology results in a hybrid quantum computer environment. This inevitably leads to more headaches, and I recommend trying to avoid it. Having said that, some countries or industries might introduce legal or practical obstacles—for example, where sensitive data is not allowed to be hosted outside a country—that force very large companies to utilize country-specific quantum computer platforms.

In this case, it's vital to have software tools that will work in different environments with few modifications. This also makes the knowledge required for software development as generic as possible.

5. What test and production platforms will you use?

Quantum computing promises some amazing possibilities at very high speeds, but quantum applications require testing before you take them to production. Many businesses aren't comfortable taking completely new software solutions based on new technology straight from idea to production. There must be an intermediate step to validate the behavior of code and the credibility of the result.

The test platform needs to be the same type as the production platform. Confirm that the quantum application can follow the platform's upgrade path. You don't want to build something that can't keep pace with its platform. In such a scenario, costs could go rampant, and your whole quantum application effort might come to a very painful halt when the provider closes access to older versions. Collaboration and openness are key to having a constructive dialogue with your QCaaS provider to ensure continued support.

[ Try OpenShift Data Science in our Developer sandbox or in your own cluster. ]

6. What's driving your quantum opportunity?

There needs to be a clear business value for your first few quantum-based applications. It is imperative that the quantum application's benefits are measurable and driven by business requirements.

Back-office operations (order, invoicing, production) can continue to run on classic computers to some extent. Areas like finance, marketing, logistics, and R&D can expect to see the biggest changes once quantum applications enter the stage. This makes human resources an important player to help make the existing staff feel appreciated and involved to retain them. This also helps them bring their wealth of knowledge to the next level with quantum applications.

Wrapping up

Quantum computers are still limited in use, but it is not long until they become mainstream. You can rely on classic computers to collect data, especially in rugged environments like cars, naval vehicles, factories, forest machinery, and so forth. Data can be harvested locally and processed in central locations using quantum applications for analysis and decision making. The two realms will work hand in hand for many years.

Applications that run on quantum computers can be provided as a service. There are several challenges that organizations can face. IT needs qualified staff, and the full IT team needs to be trained on the new technology. You need to investigate the expected lifecycle of platforms and tools and prepare for how old and new technology will collaborate. The first few quantum applications should be driven by business needs with measurable benefits as outcomes.

Quantum computing is poised to be the biggest change since the start of IT. Make sure to be well prepared and avoid being left behind once quantum applications pick up momentum.

[ Check out Red Hat Portfolio Architecture Center for a wide variety of reference architectures you can use. ]

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Joachim Haller

Member of the Red Hat Accelerators and Red Hat Chapter Lead at Capgemini. More about me

Navigate the shifting technology landscape. Read An architect's guide to multicloud infrastructure.

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