November 6, 2019
Microsoft’s cloud computing platform will soon offer select customers access to quantum computers. More specifically, the three prototype quantum computers are from Honeywell and two startups, IonQ (spun out from the University of Maryland) and QCI (spun out of Yale University). Quantum computing isn’t ready for any real work, but Microsoft, like its rivals IBM and Google, wants to stake out a presence in the nascent field. Microsoft Quantum general manager Krysta Svore noted, “we need a global community.”
Wired reports that the new service, dubbed Azure Quantum, “integrates quantum programming tools the company released previously with its cloud service.” Its partners will “run their quantum computers in their own facilities, but link them into Microsoft’s cloud over the Internet.”
In general, most companies are expected to use quantum computing “via a cloud service rather than buying or building their own quantum computers … although IBM and Google have so far talked only about offering customers access to their own hardware.”
Microsoft’s computer partners “represent two leading but different ways of building quantum computers,” with Honeywell and IonQ encoding data using individual ions trapped in electromagnetic fields and QCI using superconducting metal circuits. IBM and Google favor the latter approach. Having a cloud partner, said IonQ chief executive Peter Chapman, allows his company to “focus on what we are best at, making best-in-class quantum computers.”
Microsoft continues to work on its own quantum computing project but Microsoft general manager for quantum hardware Chetan Nayak said that, rather than replace its partners, the company expects “to see multiple forms of hardware coexist for a while.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that, with regard to cloud computing, Microsoft is targeting the hybrid cloud, which allows companies to move some computing to the cloud and to keep some on premises. Microsoft’s commercial cloud revenue “roughly doubled over two years to $11.6 billion in the latest quarter.”
Gartner Research reported that the cloud market was $175.8 billion in sales in 2018. Companies such as startups, without legacy infrastructure, moved easily to the cloud but financial companies, for example, have found it more difficult to do that, “in part because of regulatory requirements that make it difficult for them to store data on servers belonging to other companies.”
Other business sectors have other challenges that preclude the cloud, making the hybrid cloud an appealing alternative for companies and a profit center for Microsoft. “It’s really been a differentiator for us,” said Microsoft executive vice president Scott Guthrie, who leads the cloud and artificial intelligence group.
The Pentagon’s $10 billion JEDI contract that Microsoft was awarded “is expected to have hybrid cloud features because some military information is too sensitive to put into the cloud.” The company is also debuting Azure Arc, which allows “more of its cloud-based database applications [to] run within customers’ data centers.” Microsoft’s competitors Amazon, Google, IBM and Oracle are also pursuing hybrid cloud solutions.