Azure Quantum is a full-stack cloud service designed to allow users remote access to quantum computers. Azure Quantum focuses on integrating quantum computing tools and its Azure cloud service. With Azure Quantum, users will be provided with software that enables customers to write code that can run on quantum hardware.
Quantum computing focuses on making calculations based on the behavior of particles. Unlike classical computing, which uses bits that exist in a 1 or 0 state, quantum computing will use quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist as a 1, 0 or a 1 and a 0 in a combined state.
Microsoft has spent an extended amount of time working on developing its own quantum computing technologies, including an alternative qubit technology, the topological qubit. However, Microsoft has yet to release its own quantum computing hardware. To create Azure Quantum, Microsoft has collaborated with four different organizations -- Honeywell, IonQ, and QCI for quantum computing hardware, and 1QBit for quantum computing software. These organizations are also part of the Quantum Network, which is a community of quantum-focused organizations that collaborate with Microsoft. The different partners allow Microsoft to offer users a choice in different quantum computing hardware.
The Azure Quantum service is currently available for preview for select customer access.
Uses of Azure Quantum
Many developers are not yet experienced in working in a quantum computing environment, and access to quantum computers is currently limited. One general use case for Azure Quantum is to give users experience with developing from within a quantum computing environment. In this case, an organization can learn about quantum computing by using the tools provided, such as Microsoft's quantum development kit (QKD).
Many organizations are also not currently sure if they should use quantum computing, and if they do, they may not have the ability to build the hardware for it. Being able to access a quantum computer using a cloud service gets rid of that barrier of entry.
Azure Quantum is also useful in areas in which quantum computers are normally used, including simulated systems. For example, one use case of Azure Quantum includes the company OTI Lumionics, which used algorithms designed for quantum systems to aid in the development of new materials for OLED displays in consumer electronics. The quantum algorithms were able to help simulate high-performance computations, which would've taken longer and cost more if classical computers were used.
Key features of Azure Quantum
Key features of Azure Quantum include:
- an open source QKD, based on Python;
- Q#, a programming language for expressing quantum algorithms, which integrates with Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code;
- scaling, security and support from Microsoft Azure;
- prebuilt algorithms;
- Quantum simulators and resource estimation tools;
- Honeywell-based hardware, which provides ion trap devices -- or devices that can trap ions;
- IonQ-based hardware, which provides gate-based, ion trap hardware;
- QCI-based hardware, which provides superconducting quantum processors; and
- 1QBit software that connects the OpenQEMIST (Quantum-Enabled Molecular ab Initio Simulation Toolkit) platform to the QKD.
Azure Quantum vs. Amazon Braket
Amazon Braket is a fully managed AWS cloud service designed to allow users remote access to quantum computers. The service was announced in December 2019, one month after Azure Quantum's announcement, and is currently available in a preview mode. Braket is currently limited to mostly Amazon corporate customers.
Azure Quantum is positioned similarly to Amazon Braket, where customers can use the service as an experience to learn how to develop in a quantum computing environment. Both services also share similar uses cases. In addition, Amazon has paired with quantum computing organizations to provide the hardware for users. While Microsoft has paired with Honeywell, IonQ and QCI for quantum computing hardware, Amazon has paired with Rigetti, D-Wave and IonQ. These organizations all help to provide different quantum hardware choices to Microsoft and Amazon customers. When Braket and Azure Quantum are compared together, potential customers can see the choices are similar between both cloud services. For example, both Honeywell and IonQ provide ion trap devices, which will use individual atoms in their quantum processing units, while, like Rigetti, QCI uses superconducting chips.