IBM Bringing Quantum on-Prem for Cleveland Clinic

By Todd R. Weiss

March 31, 2021

Fueled by the need for faster life sciences and healthcare research, especially in the wake of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, IBM and the 100-year-old Cleveland Clinic are partnering to bolster the Clinic’s research capabilities by integrating a wide range of IBM’s advanced technologies in quantum computing, AI and the cloud.

Access to IBM’s quantum systems has so far been primarily cloud-based, but IBM is providing the Cleveland Clinic with IBM’s first private-sector, on-premises quantum computer in the U.S. Scheduled for delivery next year, the initial IBM Quantum System One will harness between 50 to 100 qubits, according to IBM, but the goal is to stand up a more powerful, more advanced, next-generation 1,000+ qubit quantum system at the Clinic as the project matures.

For the Cleveland Clinic, the 10-year partnership with IBM will add huge research capabilities and power as part of an all-new Discovery Center being created at the Clinic’s campus in Cleveland, Ohio. The Accelerator will serve as the technology foundation for the Clinic’s new Global Center for Pathogen Research & Human Health, which is being developed to drive research in areas including genomics, single-cell transcriptomics, population health, clinical applications and chemical and drug discovery, according to the Clinic.

“[The partnership] gives us multiple things in many dimensions … to build the future of biomedical research,” Dr. Lara Jehi, the chief research information officer at the Cleveland Clinic, told HPCwire sister publication EnterpriseAI. “What we are getting is high-performance computing in the cloud and we are getting artificial intelligence tools. Both of those technologies are absolutely essential for the research that’s happening now in Cleveland Clinic,” where research and clinical trials are crunching huge chunks of data, she said.

For the Clinic, the problem has been for some time that researchers have not had the fastest, most efficient technology systems and tools to do this critical work, said Jehi. “We’re not giving them as much as we want to give them in the way that we want [to give it to them],” she said. “At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of our researchers wanted to study publicly-available datasets … so that he could identify drugs that could be repurposed towards COVID-19.”

But the researcher’s work was slowed terribly because the Clinic’s existing technology infrastructure was taking months to process the information, said Jehi.

“We worked with IBM at the time and gave him access to one of their supercomputers and he got through his work in one week, where this was taking him months to do previously,” she said. “So, with this new IBM partnership we will become the norm rather than the exception for our researchers.”

The Cleveland Clinic looked at several other potential technology partners for this partnership, but IBM was eventually chosen for its technology tools and services as well as for its culture, which has an emphasis on research and education, said Jehi.

The Power of Quantum Computing

The Cleveland Clinic will be first institution to house an IBM quantum computer outside of IBM’s facilities in the United States, according to the partners, with the Clinic planning to take delivery of the first system next year.

“It was important to us that we be at the forefront of defining what applications that we can have,” said Jedi, but in the end, the partnership is more than just one transactional deal for powerful new technology, she stressed.

“We have a big vision for what we want to accomplish and research at Cleveland Clinic,” she said. “This partnership with IBM fills one void, it fills one piece of that puzzle. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any other partnerships that we would be looking at and that will also help us advance our technology.”

By working with IBM and its emerging expertise in quantum computing, this will put the Clinic on the front lines of life sciences and medical research using the nascent technology, said Jehi.

“We have 100 years of experience with researching everything that’s related to healthcare, and anyone who has worked in research knows that going into research, you go with your eyes fully open,” she said. “That research works sometimes, but doesn’t work many other times. It means that you have to innovate. We want to develop and define. That’s why we insisted on having the quantum computer here in Cleveland with the team from IBM.”

The Cleveland Clinic will continue to secure similar partnerships with other technology companies as the needs arise, she said.

Bringing in IBM’s Expertise

Anthony Annunziata, the director of the IBM Quantum Network, told EnterpriseAI that IBM is immediately jumping in to get started on its work with the Clinic.

“We’re bringing to the table … a host of technologies that will impact right away, HPC, hybrid cloud capabilities, tools that we can start to apply for AI right away, as well as a roadmap right for further development of those tools and innovations,” said Annunziata. “And then, of course, quantum as perhaps the most promising in the long term, because it really is this entirely new approach to computing.”

IBM is bringing in its early quantum tools and ideas into the partnership to help both the Clinic and IBM itself, said Annunziata. “It’s still going to take a few years to further mature,” he said of the technology. “The reason we’re engaging today on quantum is so that we can actually co-develop with Cleveland Clinic how quantum computing will affect important use cases in life sciences, especially in pathogen research. The idea very much is to pioneer the approaches together, develop things together. And so as the technology matures over the next few years … we’ll be in a position to deploy the technology.”

The company’s hardware roadmap, which was released last fall, outlined IBM’s planned path to 1,000 qubit machines. That included named systems such as IBM’s Eagle quantum system (127 qubits), the Osprey (433 qubits, due in 2022) and Condor (1,000 qubits, due  in 2023).

