Supercomputing Vet Champions Quantum Cause

By Nicole Hemsoth

May 13, 2013

Update: D-Wave system coming from Google and NASA … Read More

Supercomputing veteran Bo Ewald has been neck-deep in bleeding edge system development since his twelve-year stint at Cray Research back in the mid-1980s, which was followed by his tenure at large organizations like SGI and startups, including Scale Eight Corporation and Linux Networx.

As we reported earlier this month, Ewald is stepping into yet another new role, this time at the helm of the first quantum computing company, D-Wave Systems. During our recent conversation, Ewald confirmed his belief that quantum computers will be at the heart of a new wave of computing—at least for a certain set of specific optimization, machine learning and pattern recognition problems.

“This is the early days, almost like when the first Cray 1 or Thinking Machines systems came out,” Ewald reminisced. The same skepticism, scientific and business practicality questions, and the same promise exists, he argues.

D-Wave has been in development for 14 years, and has finally arrived at a commercialization opportunity to pitch from its new office in Palo Alto. With a recognizable name like Ewald front and center, it’s clear the company sees opportunities outside of its one public customer, Lockheed Martin. Ewald said he researched heavily to validate the commercial viability and will lead D-Wave’s charge into defense and intelligence, research, and other potential markets. The catch, of course, is that organizations need to have a spare $10 million or more and the right physics and math pros to tap into the programmatic possibilities.

Like the historical systems mentioned above, the company’s flagship system, the D-Wave One, was greeted with equal parts intense skepticism and excitement. With some highly publicized demos and a customer case under their belt, D-Wave thinks it can find a solid market for its 128-qubit processor-based technology, which comes wrapped in its own cryogenic and quantum-balanced unit pictured left.

The company will face a lengthy battle against perception that these quantum computers are fringe or merely experimental. However, some researchers, including Dr. Catherine McGeoch, Beitzel Professor in the Computer Science department at Amherst College, are validating performance claims. For a particular range of applications, quantum vastly outpaced conventional computing. And their work at the USC-Lockheed Martin Center for Quantum Computing continues to offer some serious credibility for, again, a certain class of optimization problems.

As with all early-stage innovations in computer science, there is a major programming and software ecosystem gap. Ewald says this is really no different than what happened with GPUs. He argues that if one thinks about the code and partitioning problems that were present with those accelerators before the software tooling was there in spades, the same story will play out. At this point, mathematicians and physicists can construct their problems numerically using the handful of tools at their disposal and then map them onto the quantum machine.

“We’re on the edge of something revolutionary,” he explained. “This is far different than traditional scientific computing and high performance computing, which is numerically intensive—it’s about crunching a lot of numbers.”

For a range of optimization problems, however, where calculating using the standard set of ones and zeros results in incredibly slow and complex equations, quantum computing relies on “mapping an optimization problem onto the quantum computer so it can instantaneously, once it reaches the quantum state, give you a better solution than the one you started with. With multiple iterations, it will arrive at the best possible answer.”

To put optimization problems into a “normal” context, imagine the following, very common scenario. There is a massive snowstorm in Chicago, which has caused grounding of an unprecedented number of flights. Airlines need to be able to quickly figure out the very best possible solution to moving planes and crews around to adapt. A few iterations on the D-Wave One, says Ewald, and there it is.

Sounds almost too good to be true. Well, there are some catches—the simplest to see is the mere complexity of the quantum process. Further, there’s the programming for these select optimization, machine learning, and pattern recognition problems.

Take a look at the photo on the left to see the inner workings of one D-Wave’s deep freeze boxes. Outside of using atoms rather than bits to solve some of the most perplexing problems in computer science, there are other elements that make D-Wave’s technology noteworthy. While Ewald couldn’t discuss details, he said the real challenge that all the years of R&D have been tackling lies in getting the qubits—the quantum bits—to engage in a way where they become entangled. At this point, the system will move to a lower energy state but there are tough hurdles to create those conditions.

The qubits need to exist at near absolute zero in terms of temperature, vibration and magnetism must be eliminated, and it must operate in a perfect vacuum. That’s a tall order, but Ewald said that the science is there and the applications are real. D-Wave has managed to create this environment to the point where they can get up to 500 qubits into a quantum state.

But theory aside, who will be installing a multi-million dollar ($10 million and up) D-Wave One in the next few years, especially at a time of crunched budgets?  Perhaps the best advertising mechanism the company has lies in its work with Lockheed Martin.  While they haven’t been overt about what problems they’re using their D-Wave setup for, the USC-Lockheed Martin Center for Quantum Computing has been very vocal about their belief in the future of quantum computing.

