IBM unveils world’s first integrated quantum computing system for commercial use

In photo: Ginny Rometty, CEO, IBM at the 2019 CES

IBM announced at the 2019 CES being held in Las Vegas that it will be making the IBMQSystemOne, the world’s first integrated universal approximate quantum computing system available for commercial use as well as for scientific use.

The long-term vision for IBM Q Systems is to solve problems that classical computers may find to be too challenging. IBM says that it sees that future applications of quantum computing may include “finding new ways to model financial data and isolating key global risk factors to make better investments, or finding the optimal path across global systems for ultra-efficient logistics and optimizing fleet operations for deliveries.”


IBM Q is an initiative to build commercial universal quantum systems for business and science applications.

The compact, modular, and sophisticated design of IBM Q System One is for stability, reliability, and continuous commercial use. For the first time ever, IBM Q System One enables universal approximate superconducting quantum computers to operate beyond the confines of the research lab.

“The IBM Q System One is a major step forward in the commercialization of quantum computing,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president of Hybrid Cloud and director of IBM Research in the company’s media release. “This new system is critical in expanding quantum computing beyond the walls of the research lab as we work to develop practical quantum applications for business and science.”

Drawing inspiration from classical computers which are known to combine multiple components into an integrated architecture optimized to work together, IBM decided to draw inspiration and apply it to quantum computing with the first integrated universal quantum computing system.


Custom components

The custom components of IBM Q System One are designed to complement each other so it can serve what IBM sees as the most advanced cloud-based quantum computing program available. The components include quantum hardware designed to be stable and auto-calibrated to give repeatable and predictable high-quality qubits; cryogenic engineering that delivers a continuous cold and isolated quantum environment; high precision electronics in compact form factors to tightly control large numbers of qubits; quantum firmware to manage the system health and enable system upgrades without downtime for users; and classical computation to provide secure cloud access and hybrid execution of quantum algorithms.

To make IBM Q System One possible, the technology company gathered what it thinks are the best of the breed of architects, industrial designers, and manufacturers to work with IBM Research scientists and engineers. It tapped the expertise of UK industrial and interior design studios Map Project Office and Universal Design Studio, and Goppion, a Milan-based manufacturer of high-end museum display cases that protect some of the world’s most precious art including the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, and the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.

Together these collaborators designed the first quantum system to consolidate thousands of components into a glass-enclosed, air-tight environment built specifically for business use, a milestone in the evolution of commercial quantum computers.

Quantum challenges

One of the challenges of quantum computing is to continuously maintain the quality of qubits used to perform quantum computations, which is what IBM Q System One is specifically designed for. The complexity of quantum computing may soon become too complicated for classical computers to handle.

IBM explained that “qubits quickly lose their special quantum properties, typically within 100 microseconds (for state-of-the-art superconducting qubits), due in part to the interconnected machinery’s ambient noise of vibrations, temperature fluctuations, and electromagnetic waves. Protection from this interference is one of many reasons why quantum computers and their components require careful engineering and isolation.”

The company provided a description of the IBM Q System One, which include a nine-foot-tall, nine-foot-wide case of half-inch thick borosilicate glass forming a sealed, airtight enclosure that opens effortlessly using “roto-translation,” a motor-driven rotation around two displaced axes engineered to simplify the system’s maintenance and upgrade process while minimizing downtime, which is what IBM says is “another innovative trait that makes the IBM Q System One suited to reliable commercial use.”

A series of independent aluminum and steel frames unify, but also decouple the system’s cryostat, control electronics, and exterior casing, helping to avoid potential vibration interference that leads to “phase jitter” and qubit decoherence.

This new system marks the next evolution of IBM Q, the industry’s first effort to introduce the public to programmable universal quantum computing through the cloud-based IBM Q Experience, and the commercial IBM Q Network platform for business and science applications.

“The free and publicly available IBM Q Experience has been continuously operating since May of 2016 and now boasts more than 100,000 users, who have run more than 6.7 million experiments and published more than 130 third-party research papers,” according to IBM. “Developers have also downloaded Qiskit, a full-stack, open-source quantum software development kit, more than 140,000 times to create and run quantum computing programs. The IBM Q Network includes the recent additions of Argonne National Laboratory, CERN, ExxonMobil, Fermilab, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.”

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