D-Wave today launched its newest and largest quantum annealing computer, a 5000-qubit goliath named Advantage that features 15-way qubit interconnectivity. It also introduced the D-Wave Launch program intended to jump start “businesses who want to get started building hybrid quantum applications” and a new hybrid solver – the discrete quadratic model (DQM) solver – which will become part of D-Wave’s hybrid solver services, expanding those capabilities.
Perhaps most importantly, D-Wave said Advantage will live up to its name and enable users to reach so-called Quantum Advantage or the ability to run practical applications better than on classical systems.
“Today’s general availability of Advantage delivers the first quantum system built specifically for business, and marks the expansion into production scale commercial applications and new problem types with our hybrid solver services. In combination with our new jump-start program to get customers started, this launch continues what we’ve known at D-Wave for a long time: it’s not about hype, it’s about scaling, and delivering systems that provide real business value on real business applications,” said Alan Baratz, CEO, D-Wave, in the official announcement.
Murray Thom, VP software and cloud services, D-Wave, told HPCwire, “The most important focus for D-Wave is demonstrating customer advantage — whether that’s increased efficiency, first-to-market advantages, reduction in waste, or improved profitability — compared to their current solutions. This means that business can benefit from quantum solutions on a broad range of problems that can be solved as well or better than with existing approaches.”
To buttress the point, D-Wave cited specific ‘practical’ uses by specific customers (more below) in financial services, pharmaceutical discovery, retail grocery, and automotive. It’s not entirely clear, and perhaps not important, how much these commercial applications leveraged D-Wave’s hybrid solver, which divides applications into portions that are best run on the quantum system and portions and best run on classical systems. It would be interesting to know how much specific speed-up and problem-solving was contributed by the quantum computed portions and how impactful that was to the overall solution.
It’s worth noting that D-Wave’s flurry of introductions today closely tracks the technology roadmap schedule it spelled out roughly a year and a half ago (see HPCwire coverage, D-Wave Previews Next-Gen Platform; Debuts Pegasus Topology; Targets 5000 Qubits).
Quantum analyst Bob Sorensen, SVP research, Hyperion Research, struck a cautiously optimistic note about the new system and D-Wave’s hybrid solver strategy.
“Such capabilities open up opportunities for increased performance on existing applications and exploration of new applications. In addition, the new hybrid scheme offers an innovative way to help D-Wave scale out their quantum capability across a classical computing architecture, especially when used with an accompanying hybrid solver,” said Sorensen. “I look forward to seeing some interesting benchmarks going as users begin to experiment with the hybrid solver and produce results that can be compared with pure classical counterparts. The ability to support one million variable optimization problems could open a frontier of new and innovative uses cases across a wide range of technology sectors.”
The is D-Wave’s fifth generation system and more than doubles the qubit count from its predecessor the 2000Q system. D-Wave’s qubit counts, of course, have long been much higher than gate-based quantum computers whose qubit counts are around 50 at the high-end currently. D-Wave’s quantum annealing approach to computation is fundamentally different (D-Wave explanation) and as such qubit comparisons with gate-based systems are not especially useful today, although some day they might be. Thom said, “Advantage was completely re-designed with problem size and increased problem complexity as the focus.”
He cited these improvements:
- Processor Design & New topology. The higher qubit count and greater connectivity are important for embedding larger, denser problems with more constraints. These are the kinds of problems that are most relevant for business users, such as schedule optimization or transportation routing.
- Superconducting Fabrication. Advantage has more than 1 million Josephson junctions, compared to 120,000 in the 2000Q. The new chip topology enables the embedding of larger problems with fewer physical qubits than the 2000Q topology. Advantage allows for 2.5x larger-sized problems to run directly on the quantum computer.
The new hybrid solver – the discrete quadratic model (DQM) solver – expands the range problems that can be addressed. “Instead of accepting problems with only binary variables (0 or 1), the DQM solver uses other variable sets (e.g., integers from 1 to 10, or red, yellow, and blue), expanding the types of problems that can run on the quantum computer,” said D-Wave. The DQM solver will be generally available on October 8.
Hybrid quantum-classical approaches have recently received more attention, as have pure digital emulation of traditional quantum algorithms. Toshiba, for example, offers a ‘digital annealing’ approach that it claims provides a speedup over classical algorithms/approaches on select problems. This trading of ideas between the quantum and classical computing camps is likely to continue. Hybrid solver approaches attempt to use both technologies.