Lockheed took care to stress the importance of optimization problem solving–finding the best possible answer in a sea of possible answers–which means that’s where their interests likely lie. Government, intelligence and industrial uses remains unclear, but Ewald says that new uses and use cases for these systems will emerge in all areas typically reserved for HPC, including financial services, oil and gas, life sciences–the usual suspects.

“This type of computer is not intended for surfing the internet, but it does solve this narrow but important type of problem really, really fast,” said Dr. Catherine McGeoch. “There are degrees of what it can do. If you want it to solve the exact problem it’s built to solve, at the problem sizes I tested, it’s thousands of times faster than anything I’m aware of. If you want it to solve more general problems of that size, I would say it competes – it does as well as some of the best things I’ve looked at. At this point it’s merely above average but shows a promising scaling trajectory.”

For now, D-Wave stands alone in an emerging market, in much the same way Cray was the monolith at the beginning of the era it kicked off. Ewald is in the unique position of having been at the forefront of one disruptive event in technology, while rounding out his long career leading another such transition.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

How the United States Invests in Supercomputing

November 14, 2018

The CORAL supercomputers Summit and Sierra are now the world's fastest computers and are already contributing to science with early applications. Ahead of SC18, Maciej Chojnowski with ICM at the University of Warsaw discussed the details of the CORAL project with Dr. Dimitri Kusnezov from the U.S. Department of Energy. Read more…

By Maciej Chojnowski

At SC18: Humanitarianism Amid Boom Times for HPC

November 14, 2018

At SC18 in Dallas, the feeling on the ground is one of forward-looking buoyancy. Like boom times that cycle through the Texas oil fields, the HPC industry is enjoying a prosperity seen only every few decades, one driven Read more…

By Doug Black

Nvidia’s Jensen Huang Delivers Vision for the New HPC

November 14, 2018

For nearly two hours on Monday at SC18, Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia, presented his expansive view of the future of HPC (and computing in general) as only he can do. Animated. Backstopped by a stream of data charts, produ Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

AI Can Be Scary. But Choosing the Wrong Partners Can Be Mortifying!

As you continue to dive deeper into AI, you will discover it is more than just deep learning. AI is an extremely complex set of machine learning, deep learning, reinforcement, and analytics algorithms with varying compute, storage, memory, and communications needs. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

New Data Management Techniques for Intelligent Simulations

The trend in high performance supercomputer design has evolved – from providing maximum compute capability for complex scalable science applications, to capacity computing utilizing efficient, cost-effective computing power for solving a small number of large problems or a large number of small problems. Read more…

New Panasas High Performance Storage Straddles Commercial-Traditional HPC

November 13, 2018

High performance storage vendor Panasas has launched a new version of its ActiveStor product line this morning featuring what the company said is the industry’s first plug-and-play, portable parallel file system that delivers up to 75 Gb/s per rack on industry standard hardware combined with “enterprise-grade reliability and manageability.” Read more…

By Doug Black

How the United States Invests in Supercomputing

November 14, 2018

The CORAL supercomputers Summit and Sierra are now the world's fastest computers and are already contributing to science with early applications. Ahead of SC18, Maciej Chojnowski with ICM at the University of Warsaw discussed the details of the CORAL project with Dr. Dimitri Kusnezov from the U.S. Department of Energy. Read more…

By Maciej Chojnowski

At SC18: Humanitarianism Amid Boom Times for HPC

November 14, 2018

At SC18 in Dallas, the feeling on the ground is one of forward-looking buoyancy. Like boom times that cycle through the Texas oil fields, the HPC industry is en Read more…

By Doug Black

Nvidia’s Jensen Huang Delivers Vision for the New HPC

November 14, 2018

For nearly two hours on Monday at SC18, Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia, presented his expansive view of the future of HPC (and computing in general) as only he can Read more…

By John Russell

New Panasas High Performance Storage Straddles Commercial-Traditional HPC

November 13, 2018

High performance storage vendor Panasas has launched a new version of its ActiveStor product line this morning featuring what the company said is the industry’s first plug-and-play, portable parallel file system that delivers up to 75 Gb/s per rack on industry standard hardware combined with “enterprise-grade reliability and manageability.” Read more…

By Doug Black

SC18 Student Cluster Competition – Revealing the Field

November 13, 2018

It’s November again and we’re almost ready for the kick-off of one of the greatest computer sports events in the world – the SC Student Cluster Competitio Read more…

