Tiny quantum computer plugs into top Euro supercomputer – because why not?

It's not how many qubits you've got, it's how you use them

What happens when you plug what's said to be a quantum computer into Europe’s most powerful supercomputer? That’s just what researchers at Finland's government-sponsored technical research institute VTT aims to find out.

On Tuesday, VTT announced it has connected Helmi — which translates to Pearl and is a basic quantum computer system – to the Lumi supercomputer at the CSC datacenter in Kajaani, Finland. For the moment, Lumi holds the title of the third most powerful supercomputer in the world, at least of those we know of, and rules the roost in Europe.

The research project aims to explore the application of quantum computing to accelerate HPC workloads and speed the development of quantum algorithms and software.

VTT envisions a world in which quantum systems work in conjunction with supercomputers to reduce the time required to complete HPC simulations without sacrificing on accuracy. If fruitful, one early application could be to speed up short-term weather forecasting for rapidly evolving weather phenomenon like hurricanes or tsunamis, VTT claims.

“Lumi is now the most powerful quantum-enabled supercomputing infrastructure in the world,” Pekka Manninen, director of Lumi, said in a statement. “This means that we have all the drivers of the future of computing seamlessly integrated and ready to be utilized.”

Compared to quantum systems from the likes of D-Wave and IBM, VTT’s Helmi system is tiny. Built in collaboration with Finnish quantum computing startup IQM in 2021 and housed at the CSC, the system is made up of just five qubits. While VTT does have a quantum system with 20 qubits under development and one with 50 qubits planned for 2024, IBM launched a 127 qubit Eagle system last year and has a 4,158-qubit system slated to come online in the 2025 timeframe.

But instead of a standalone system, VTT is positioning Helmi as more of a quantum accelerator or co-processor that’s designed to work alongside more powerful systems like Lumi.

Introduced in 2021, Lumi is ranked among the world’s top supercomputers. Powered by an all AMD mix of Epyc CPUs, Instinct GPUs, and Slingshot11 interconnects, the combination drove the system to the No. 3 spot on this spring's Top500 at 151 Petaflops of FP64 performance. And heading into the next ranking at SC22 later this month, it appears the Lumi team is targeting an even greater 375 Petaflops of performance this time around.

The attachment of Helmi to the larger Lumi system is one of several mixed scientific projects reportedly planned for the supercomputer. Finnish universities and research centers will soon be able to explore the application of the combined Helmi-Lumi system on quantum algorithms, software, and HPC workloads. And following the academic pilot, researchers plan to open the platform up to a larger audience.

"We are creating the basis for future large-scale quantum computing infrastructure in Finland with this initiative,” Tapio Ala-Nissilä, professor of physics at Aalto, said in a statement. “The first generation of quantum computers will be most valuable for training researchers and students in quantum algorithms and computing and related technologies.” ®

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