By | November 13, 2023
Quantum computing: Hype or reality?  OVH says companies would be better prepared

Euro cloud biz OVH recently announced the purchase of its first quantum-powered system as part of long-term plans to build a quantum environment for developers and other users.

The company takes a pragmatic approach, seeing it as a technology that has a long way to go before it will live up to the hype, but still important enough for organizations to do their homework and be prepared for when quantum is more mature.

The registry recently spoke with OVH CTO Thierry Souche, who discussed his views on quantum computing and the company’s roadmap.

Souche revealed that he took some time to train on quant and how it works, and said it’s something he strongly suggests other managers should consider doing.

“I always struggled to understand how a quantum computer would work, and why it was such a step change compared to classical computing,” he said.

“So taking at least a day and a half or two of training just doing the basics, quantum Hello World if you will, helped me gain a lot of insight into why it could be so different, but also the limitations associated with technology, and especially why it’s not going to be a technology that does everything and you’d still need classic computing.”

His take on quantum technology, after training, is to think of it almost as the opposite of how a conventional computer works, right down to the lowest level of the hardware. And that’s basically where quantum computers are at the moment: still at a primitive level, comparable to where classical computers were more than 50 years ago.

“When you look at a classical computer, you have a piece of silicon with the various gates that together will define a circuit that implements some logic. So the static there is the gates, millions of them, and the flow is of electrons,” Souche said.

“Quantum computing is actually the reverse. If you look at one of the technologies, cold atoms, what’s static is the information you store. And the dynamic part is how you apply a gate to the atoms. Applying a gate actually means getting a specific atom to a specific level of arousal.”

In this example, that means applying a beam of energy to the single atom, and how it’s applied—the level of energy, spectrum, duration—serves as the gate.

You can very easily make a decision to invest in a dead end.

“So you’re dynamically flowing in logic, while what you’re keeping statically is the memory, which is the complete opposite of what you do with a classical computer,” Souche said.

Whether you think this way of looking at quant is useful or not, Souche believes the kind of very basic training he received would help decision makers in any organization at least understand how different quant is, why they need to think about it differently, and to try to understand how it can be used in their business.

“Although the technology will be nice and nice, it’s still in the experimental phase, and it won’t cover every problem, especially if the nature of the problem is not amenable to a particular quantum technology. And if you don’t get it, you can very easily a decision to invest in a dead end, Souche told us.

These quantum technologies use different ways of representing quantum bits, or quantum bits, with a variety of them under development, including trapped ions, quantum dots, and superconducting circuits. Some of these technologies may prove to be better suited for some applications than others.

“I think a lot of decision makers and their teams have to go through that journey in order for them to be able to judge whether there is a competitive advantage to bet on quantum technology, or whether classical computing will do the job just as well. They have to know where they should never, ever try use quantum because it’s not going to deliver anything,” Souche said.

“What is certain is that very few people are trained. So if you wake up too late, you simply won’t find anyone available to help you judge whether or not this is the technology of choice for you. But if you start training your people now, you have a good chance of having staff in-house who can do the assessment for you. We already know that for some industries it will be a game changer.”

Areas where OVH believes there is a deep fit for the technology include chemistry and modeling of molecular folding. “When you need to model real real molecules with thousands of atoms or more, you can’t do this with conventional computers. But we think in a few years you will get it with a quantum computer,” Souche told us.

But “when you think about your day-to-day business applications like accounting or CRM, don’t dream about quantum, I don’t think it’s going to help you,” he added.

OVH still believes that organizations need to at least start looking at quantum, and how it could affect their industry in the future. “Don’t be surprised” is the key.

That’s why the company itself invests in quantum, Souche claims, to help clients with this process.

Don’t wait too long to train your people. Because they will be the biggest asset in the coming transformation.

“Today we already offer quantum-as-a-service, but it’s emulation. And we offer it for a range of different technologies. The emulation, backed by powerful conventional computing, already enables many companies to assess what kind of algorithms that they might want to test,” he said.

“We are cooperating with several companies, and to begin with we will expose their machines in their data centers through our cloud. And then we have plans, but I cannot yet say more, because several types of quantum machines are installed in our data centers. But it’s more for the future because they’re not ready,” Souche added, explaining that some require cryogenic cooling “and outside of a lab environment that’s not good.”

Looking ahead, the CTO believes at least five or six quantum technologies will emerge in the near future, and this could be whittled down to perhaps one or two eventually.

“But nobody can currently give me a reasonable explanation as to why somebody might be better off later than somebody else. They all come with trade-offs, and none of them are ready to scale tomorrow. There are always a lot of trade-offs. So it’s still very speculative, he says.

“But I would still say don’t wait. Don’t especially wait to educate your people. Because they will be the greatest asset in the coming transformation.”

Gartner VP Analyst Chirag Dekate told us that there is so much hype around quantum that many in the industry find themselves polarized between quantum skepticism and those who push it as some kind of nirvana that will solve all problems.

“With uncertain macroeconomic conditions, this polarization is likely to worsen, as companies chase shrinking pools of money in their quest for survival,” he said, saying the majority of quant startups will struggle to make it through the market cycle that has already begun.

Dekate said Gartner is aware of more than 300 companies in various phases of their quantum journeys, and while most are just getting started, a growing minority are already investing millions in creating IP and building relationships with relevant vendors and service providers. ®

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