Skip to main content
Move the World.
Cloud-Based Quantum Computing

Lead Image Courtesy of Microsoft

Name a scientific breakthrough made in the last 50 years, and a computer probably played a role in it. Now, consider what sorts of breakthroughs may be possible with quantum computers.

These next-gen systems harness the weird physics of the subatomic world to complete computations far faster than classical computers, and that processing power promises to revolutionize everything from finance and healthcare to energy and aerospace.

But today's quantum computers are complex, expensive devices, not unlike those first gigantic modern computers — a person can't exactly pop down to an electronics retailer to pick one up (not yet, anyways).

However, there is a way for us to get a taste of that future, today: cloud-based quantum computing.

What Is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing is the delivery of computing resources — data storage, processing power, software, etc. — on-demand over the internet.

Today, there are countless cloud computing service providers, but a few of the biggest are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud.

Amazon, Microsoft, and Google are massive companies, and their computing resources are equally expansive — AWS alone offers more than 175 cloud computing services, supported by more than 100 data centers across the globe.

A person might never be able to buy the resources those companies own, but through cloud computing, they can essentially rent them, only paying for what they actually use.

A scientist, for example, could pay AWS for 10 hours of access to one of the company's powerful virtual computers to run an experiment, rather than spending far more money to buy a comparable system.

That's just one use, though, and there are countless real-world examples of people using cloud computing services. The shows you watch on Netflix? The company stores them in a database in the cloud. The emails in your Gmail inbox? They're in the cloud, too.

Cloud-based quantum computing combines the benefits of the cloud with the next generation of computers.

Cloud-Based Quantum Computing

In 2016, IBM connected a small quantum computer to the cloud, giving people their first chance to create and run small programs on a quantum computer online.

Since then, IBM has expanded its cloud-based quantum computing offerings and other companies, including Amazon, have developed and launched their own services.

In 2019, Microsoft announced one such service, Azure Quantum, which includes access to quantum algorithms, hardware, and software. It made that service available to a small number of partners during a limited preview in May 2020.

"Azure Quantum enables every developer, every person, every enterprise to really tap in and succeed in their businesses and their endeavors with quantum solutions," Krysta Svore, the GM of Microsoft Quantum, said in 2019. "And that's incredibly powerful."

Now, Microsoft has expanded its Azure Quantum preview to the public, giving anyone with the funds access to the cutting-edge quantum resources.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have already used Microsoft's cloud-based quantum computing service to develop a way to improve the quality and speed of MRI scans for cancer.

Ford, meanwhile, is using it to try to solve the problem of traffic congestion.

Now that anyone can use the services, we could be seeing far more projects like these in the near future — rather than years from now when quantum systems are (maybe) as accessible as classical computers are today.

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Up Next

Computer Science
Quantum Computing: Explained
what is quantum computing
Computer Science
Quantum Computing: Explained
Quantum computing is the holy grail of computer science. Here's everything you need to know about how it works — and why it will be world-changing.
By Sarah Wells

Quantum computing is the holy grail of computer science. Here's everything you need to know about how it works — and why it will be world-changing.

Cybersecurity
We’re One Step Closer to a Super-Secure Quantum Internet
We’re One Step Closer to a Super-Secure Quantum Internet
Cybersecurity
We’re One Step Closer to a Super-Secure Quantum Internet
Scientists have successfully entangled photons across a 52-mile-long quantum loop in Chicago, a major milestone along the path to a quantum Internet.

Scientists have successfully entangled photons across a 52-mile-long quantum loop in Chicago, a major milestone along the path to a quantum Internet.

Computer Science
Is Quantum Hacking the Biggest Threat to Encryption?
Quantum Hacking
Computer Science
Is Quantum Hacking the Biggest Threat to Encryption?
While some security experts prepare for quantum hacking, others argue that the EARN IT Act is the threat to encryption we need to address right now.

While some security experts prepare for quantum hacking, others argue that the EARN IT Act is the threat to encryption we need to address right now.

Computing
World’s Fastest Supercomputer Helps Battle COVID-19
supercomputer
Computing
World’s Fastest Supercomputer Helps Battle COVID-19
The Summit supercomputer made quick work of complicated simulations to identify 77 compounds that could be promising COVID-19 treatments.

The Summit supercomputer made quick work of complicated simulations to identify 77 compounds that could be promising COVID-19 treatments.

Medical Innovation
The Race To Get Artificial Blood Into Patients’ Veins
Artificial Blood
Medical Innovation
The Race To Get Artificial Blood Into Patients’ Veins
Artificial blood could help address blood shortages while overcoming the limitations of donated blood, which has a relatively short shelf life.

Artificial blood could help address blood shortages while overcoming the limitations of donated blood, which has a relatively short shelf life.

Aerospace
What a Simulated Mars Mission Can Teach You About Life
simulated mars mission
Aerospace
What a Simulated Mars Mission Can Teach You About Life
After a simulated Mars mission, researchers come home with lessons we can all live by.

After a simulated Mars mission, researchers come home with lessons we can all live by.

Medical Innovation
This Adjustable Heart Valve Would Grow as a Child Ages
heart valve
Medical Innovation
This Adjustable Heart Valve Would Grow as a Child Ages
A new, prototype artificial heart valve can adjust to a child’s growing body, potentially sparing them from multiple open-heart surgeries before adulthood.

A new, prototype artificial heart valve can adjust to a child’s growing body, potentially sparing them from multiple open-heart surgeries before adulthood.

Citizen Scientists
NASA Wants YOU to Help Track Landslides
NASA Wants YOU to Help Track Landslides
Citizen Scientists
NASA Wants YOU to Help Track Landslides
NASA is enlisting citizen scientists to collect important data on recent landslides, in an effort to improve prediction models and assist in disaster prevention.

NASA is enlisting citizen scientists to collect important data on recent landslides, in an effort to improve prediction models and assist in disaster prevention.

Dispatches
A Tumor-Killing Virus Could Treat Eye Cancer and Save Children's Sight
A Tumor-Killing Virus Could Treat Eye Cancer and Save Children's Sight
Dispatches
A Tumor-Killing Virus Could Treat Eye Cancer and Save Children's Sight
The only treatment for retinoblastoma is surgical removal of the eye—but scientists may have found another way:...
By Hemant Khanna

The only treatment for retinoblastoma is surgical removal of the eye—but scientists may have found another way: cancer-killing viruses.