IBM is opening a new quantum computing data centre in Germany, bringing its quantum computers to Europe for the first time. The facility will be operational in 2024 and is designed to allow EU organisations to use IBM quantum cloud without sending data to the US, in accordance with the Bloc’s GDPR data regime. All machines in the data centre will have at least a 100-qubit error-mitigated quantum processor.
Based at the existing IBM facility in Ehningen, Germany, it will include quantum computing systems with the ability to scale – starting with the 127-qubit Eagle processor. This, says IBM VP of quantum Jay Gambetta, is the point where utility is possible, the point where you can’t replicate the quantum circuit on a classical computer.
Gambetta says IBM is now entering this utility phase for quantum computing. He said: “Our goal is to bring useful quantum computing to the world and to me, that means we have to bring access.” This utility phase is where useful quantum computing is demonstrated and, alongside high-performance computing, provides real-world value.
The move will allow EU users to ensure quantum data, job data and user data to stay within European borders in full compliance with GDPR, but also allow for the quantum part of a process to be carried out as close to the classical computer and data as possible. The legality of data transfers between Europe and the US has been in doubt for some time, and last month’s ruling over Meta’s illegal use of standard contractual clauses to move information has made the situation even less clear.
“Over the next few years we will see many examples emerge of what we can do on a quantum computer that we can’t do on a classical computer,” Gambetta said. “We are going to start to see use cases begin to emerge. It is all going to be machines with 100 qubits or more, running circuits reaching the limits of 100 by 100.”
While the cloud is the most likely way quantum compute power will be accessed, with legislation like GDPR companies need to be able to show sensitive data isn’t leaving the EU. Up until now synthetic data has been primarily used in testing but as we get closer to commercial quantum advantage, that is starting to change.
“Europe has some of the world’s most advanced users of quantum computers, and interest is only accelerating with the era of utility-scale quantum processors,” Gambetta added. “The planned quantum data centre and associated cloud region will give European users a new option as they seek to tap the power of quantum computing in an effort to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.”
IBM advances quantum data sovereignty
There are currently about 60 organisations in Europe already using IBM quantum hardware, but with the machines in New York, there are limitations on real-world use cases. Ana Paula Assis, IBM’s EMEA general manager, says the European data centre is an “integral part” of the global rollout of quantum computing.
This includes making it easier for academia and government to work with industry in building a new quantum workforce. “It will provide new opportunities for our clients to collaborate side-by-side with our scientists in Europe, as well as their own clients, as they explore how best to apply quantum in their industry,” said Assis.
Bundeswehr University, Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron, E.ON, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), T-Systems and others are already using IBM quantum machines and Big Blue’s open-source quantum SDK Qiskit is used by more than 100 universities.
“At T-Systems, we are collaborating with IBM to combine quantum and classical computing in a seamless and scalable experience for our customers to explore applications of quantum computing,” said Adel Al-Saleh, Deutsche Telekom board member and Chief Executive of T-Systems. “Having access to a quantum data centre dedicated to Europe will help lower the access barrier for our customers as they decide on how to take their first, decisive steps in exploring and using quantum.”
IBM isn’t alone in looking to expand its international footprint when it comes to quantum computing. A number of quantum computing companies are working with data centre providers to place machines “on site”. This is so the processing is in the same place as the data.
Quantum data centre concerns
Quantum computers are slowly increasing in performance, with higher numbers of qubits and greater coherence, but remain error-prone and noisy. This makes it harder to accurately process information. Fault-tolerant machines are on the horizon, and with new developments in topological qubits, as well as improved error corrections, some experts predict we will see quantum advantage, the point at which quantum machines can outperform their classical counterparts, within the next three to five years.
Bringing quantum computers where the data is solves a number of security and latency concerns, says Stuart Woods, chief operating and strategy officer for quantum-focused VC company Quantum Exponential. He believes greater availability of quantum technologies in the cloud makes it easier for companies to take risks.
“Six months ago you and I could go to AWS, Azure, IBM and get four different flavours of quantum computers,” he told Tech Monitor. “That is progress, but as I go from December to January this year the data centres are waking up. Equinix is an example where they installed loads of cloud computing and storage during Covid-19 and they ended up with more capacity than they needed.”
It is good timing for IBM as Moody’s recently found that enterprise companies were “woefully unprepared” for the risk and impact of quantum computing. The ratings agency said it wasn’t just the use of encryption, but also the competitive advantage earlier adaptors would gain.