How Amazon Web Services is getting ready for quantum computing


IonQ’s linear-ion trap quantum computer (AWS Photo)

There are still many years to come before quantum computing is something that the average enterprise tech customer will need, but when they do, Amazon Web Services hopes it will be able to extend its dominance of cloud computing into that new era.

AWS kicked off its annual re:Invent conference Monday with the announcement of AWS Braket, a preview of a new service that will allow customers to experiment with quantum computing programing models. The service will allow access to hardware built by three companies chasing the quantum grail — D-Wave, IonQ, and Rigetti — and “to make it easier to develop hybrid algorithms that combine classical and quantum tasks” the service will handle the interface between regular old cloud computers and quantum machines.

Quantum computing is best explained by people who do math for fun. Traditional or “classical” computers process information by interpreting long strings of binary code, in which information can be represented as one of two states. Quantum computing allows information to be represented in multiple states, and that complexity will forever change the way software is developed when quantum computing starts to make commercial sense at some point in the next decade.

An overview of AWS Braket (AWS Image)

Given their cost, complexity, and limited pool of interested customers, quantum computers will likely emerge as services delivered through centralized cloud computing providers like AWS, Microsoft, and Google; only a very small number of companies interested in quantum computing will be able to afford to purchase early quantum computers on their own. As the technology becomes more refined that could change, but either way, software developers who want to take advantage of quantum computing will need to learn a whole new bag of tricks.

In an interview with Wired, AWS Vice President of Engineering Bill Vass said that the company has “hundreds of customers” that are interested in learning more about cloud computing. Alongside the new quantum service, AWS is also setting up a quantum research center with Caltech and a consulting service designed to hold customer hands as they tiptoe into quantum computing.

Microsoft and Google have been much more vocal about their quantum research over the last few years than AWS, which has been working on Braket for four years, Vass told Wired. Microsoft is designing its own type of quantum computer, while Google researchers recently achieved the celebrated “quantum supremacy” milestone, even if that result can’t be replicated outside a carefully controlled environment.

Sign up now for more coverage of AWS re:Invent 2019 from Mostly Cloudy, and subscribe to get access to daily roundups of everything of note announced at the event this week. Disclosure: AWS is paying for my accommodations in Las Vegas.