If you consider how classical computer solutions are delivered to end users today, it can require many different vendors working together. For example, to enable an enterprise to process a simple sales order it could start with Intel producing a microprocessor chip, selling it to Dell to incorporate into a server, adding a Microsoft operating system for system control, installing an Oracle ERP system to run the applications software, and selling the completed system to a VAR who adds their own support expertise before it finally gets running at the end user.

However, this ecosystem evolved over time. In the 1970’s the computing field was dominated by large, vertically integrated companies like IBM, Digital Equipment Corporation, and a few others that all supplied the hardware, software, applications software, and even the semiconductors and hard disk drives for their machines. But as the market got larger and more complex, the industry eventually started to disaggregate and most companies narrowed their focus into more specialized domains.

Other reasons the disaggregation occurred was due to the arrival of various standards in operating systems, languages and semiconductor, along with increasingly intense price competition and economies of scale as the industry looked to increase their market size. 

It will be interesting to see how the quantum computing market evolves. At this point the quantum industry is looking to start out much like the early computer industry. Companies such as D-Wave, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Rigetti, and possibly others seem to going down the vertical integration route. A lot of this is due to the lack of standards, incompatible hardware, constant change, and uncertain roadmaps in this new industry.

There are a few start-ups focusing on the software side including 1Qbit, Cambridge Quantum Computing, QC Ware, and QxBranch. The near term challenge for these companies will be whether to just support one platform or whether they can adapt their software to additional platforms as the new companies enter the market. The former is simpler and allows them to focus their resources, but the latter approach can be less risky because they won’t have to put all their eggs in one basket and try to predict which hardware vendor will dominate.

Although it may take 20 years or so, my prediction is that the quantum computing market will eventually end up like today’s classical computing market. For similar reasons, the industry will start driving towards more standardization and cost improvements in order to expand the user base. Perhaps we may see Microsoft’s Liqui|> software become quantum computing’s analog to FORTRAN, which was the first widely available classical computer language. But just as happened with classical computing, it will surely be a long and tortuous path to get there with a few winners and many others dropping out.