IonQ unveils quantum computing data centre
The facility, which was funded in part by a $5.5mn grant from the University of Maryland (and partly by a recent round of funding from several investors, ), spans 23,000 square feet and has been purpose built to be one of the world’s first quantum data centres.
The new data centre can accommodate 10 quantum computers. IonQ also says that, as its machines become increasingly compact and powerful, the facility will be able to scale up the number of machines it can host with each successive generation.
"This dedicated space will empower our employees and researchers with the best equipment and resources needed to continue advancing the field of quantum computing."
The announcement comes off the back of IonQ’s recent launch of the company’s most powerful quantum computer to date - claiming the device than the most powerful machines at IBM or Google - featuring 32 perfect atomic qubits with low gate errors and an expected quantum volume greater than 4,000,000.
For context, the latest generation IBM quantum computer recorded an expected quantum volume somewhere in the double digits, meaning the figure IonQ reported raised a few eyebrows.
IonQ President and CEO, Peter Chapman, , "Depending on the application, customers will need somewhere between 80 and 150 very high fidelity qubits and logic gates to see quantum advantage. Our goal is to double or more the number of qubits each year. With two new generations of hardware already in the works, companies not working with quantum now are at risk of falling behind.”
Currently, IonQ is working on the next three generations of its quantum computers, each of which it predicts to demonstrate exponentially increased performance over its existing machines.
Even as the high performance computing (HPC) data centre segment begins to pick up steam, the requirements of data centre architecture to support quantum computing could be a major growth area on the horizon. University of Maryland President Darryll J. Pines believes that the new IonQ facility will have a pivotal role in the ushering of quantum computing towards more mainstream applications.
"Quantum computing technology will mature in this important new facility, and we are proud to partner with IonQ on it. The new data centre—with all its capabilities—will enhance our standing as a major international centre for the development of quantum science and computing."
3 ways crypto mining is impacting the data centre industry
Around the world - particularly in Russia, Eastern Europe and China - the global rise of crypto currency values has been driving an en masse industrialisation of the mining process. The trend has been bubbling away for several years, as the home mining rig has largely found itself edged out by hyperscale server farms comprising some of the largest data centres anywhere in the industry - all designed to mine crypto.
The demands placed on a facility built and run as a mining operation are somewhat different to those placed on a hyperscale cloud facility or enterprise data centre. Reliability isn’t so much of an issue; if a mine goes down for a few hours, money is lost, but your data centre won’t take half the websites in Western Europe down along with it.
On the flipside, density and cooling are much, much more important. To make a crypto mining operation profitable, you need to be harvesting more crypto currency (be it Ethereum, Dogecoin, or the perennial Bitcoin) than you’re paying for electricity by a significant margin. As a result, some of the most efficient cooling and hyper-dense rack architecture from the past few years - like two-stage liquid cooling - has originated as a crypto mining solution. Now, hyperscale cloud operators in particular are recognising the benefits of these innovations and applying them to other aspects of the data centre industry.
1. Liquid Cooling
Crypto data centres have always been as dense as possible, with their racks running at maximum capacity all day, all year round. By contrast, the average enterprise or cloud data centre isn’t necessarily running at peak capacity 24/7; workloads fluctuate with demand. However, as that demand has skyrocketed over the past year in particular, cloud and enterprise operators have looked to crypto’s preference for liquid cooling as a way to run data centres closer to the ragged edge of performance than ever before.
One example of this is LiquidStack. The Hong Kong startup makes a revolutionary two-phase liquid cooling solution for data centres, which was developed over a number of years inside Bitfury, one of the world’s leading crypto miners. “Bitfury is sharing our knowledge with the global data center community and we are excited that Microsoft and other internet giants can benefit from our years of experience and investment to best practice liquid cooling,” said Joe Capes, CEO of LiquidStack in an interview with Data Centre Magazine.
Now, LiquidStack is going mainstream, with substantiated rumours that Microsoft is looking to adopt their DataTank solutions across its ever-expanding portfolio of hyperscale cloud regions.
2. Denser HPC
One of the issues that liquid cooling solves is how to create ultra-dense server racks that can function at high temperatures. Crypto miners have been grappling with this problem for about a decade now, and the lessons they’ve learned are being happily adopted by the burgeoning data centre HPC market - which is swelling in response to greater AI adoption and increasingly-sizable data sets.
With the density that mining rigs can achieve, server architects are cramming hundreds of kilowatts into individual racks - although it should be noted that this is still relatively rare. A 2020 survey from the Uptime Institute still found that the average density of data centre racks was growing rapidly, however.
“We expect density to keep rising. Our research shows that the use of virtualization and software containers pushes IT utilization up, in turn requiring more power and cooling. With Moore’s law slowing down, improvements in IT can require more multi-core processors and, consequently, more power consumption per operation, especially if utilization is low. Even setting aside new workloads, increases in density can be regarded a long-term trend,” said the report.
In 2020, average rack densities of 20kW and higher became a reality for many data centre operator.
3. Sustainability Concerns
Now for the more worrying news. The industrial scale and massive power consumption inherent to the crypto mining business - and the negative attention that miners are now starting to receive from government - could point towards a concerning future for data centre operators in the wider industry.
Last week, the Chinese government announced that it would open an inquiry into the participation of Beijing’s largest data centre operators - which include the country’s three largest telecom firms - in crypto mining. At a time when the PRC government is attempting a significant reversal of its approach towards sustainability, the significant power draw of crypto mining activities may be one more hurdle than China cares to deal with.
The Indian government is mulling a blanket criminalisation of all crypto mining in the country and, in the US, the State of New York is also looking into tightening regulatory restrictions on the industry.
While crypto mining data centres are not the same as cloud or enterprise facilities, operators should be careful lest the ire of lawmakers be the latest trend to make its way from the crypto sector into the mainstream.