Bringing quantum computing to data centers

by Henning Soller

Quantum computing is one of the most promising new technologies. It’s also one of the most complicated to develop. Quantum computing systems’ power to do things such as solve some of the hardest mathematical problems in existence to create massive economic benefits has attracted widespread interest. Recently, significant advances have brought the vision of a universal quantum computer closer to reality.

One company, Oxford Quantum Circuits (OQC), is learning about the opportunities and challenges of quantum computing through its work on the development of a usable and scalable universal quantum computer that could also be used directly in data centers.

Ilana Wisby, the founder and CEO of OQC, recently spoke to Henning Soller, a partner in McKinsey’s Frankfurt office, about the value that quantum computing can provide and how she’s approaching the challenges of producing the world’s first enterprise-ready quantum computer.

Henning Soller: What is the advantage of a quantum computer?

Ilana Wisby: The quantum computer is not just a classical computer working at higher speed. Quantum computers work according to completely new rules, leveraging the power of quantum mechanics. They can solve problems that cannot be solved on a classical machine. Quantum computers have the potential to reshape and transform sectors such as financial services, pharmaceuticals, operations and logistics, security, and defense through the ability to process information in an entirely new way.

Henning Soller: When do you think quantum computing will become a reality?

Ilana Wisby: Quantum computing is a reality already—for example, some qubit systems have already been deployed in data centers. As the technology develops further and is more widely adopted, we will see quantum computing address even more challenges than we are seeing today.

One example of this is in the financial services industry. Quantum computing will enable real-time and accurate fraud detection in a way classical compute can’t. Even an increase of a few percent on average detection can lead to multimillion-dollar savings and protect against fraud and cybercrime.

Henning Soller: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in quantum computing?

Ilana Wisby: We want to bring quantum computing out of the lab and into the enterprise. But first, we had to ensure that our systems could operate within a commercial data center rather than the artificial environment of a lab. For example, a data center has more noise and vibrations than a lab does. We would need to develop the integrations necessary for other types of compute to build true hybrid compute. We also focused on designing and producing our chips and systems specifically for the data center, developing architectures that are simple, flexible, and scalable for real commercial environments.

Finally, we believe that quantum computing needs to be put into practical use to become relevant for private companies. So we’re interfacing with corporations to ensure that our solutions are targeted at relevant business problems.

Henning Soller: What do you see as the key challenges for further advancement in quantum computing?

Ilana Wisby: There are three key challenges with respect to advancements in quantum computing.

Firstly, it’s how to build scalable, fault-tolerant systems. To do this, we need to be able to scale systems to thousands of qubits while continuously improving their performance.

Secondly, it’s accessibility. Quantum computing currently sits mostly within artificial R&D environments. This results in lower levels of security and higher levels of latency for customers because it is not integrated into customers’ digital infrastructure. For customers who use sensitive data, the lack of security is also a major barrier to adopting quantum computing.

The third challenge is adoption. There is very little quantum capability embedded in companies, there’s a lack of resources to explore and build capability, and there’s often a lack of strategies for how they will adopt this technology.

To address the adoption challenge, CEOs need to start building their longer-term vision and strategy for how quantum computing will change their industry. As part of that strategy, they need to think about how they build capability and how they will integrate the technology into their digital infrastructure and their workflows. Then they must work with quantum computing partners who share their vision and are working to address the same challenges.

They should also get started! We are already seeing a surge in demand from companies from across sectors starting to explore quantum computing and developing their initial use cases to benefit from the technology. These are exciting pilot projects, too—from flood modeling to logistics optimization to fraud detection. There’s even molecular simulation for drug discovery.

Henning Soller: Looking forward, where do you see quantum computing having the greatest impact?

Ilana Wisby: I believe that the key to solving our most pressing challenges is to put quantum computers in the hands of humanity and at the fingertips of our most brilliant minds.

Take healthcare and pharma as an example. Theoretically, quantum computers can simulate the complete problem in drug development. This will enable pharma companies to simulate how larger, more complex molecules act and react as they develop new drugs, resulting in billions of dollars in R&D savings and reduced time to get these new drugs out into the market, helping to enable huge advancements in people’s healthcare.

Climate change is another example. Climate change is a problem now, but quantum computing will be able to support our efforts to mitigate it in the future. Quantum computing will accelerate our discoveries in renewable energy and in optimized energy generation and storage. It has already proved particularly useful for fluid dynamic–based simulations, enabling improved weather predictions. Being able to do longer-term climate predictions will allow us to build more-resilient and more-reliable energy systems—and discover new ones.

Ilana Wisby is CEO and founder of Oxford Quantum Circuits. Henning Soller is a partner in McKinsey’s Frankfurt office.

Comments and opinions expressed by interviewees are their own and do not represent or reflect the opinions, policies, or positions of McKinsey & Company or have its endorsement.