Microsoft has announced its intent to offer quantum computing cloud services through its Azure cloud computing platform. The near term hardware platforms that they will support includes IonQ, Honeywell, and Quantum Circuits Inc. (QCI). IonQ and Honeywell are using the trapped ion technology while QCI is using a superconducting technology. Microsoft is indicating that they will eventually offer a hardware platform based upon their own topological based technology, but this technology is still in development and not available in the near term.

Microsoft Quantum stack
Microsoft Quantum Stack

It appears to us that this represents a relatively recent change in strategy. Up until a short time ago, Microsoft had indicated it was putting all its efforts behind its own topological approach which they believe will provide orders of magnitude better qubit quality than any of the other technology approaches. If they can make it a reality, it has the potential to become the technology of choice for quantum computing and make the others obsolete. But it is also a risky path as this technology is based upon a new type of particle called the Majorana fermion which has only been recently demonstrated.

In our view, it is a smart move by Microsoft to work with these other partners. Not only does this provide them with a backup plan in case the topological approach fails, but it also provide them with a means to start working with customers on real quantum hardware. Although Microsoft has been offering their Quantum Development Kit (QDK), Q# language and simulators for some time, we feel that having feedback from customers using actual quantum hardware may provide them with valuable insights and learning that will allow them to improve their own products.

The details of the Azure Quantum implementation are still sketchy. Customers will be able to program the quantum computers using Microsoft’s Q# language, but each of the different architectures will require a new and different backend to fit the specific machines from IonQ, Honeywell, and QCI. Also, details of the hardware platforms from these vendors has not yet been released. This includes qubit count, connectivity, native gates, coherence times, gate fidelities, etc., but we do expect additional announcements from these vendors with some of this information in the near future.

A final question for an end user will be which of the hardware platforms should they target for their application. This is an interesting question and answer may be a little complex. It will be interesting if Microsoft or anyone else provides end users with guidance on which of the backends is best for which application.

Nonetheless, users choices will become greatly expanded in 2020 and the additional competition will be to the end user’s advantage as they work to develop quantum computing applications that will provide their companies with commercial benefit.

For more information on this Azure Quantum partnership you can view Microsoft’s blog article, and associated news releases from IonQ, Honeywell, QCI, and 1QBit. And if you want to apply for preview access to become a early adopter, you can apply on Microsoft’s Azure Quantum web page here.

November 7, 2019