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With conventional computing silicon, computing performance is often a function of clock speed and thread processing capabilities. For quantum computing, to date, the qubit has been the defining metric and it’s a number that keeps getting bigger.

A year ago, IBM announced that it had developed a127-qubit processor codenamed Eagle. Today at the IBM Quantum 2022 Summit, Big Blue announced a four- fold increase with its new Osprey Quantum processor, which can deliver 433 qubits. IBM’s goal is to build increasingly larger systems that by 2025 that will be able to scale up to over 4,000 qubits. More qubits mean more powerful, larger computation. 

The new Osprey processor along with the systems that support and enable it are key milestones on IBM’s  path to more powerful and practically useful quantum technology.

“Some of the really exciting technologies around Osprey are really not so much in the qubit chip itself is but rather what it takes to get the signals into and out of our qubits, which are based off of a superconducting technology,” Oliver Dial, chief hardware architect, IBM Quantum, told VentureBeat. “We use superconducting transmon qubits and basically they store their quantum information in a microwave photon.”

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For the layperson, what the Osprey qubit innovation means is that IBM can now pack more power into the same space. Another key benefit of the innovations that are enabling the Osprey approach is that it is easier for IBM to build its next generation of quantum processors than predecessor quantum processor technologies, as well as making the technology more maintainable.

Quantum use cases for the enterprise

The race to add more qubits isn’t just a research effort, it’s one that will help to make quantum computing more useful for enterprise use cases. 

Alongside the hardware announcements, IBM is also expanding its Quantum Network, which is a group of organizations that are exploring the use of IBM quantum computing hardware for commercial uses. There are over 200 member organizations in the IBM Quantum Network today, supporting over 450,000 registered users.

French bank Crédit Mutuel Alliance Fédérale is among the newest additions to the network and is now working with IBM to determine potential financial services uses cases where the quantum technology can be applicable.

Telecom giant Vodafone is now also joining the IBM Quantum Network for an emerging set of networking and security use for quantum safe cryptography.

“Partnering with IBM provides us with access to quantum technology which has the potential to provide incredible network optimization,” Luke Ibbetson, head of group R&D at Vodafone Group said in a statement. “It’s the sort of innovation that existing computers will never achieve alone, allowing us to save energy, reduce costs and give customers great connectivity in more places.” 

IBM Osprey and Quantum System Two provide a flight path to quantum’s future reality

For most of the history of quantum computing, it has been a technology that has lived in research labs. 

For IBM that changed in 2019, with the debut of the IBM Quantum System One. That system includes all of the necessary control electronics, refrigeration and quantum processing units in a setup that can be installed in a data center.

At the IBM Quantum 2022 Summit, the next generation IBM Quantum System Two was announced which will support the Osprey as well as future generations of quantum processors. The IBM Quantum System Two benefits from a series of innovations including a new generation of the control electronics that enable the system to operate.

Dial explained that in 2016 it took an entire rack of equipment for IBM to control 10 qubits. IBM has iterated on that control technology and with the Osprey update is introducing a new   generation of control electronics that is able to control 400 cubits with one rack of electronics.

The capability to benefit from all the raw power that IBM is providing with Osprey is also being improved with a technology called Qiskit runtime primitives.

“The Qiskit Runtime primitives let you construct the circuit that represents the problem you want to solve and then pass it in a serverless way to the IBM Quantum system,” Dial explained.

IBM will take the problem that the user has constructed with Qiskit and separate it out into a classical computer part that can consist of decomposing the circuits and running it in parallel on multiple pieces of quantum hardware in the IBM cloud. At the end of the process, the service will then reconstruct the answer in a separate cloud environment and send it back to the user.

No uncertainty about continued Quantum gains

Dial said that in a quantum data center, there will be a need to have a mixture of quantum and classical processing power.

The need to mix and match the two types of computing approaches will be a key focus for IBM over the next several years. Additionally, Dial said that IBM will be working on techniques for moving quantum information between different quantum processors to build even larger sets of capabilities. While quantum technology is challenging to develop, there are no obvious barriers at the current time to building out the technology either.

“We’re not hitting any barriers as far as scaling the number of qubits. and we’re not hitting any barriers as far as the quality of our devices go,”Dial said. “It looks to me like we’re going to continue to progress quite solidly in the years to come.”

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