Said Thom, “Simply put, quantum hybrid solver services are managed solvers that bring the best of classical and quantum resources together to solve customers’ business problems. By taking a hybrid quantum approach, customers get the benefits of both types of resources and this allows them to run problems with up to one million variables. The hybrid solvers are available in Leap, just as the Advantage QPU solver is now available in Leap today. A customer chooses the solver (whether hybrid or solely quantum) and runs their problem. This managed service is designed to allow business to build and run in-production, enterprise-scale applications.”
In today’s announcement D-Wave reported, “Coupled with the new topology the Advantage quantum processing unit (QPU), the hybrid solver outperformed or matched the best of 27 classical optimization solvers on 74% of the inputs that were tested in MQLib.”
The D-Wave Ocean software development kit includes tools for using the new Advantage topology and current leap users will have immediate access to the new system with no additional charges.
“Most customers will access Advantage through the Leap quantum cloud service. We will also expand our Leap footprint to Europe with a Leap system housed at the Julich Supercomputing Centre and in the US at ISI/Lockeed Martin/USC,” said Thom.
Back to Quantum Advantage. QA is basically defined as when a quantum computer can do something practical, sufficiently better than classical systems to warrant switching. ‘Sufficiently better’ is broad concept here including, for example, time-to-solution, power consumption, problem size tackled, etc. Companies tend to use variants if the quantum advantage term. D-Wave prefers customer advantage. Its strategy to leverage “hybrid solver solutions” is an important key to turning its current machine into a practical, production-ready tool.
D-Wave reports “customers and partners like Menten AI, Save-On Foods, Accenture, and Volkswagen are building and running hybrid quantum applications that create solutions with business value today.” If they are truly getting business value now – not R&D pilots – that’s a significant step forward. Here are a few details from the official D-Wave announcement:
- “Protein design pioneer Menten AI has developed the first process using hybrid quantum programs to determine protein structure for de novo protein design with very encouraging results often outperforming classical solvers. Menten AI’s unique protein designs have been computationally validated, chemically synthesized, and are being advanced to live-virus testing against COVID-19.
- “Western Canadian grocery retailer Save-On-Foods is using hybrid quantum algorithms to bring grocery optimization solutions to their business, with pilot tests underway in-store. The company has been able to reduce the time an important optimization task takes from 25 hours to a mere 2 minutes of calculations each week. Even more important than the reduction in time is the ability to optimize performance across and between a significant number of business parameters in a way that is challenging using traditional methods.
- “Accenture, a leading global professional services company, is exploring quantum, quantum-inspired, and hybrid solutions to develop applications across industries. Accenture recently conducted a series of business experiments with a banking client to pilot quantum applications for currency arbitrage, credit scoring, and trading optimization, successfully mapping computationally challenging business problems to quantum formulations, enabling quantum readiness.
- “Volkswagen, an early adopter of D-Wave’s annealing quantum computer, has expanded its quantum use cases with the hybrid solver service to build a paint shop scheduling application. The algorithm is designed to optimize the order in which cars are being painted. By using the hybrid solver service, the number of color switches will be reduced significantly, leading to performance improvements.”
D-Wave also supplied a few testimonial quotes.
“We are using quantum to design proteins today. Using hybrid quantum applications, we’re able to solve astronomical protein design problems that help us create new protein structures,” said Hans Melo, Co-founder and CEO, Menten AI. “We’ve seen extremely encouraging results with hybrid quantum procedures often finding better solutions than competing classical solvers for de novo protein design. This means we can create better proteins and ultimately enable new drug discoveries.”
“Embracing quantum computing is nothing new for Volkswagen. We were the first to run a hybrid quantum application in production in Lisbon last November with our bus routing application,” said Florian Neukart, Director of Advanced Technologies at Volkswagen Group of America. “At Volkswagen, we are focusing on building up a deep understanding of meaningful applications of quantum computing in a corporate context. The D-Wave system gives us the opportunity to address optimization tasks with a large number of variables at an impressive speed. With this we are taking a step further towards quantum applications that will be suitable for everyday business use.”
Quantum annealing computing, which was looked upon skeptically by many for years, has steadily carved out a place for itself, particularly in tackling optimization problems. It will be interesting to watch how much traction D-Wave’s new system and hybrid solver approach garners.