A quantum leap in computing

The world is on the brink of a new age in computing.

Quantum computers have the potential to solve problems that ‘on a classical computer… would have taken the life of the universe to solve’. That’s according to Todd Holmdahl. The head of Microsoft’s quantum team is one of many analysts who expect real-world quantum computing applications within five years.

Finding the answers to these problems requires calculations that are way beyond today’s most powerful supercomputers. That’s because machines currently analyse data in terms of bits. That is to say, in binary form – either 0 or 1. The information can only exist in one of these two states.

Enter the qubits

Quantum computers are different.

Made with a property of quantum mechanics enables them to overlap and represent the 1 and 0 simultaneously. These are known as qubits (quantum bits). What’s more, this ‘superposition’ of 1s and 0s can be scaled up, so that multiple qubits are deployed. Making multiple computations possible, at high speed. That’s when the potential of quantum computing can start being realised. Raising the prospects of changing how the world works – forever.

However, until very recently, there’s been a catch. Qubits are fragile. They exist for no more than milliseconds in a mixed state of 1s and 0s, and need high levels of maintenance and safeguarding. Required measures include isolating the quantum processor, and using high levels of cooling (up to -460 degrees Fahrenheit). Which involves plenty of time, effort and expenditure.

The good news is that Microsoft is reportedly close to producing a working qubit, sometime in 2018. One that involves qubits that place information in more than one place. Acting as a de factor backup. And raising the prospect of a race developing to bring quantum computing to the masses. Because the likes of IBM, Google, and various governments are also engaged in their own quantum projects.

Quantum cryptography

Existing encryption methods rely on mathematical algorithms, which are hard to figure out. At least, for now. The power of quantum computers will have the power to break these algorithms. Naturally, as the technology evolves, so too will cyber defence. Indeed, it’s possible quantum-based cryptography will be more secure than today’s methods.

The very act of examining a quantum particle changes its nature, which could alert cyber defence systems. So that’s an alert –  before hackers have even tried to breach security.

Enter the quantum data centre

Quantum communication is also looming large on the tech horizon, posing intriguing possibilities – and challenges – for data centres. Researchers in China and the US have created a quantum storage box that fits on a chip. “In the future it could be used to transfer information at the quantum level at long distances via optical fibres,” explains Andrei Faraon, from the California Institute of Technology. “A quantum memory is essential in most schemes to transfer quantum information at long distances.”

Annual global data centre IP traffic will exceed 20 zettabytes by 2021. Could quantum communication be how data is transported in the future? We think so…

Want more insight into the future of data? Try the report below:

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How the data centre will evolve by 2020

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