The Cloud's Quantum Future


By Tim Moran

Cloud computing is high on the list of IT issues to be dealt with in 2012--and beyond.

Its impact on today's business decisions and strategies is prime fodder for articles, blogs, and research reports all over the Web. But what about the "beyond" part? Where could the cloud go from here?

One of the issues with cloud computing is the security of data. Well, researchers at the Vienna Center for Quantum Science and Technology (VCQ) at the University of Vienna and the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information (IQOQI) think they are on to a solution, and it comes in the form of quantum computing.

Scientists at these institutions report that they have succeeded in "combining the power of quantum computing with the security of quantum cryptography," showing that a completely secure cloud-computing environment can be achieved using the principles of quantum mechanics.

Far be it for us to try to explain quantum mechanics or quantum cryptography to you. Let it be said that there are many very smart people out there working to make quantum computing a reality; it is not yet available in any commercial way. Nevertheless, quantum computers are expected to play a very important role in IT's future because it is theorized that they will be able to perform most tasks much better than can classical computers.

According to Stefanie Barz, lead author of the study, in a release from the group: "The obvious challenge is to make globalized computing safe and ensure that users' data stays private. Quantum physics solves one of the key challenges in distributed computing. It can preserve data privacy when users interact with remote computing centers." How this is actually done is a bit baffling to those of us who are not quantum physicists, but, explain the researchers, it goes something like this: The user prepares qubits-the fundamental units of quantum computers-in a state known only to himself and sends these qubits to the quantum computer. The quantum computer entangles the qubits according to a standard scheme. The actual computation is measurement-based: the processing of quantum information is implemented by simple measurements on qubits. The user tailors measurement instructions to the particular state of each qubit and sends them to the quantum server. Finally, the results of the computation are sent back to the user who can interpret and utilize the results of the computation. Even if the quantum computer or an eavesdropper tries to read the qubits, they gain no useful information, without knowing the initial state; they are "blind."

Got that? In any case, with the cloud becoming ubiquitous, it's nice to know that there are quantum forces at work that could, one day, make all data secure. That's a state we'd all like to work in.


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