By Dan Olds

US Leads Supercomputing with #1, #2 Systems & Petascale Arm

November 12, 2018

The 31st Supercomputing Conference (SC) - commemorating 30 years since the first Supercomputing in 1988 - kicked off in Dallas yesterday, taking over the Kay Ba Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

OpenACC Talks Up Summit and Community Momentum at SC18

November 12, 2018

OpenACC – the directives-based parallel programing model for optimizing applications on heterogeneous architectures – is showcasing user traction and HPC im Read more…

By John Russell

How ASCI Revolutionized the World of High-Performance Computing and Advanced Modeling and Simulation

November 9, 2018

The 1993 Supercomputing Conference was held in Portland, Oregon. That conference and it’s show floor provided a good snapshot of the uncertainty that U.S. supercomputing was facing in the early 1990s. Many of the companies exhibiting that year would soon be gone, either bankrupt or acquired by somebody else. Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Cray Unveils Shasta, Lands NERSC-9 Contract

October 30, 2018

Cray revealed today the details of its next-gen supercomputing architecture, Shasta, selected to be the next flagship system at NERSC. We've known of the code-name "Shasta" since the Argonne slice of the CORAL project was announced in 2015 and although the details of that plan have changed considerably, Cray didn't slow down its timeline for Shasta. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

TACC Wins Next NSF-funded Major Supercomputer

July 30, 2018

The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) has won the next NSF-funded big supercomputer beating out rivals including the National Center for Supercomputing Ap Read more…

By John Russell

IBM at Hot Chips: What’s Next for Power

August 23, 2018

With processor, memory and networking technologies all racing to fill in for an ailing Moore’s law, the era of the heterogeneous datacenter is well underway, Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Requiem for a Phi: Knights Landing Discontinued

July 25, 2018

On Monday, Intel made public its end of life strategy for the Knights Landing "KNL" Phi product set. The announcement makes official what has already been wide Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

House Passes $1.275B National Quantum Initiative

September 17, 2018

Last Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA) intended to accelerate quantum computing research and developm Read more…

By John Russell

CERN Project Sees Orders-of-Magnitude Speedup with AI Approach

August 14, 2018

An award-winning effort at CERN has demonstrated potential to significantly change how the physics based modeling and simulation communities view machine learni Read more…

By Rob Farber

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

New Deep Learning Algorithm Solves Rubik’s Cube

July 25, 2018

Solving (and attempting to solve) Rubik’s Cube has delighted millions of puzzle lovers since 1974 when the cube was invented by Hungarian sculptor and archite Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

US Leads Supercomputing with #1, #2 Systems & Petascale Arm

November 12, 2018

The 31st Supercomputing Conference (SC) - commemorating 30 years since the first Supercomputing in 1988 - kicked off in Dallas yesterday, taking over the Kay Ba Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

TACC’s ‘Frontera’ Supercomputer Expands Horizon for Extreme-Scale Science

August 29, 2018

The National Science Foundation and the Texas Advanced Computing Center announced today that a new system, called Frontera, will overtake Stampede 2 as the fast Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE No. 1, IBM Surges, in ‘Bucking Bronco’ High Performance Server Market

September 27, 2018

Riding healthy U.S. and global economies, strong demand for AI-capable hardware and other tailwind trends, the high performance computing server market jumped 28 percent in the second quarter 2018 to $3.7 billion, up from $2.9 billion for the same period last year, according to industry analyst firm Hyperion Research. Read more…

By Doug Black

Intel Announces Cooper Lake, Advances AI Strategy

August 9, 2018

Intel's chief datacenter exec Navin Shenoy kicked off the company's Data-Centric Innovation Summit Wednesday, the day-long program devoted to Intel's datacenter Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Germany Celebrates Launch of Two Fastest Supercomputers

September 26, 2018

The new high-performance computer SuperMUC-NG at the Leibniz Supercomputing Center (LRZ) in Garching is the fastest computer in Germany and one of the fastest i Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Houston to Field Massive, ‘Geophysically Configured’ Cloud Supercomputer

October 11, 2018

Based on some news stories out today, one might get the impression that the next system to crack number one on the Top500 would be an industrial oil and gas mon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

MLPerf – Will New Machine Learning Benchmark Help Propel AI Forward?

May 2, 2018

Let the AI benchmarking wars begin. Today, a diverse group from academia and industry – Google, Baidu, Intel, AMD, Harvard, and Stanford among them – releas Read more…

By John Russell

Google Releases Machine Learning “What-If” Analysis Tool

September 12, 2018

Training machine learning models has long been time-consuming process. Yesterday, Google released a “What-If Tool” for probing how data point changes affect a model’s prediction. The new tool is being launched as a new feature of the open source TensorBoard web application... Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This