IBM’s best guess on when it will be prepared for its future generation 1,000+ qubit “System One” systems, is about three to five years, Annunziata said. That will prepare both parties for the second half of the partnership, when IBM expects it will be able to deploy quantum to do useful things on a large scale, he added.

IBM has released a detailed hardware roadmap and an overall development roadmap so the company knows the steps that need to be taken to get there, he said. The next few months will be spent getting the teams together and building the program, collaborating, designating research topics and deploying some of the technologies that are ready for use right now.

“We will start working on quantum right away, too, but that will be with the long game in mind, so we’ll have a first year that is essentially an initial building year in the quantum space,” said Annunziata. “It’s about building basic proficiency, starting to work on small scale problems, and in that time, they’ll have access to our remote systems on the cloud.”

By early- to mid-2022 IBM will deploy the first-generation “System One” on premises at Cleveland Clinic and integrate it into the institution’s broader infrastructure there, he said.

IBM describes the Quantum System One as “the world’s first integrated quantum computer system,” engineered to satisfy the needs of clients that wish to own their own exclusive on-premises system.

Protecting the qubits from perturbations in the environment was foremost in the design process. The delicate instrumentation will be encased in a nine-foot by nine-foot air-tight enclosure, comprised of half-inch thick borosilicate glass with the cryostat, control electronics and frame structurally isolated from the core components.

IBM Quantum System One framework being assembled. Image credit: IBM

Commercial Promise of Quantum

“We view this as an important way we’re going to understand what use cases there are and how to target those use cases” for the wider enterprise market, said Annunziata. “And we expect that that’s going to feed back to refine part of our technology roadmap.”

And in addition to helping with research, quantum computing has a great opportunity to accelerate AI as a fundamentally new infrastructure technology, said Annunziata. “You know how today we keep adding more and more GPUs to train models? While quantum affords a new type of infrastructure that may train much more efficiently, quantum also may be applied to understanding complex systems like optimizing supply chains and understanding manufacturing processes much better.”

The IBM-Cleveland Clinic partnership is unique, he said, because it is bringing a myriad of important technologies together on multiple timelines to empower the Clinic’s research capabilities.

“What AI can bring to the table, and what fundamentally better simulation capabilities like quantum can bring to the table … think about the whole workflow of doing science and how we can accelerate each piece and then bring them holistically together,” said Annunziata. “That integrated approach, frankly, is what I’m most excited about.”

“A huge deal…”

For IBM, this first major planned installation of an IBM Quantum System One system at the Cleveland Clinic is a huge deal, said Bob Sorensen, the senior vice president of research at Hyperion Research.

“This is decidedly good stuff,” he said. “Currently, the bulk of existing and exploratory quantum computing users are accessing quantum systems through cloud-access models, and this announcement is a major step for IBM in realizing its strategic vision of offering a practical, and commercially-available quantum product line.”

What these developments could also do, said Sorensen, is “help convince a wide range of potential quantum users, many who have been sitting on the fence, that the quantum sector has begun to transition from being a lab-based research effort to one with commercial viability.”

Some potential quantum users will likely be watching carefully to see what kind of research advances are enabled through access to a 24/7 on-premises quantum system versus a cloud-based counterpart, he added. “For its part, IBM will likely glean some significant insights as to what users want and need from such a system, which can only help them in their quantum development, design, and product strategies.”

A Mutually Beneficial Partnership

Other analysts agree that the partnership is intriguing for both sides.

“From a practical standpoint, the Cleveland Clinic should benefit from having a single partner capable of supporting a wide range of leading edge technologies, including hybrid cloud, AI, advanced analytics and quantum computing,” said Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT. “The pair’s joint effort in quantum skills development could also make Cleveland a hub for advanced medical, scientific and computing research.

At the same time, “the relationship underscores the commercial potential of IBM’s next-gen solutions and services, especially the company’s quantum systems and related software development efforts,” said King. “If successful, it will stand as an important validation of IBM’s long term business strategy and vision.”

Addison Snell, the CEO of Intersect360 Research, said the deal shows that IBM “continues to be easily the most visionary company across all of enterprise computing,” though he still has concerns that “IBM has been better at selling what they might have in the future, versus what can actually be deployed today. IBM has a compelling vision for quantum computing, and this partnership with Cleveland Clinic is a boon to the role of quantum in revolutionizing medical research.”

The Cleveland Clinic’s research team focuses on broadening understanding of viral pathogens, virus-induced cancers, genomics, immunology and immunotherapies. The Clinic also has programs and expertise in immunology, cancer biology, immune-oncology and infectious disease research as well as technology development and education. The Clinic has 70,800 employees worldwide and includes a 6,500-bed health system with a main campus near downtown Cleveland and 19 hospitals, more than 220 outpatient facilities, and locations in southeast Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England.

A version of this article originally appeared on HPCwire sister site EnterpriseAI.news.

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