As new technologies develop and gain traction, the public tends to split into two groups: those who believe they will have an impact and grow, and those who don’t. The former tends to be correct, so understanding how future technologies differ from the status quo is crucial to preparing for their mass adoption.
Classical computing has been the norm for decades, but in recent years quantum computing has continued to develop rapidly. The technology is still in its infancy, but has existing and many more potential uses in AI/ML, cybersecurity, modeling, and other applications.
It may be years before widespread implementation of quantum computing. However, explore the differences between classical computing and quantum computing to better understand if the technology is going mainstream.
Differences Between Classical Computing and Quantum Computing
Quantum computers generally have to operate under more regulated physical conditions than classical computers due to quantum mechanics. Classical computers have less computing power than quantum computers and cannot scale as easily. They also use different units of data – classical computers use bits and quantum computers use qubits.
Data Units: Bits and Bytes vs. Qubits
In conventional computers, data is processed in a binary manner.
Conventional computers use bits – eight units of bits are called a byte – as the basic unit of data. Conventional computers write the code in binary form as a 1 or a 0. In simple terms, these 1s and 0s indicate the on or off state respectively. They can also indicate true or false or yes or no, for example.
This is also known as serial processing, which is successive in nature, meaning that one operation must complete before another follows. Many computing systems use parallel processing, an extension of classical processing, which can perform concurrent computing tasks. Conventional computers also return a result because the bits of 1 and 0 are repeatable due to their binary nature.
Quantum computing, however, follows a different set of rules. Quantum computers use qubits as a unit of data. Qubits, unlike bits, can have a value of 1 or 0, but can also be 1 and 0 at the same time, existing in multiple states at once. This is called layering, where properties are not defined until they are measured.
According to IBM, “overlapping groups of qubits can create complex, multi-dimensional computational spaces,” allowing for more complex computations. When qubits become entangled, changes made to one qubit directly affect the other, speeding up the transfer of information between qubits.
In classical computers, algorithms need a lot of parallel computations to solve problems. Quantum computers can report multiple outcomes when analyzing data with a large set of constraints. Outputs have an associated probability, and quantum computers can perform more difficult computational tasks than classical computers.
Power of classical computers compared to quantum computers
Most classical computers operate on Boolean logic and algebra, and the power increases linearly with the number of transistors in the system – the 1s and the 0s. The direct relationship means that in a classical computer the power increases by 1 :1 in tandem with the system transistors.
Because the qubits of quantum computers can represent a 1 and a 0 at the same time, the power of a quantum computer increases exponentially with respect to the number of qubits. Due to superposition, the number of calculations a quantum computer could take is 2NOT where N is the number of qubits.
Conventional computers are well suited for everyday use and normal conditions. Consider something as simple as a standard laptop. Most people can take their computer out of their briefcase and use it in an air-conditioned cafe or on the porch on a sunny summer day. In these environments, performance will not be affected for normal uses such as web browsing and emailing for short periods of time.
Data centers and large computer systems are more complex and temperature sensitive, but still operate at temperatures that most people would consider “reasonable”, such as room temperature. For example, ASHRAE recommends that Class A1 through A4 equipment stay between 18 and 27 degrees Celsius or between 64.4 and 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some quantum computers, however, must reside in highly regulated and rigorous physical environments. Some must be maintained at absolute zero, which is around -273.15 degrees Celsius or -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit, although recently the first room temperature computer was developed by Quantum Brilliance.
The reason for cold operating environments is that qubits are extremely sensitive to mechanical and thermal influences. Perturbations can cause atoms to lose their quantum coherence — essentially, the qubit’s ability to represent both a 1 and a 0 — which can lead to miscalculations.
Why Data Center Managers Should Take Note of Quantum Computing
Like most technologies, quantum computing presents opportunities and risks. Although it may be a while before quantum computing really takes off, start having conversations with leaders and make plans for quantum computing.
Organizations that do not plan to implement quantum computing in their own business will still need to prepare for the external threats that quantum computing might impose. First, quantum computers can potentially break even the most powerful and advanced security measures. For example, a sufficiently motivated attacker can, in theory, use quantum computing to quickly crack cryptographic keys commonly used in encryption if warned.
Additionally, organizations considering quantum computers for their data centers or certain applications will need to prepare facilities. Like any other infrastructure, quantum computers need space, electricity and resources to operate. Start looking at the options available to accommodate them. Consider budget, space, facilities, and staffing needs to start planning.
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