WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
There are some workloads supercomputers are better at, and there are other workloads, like optimisation problems, that quantum computers are great at – now researchers have the best of both worlds.
Quantum computing, a new kind of computer technology that could run on diamonds and use new atomic storage technologies, can solve calculations billions times faster than even the fastest traditional supercomputers, may have just taken a major step forward, after a supercomputer facility in Australia became the first to have a quantum computer integrated into directly with it.
The quantum processor, developed by German-Australian start up Quantum Brilliance, runs at room temperature, and will now work in tandem with classical supercomputers at the Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre. Not only is this a world first but it’s also a major breakthrough and the start of a trend of more quantum computers being paired up with their older bigger – slower – cousins so workloads can be moved between the two as needed.
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Quantum computers have the potential to drastically outperform traditional machines, by tapping into the spooky world of quantum physics. They can perform calculations much faster because quantum bits, or “qubits,” of information can exist in multiple states at once, and data can be transmitted instantaneously through quantum entanglement.
The problem is, most existing quantum computers use superconductors as their qubits, which only operate at temperatures just above absolute zero. That heavy duty cooling adds a huge amount of bulk, cost and energy consumption, limiting where these quantum computers can be used.
Quantum Brilliance, however, has developed a quantum computer processor that can run at room temperature, and its qubits aren’t made of superconductors but defects in diamond lattices, which are far less sensitive to thermal vibrations and more resistant to mechanical shocks too.
And now, that quantum processor has been installed at the Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre in Perth, Western Australia. That marks the first time a quantum computer has been integrated directly into a rack alongside a traditional supercomputer – in this case, Pawsey’s new HPE Cray Ex supercomputer, Setonix.
The facility will be used to test hybrid models of quantum and traditional computing, allowing researchers to offload some computation tasks to the quantum processor to take advantage of its unique strengths. Hopefully, this will not only fuel new discoveries directly, but help scientists who haven’t yet had access to quantum computers understand them better.
“This will provide a testbed where real applications can be proved, so our researchers can do more effectively – enabling science and accelerating discovery,” said Mark Stickells, Pawsey’s Executive Director.