For about seven years, HP conducted research in quantum computing, a completely new type of computing that is exponentially more powerful than any computer today and can solve difficult problems like predicting the stock market, drug discovery, and even fighting climate change.
Today, companies like IBM, Microsoft, Google, and Intel, as well as startups like Aliro and IonQ, are also working on their own quantum computing projects. Most recently, Google announced it reached an important benchmark in quantum computing (although IBM disputed it).
However, HP took a different route. Around five years ago, HP decided it would be difficult to scale to a level where it could build a usable quantum computer. In addition, during this time, HP was about to be split into two companies: HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
I felt that the materials industry was probably a decade away from making that available, HP Enterprise senior fellow Ray Beausoleil, who led HP's quantum computing efforts, told Business Insider. I felt that going forward, I was just going to competing with universities instead of collaborating with it. I didn't think that was a productive way to spend our time.
Beausoleil, a former quantum physicist from Stanford who is now a fellow at HPE, says he explained his rationale to senior management, and they understood and accepted it. He felt that quantum computing wasn't feasible for the kinds of data sets enterprise customers want to analyze.
Beausoleil also says he couldn't come up with a use case in quantum computing that HPE was likely to have. He says the types of things HPE focuses on in its day-to-day work don't directly apply to building a quantum computer, so quantum computing no longer became a priority.'For the majority of our customers, it's not going to make a difference to them'
Beausoleil says that while quantum computing could be awesomely important for drug discovery and finding new building materials, HPE focuses more on business applications.
I don't think it's going to solve the kind of problems that banks face or hospitals face or our traditional customers, Beausoleil said. It's really not a good fit. On the other hand, pharmaceutical companies would love to have a quantum computer. It really depends on your enterprise. For the majority of our customers, it's not going to make a difference to them.
Some of the challenges of building a quantum computer today include making sure temperatures remain close to absolute zero – otherwise, the particles required for these computations will become unstable. Instead, HPE decided to focus on building more advanced computer hardware that its customers could use.
Beausoleil says it's possible that HPE could go back into quantum computing if there was a practical way for HPE to use it.
If all of a sudden, traditional enterprise workloads looked like they could be solved using quantum computing architecture, then our interest would be rekindled, Beausoleil said. Of course, we have a limited amount of time, and where can that time and money be put to best use?'I wish them all the luck in the world'
Beausoleil says that for the competitors that are working on quantum computing, I wish them all the luck in the world.
I am not going to comment on individual companies' approaches, Beausoleil said. I am not an expert at their particular approaches. I do think that in certain application areas, quantum computing has the potential to be revolutionary. I hope that they'll be successful and we'll see the fruits of quantum computing realized.
Still, Beausoleil remains optimistic about quantum computing. Experts predict that quantum computers won't be mainstream for another five to ten years, and Beausoleil even predicts that in 20 years, it will not be possible to design computers without understanding quantum computing.
All of the students in graduate school right now who are working in quantum computing, even if they don't work for a quantum computing company, they are building the experience we will need for our information technology in the next decade, even if it doesn't result in a quantum computer, Beausoleil said. The quantum age is coming.