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Scientists offer more details about the D-Wave chip

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April 3, 2014

Scientists from University College in London and the University of Southern California have weighed into the ongoing 'is it quantum' theory / D-Wave debate with an interesting approach, testing the device under a variety of noise conditions.

As their paper at Arxiv explains, the thermal environment of a D-Wave chip isn't directly accessible since the machine operates as a black box, in that respect.

But an energy model is part of how problems are coded for the computer as a whole, and that gave the researchers, led by USC's Daniel Lidar, a knob they were able to adjust in their tests.

The 'control knob' the researchers accessed is that the behavior of the D-Wave device has a controllable overall energy scale, acting as an effective inverse temperature 'noise control knob.'

To be sure, reducing the energy scale amounts to increasing thermal excitations during the computation, and that's one of the main issues of the puzzle.

Why would this matter, you may ask? Well, the D-Wave chip is chilled to 20 millikelvin to prevent thermal noise from overwhelming the quantum effects the company says are the basis of its computations.

Therefore, the UCL / UC researchers reasoned, it should be possible from the input-output behavior of the device to predict the degree to which the chip's “quantumness” varied at different energy scales.

That, they say, is exactly what they observed. As they write-- “At the largest energy scale available, the annealing process appears to be dominated by coherent quantum effects, and thermal fluctuations are negligible. As the energy cale is decreased, thermal excitations become more relevant, and for a sufficiently small energy scale, the system behaves more like a classical annealer based on incoherent Ising spins.”

For this research, Lidar's group tested groups of 40 qubits against three classical models, and one quantum model: “The classical models are all found to disagree with the data, while the master equation agrees with the experiment without fine-tuning, and predicts mixed state entanglement at intermediate evolution times”.

Is this the end of the debate? Of course not-- it's not even a final proof that D-Wave is quantum, inside the black box. But Scott Aaronson says that this experiment does represent another addition to our knowledge of what's going on.

“I think the two sides are slowly converging on a real physical understanding of the current D-Wave devices – in particular, under what circumstances the devices can produce 'signatures' of various kinds of quantum behavior and under what circumstances those signatures go away,” Aaronson said.

He added that more evidence for quantum behavior still doesn't demonstrate that D-Wave is “faster” than classical computing even on its home turf.

While “clear evidence of global quantum behavior” is a prerequisite of ultimately achieving a quantum speed-up in computing, that doesn't yet guarantee that the speed up will ever be achieved.

“You can have global quantum behavior without a quantum speedup, but you can't have a quantum speedup without global quantum behavior,” Aaronson said, also noting that observing quantum-like behavior in special instances doesn't predict the scaling behavior of the D-Wave device.

In other IT news

For the first time ever, Oracle has managed to sell more software than IBM in 2013, placing Oracle second only to Microsoft, according to market analyst Gartner.

To be sure, Oracle made $29.6 billion last year, an increase of 3.4 percent over 2012 and pushing it from the world’s third largest to second-largest software maker.

IBM, which had been world number two, fell one place to third – just behind Oracle on revenue of $29 billion, representing a growth of just 1.3 percent.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Salesforce also chalked up a first, breaking into Gartner’s top 10 for the first time.

Salesforce earned $3.78 billion last year, an increase of 33.2 percent on 2012 numbers. Last year, Salesforce was outside the top 10, at number 12.

The company is the antithesis of Oracle and IBM, which has made a business from CRM sold not as an installable piece of software but as a service.

This is the first time a cloud or SaaS providers has made it into Gartner’s top 10. Gartner research vice president Joanne Correia said in a statement the debut is testament to the fact that the cloud is driving up the bulk of change in the software market.

Turning to Microsoft, the software giant remained the world’s biggest software maker, earning more than twice as much as IBM or Oracle-- $65.7 billion, an increase of 6 percent year-over-year.

However, it’s the scuffle between IBM and Oracle that’s significant, given they are both enterprise IT giants trying to reposition themselves to get a strong grip on the cloud market.

The difference between Big Blue and Oracle is relatively small, but the psychological impact is significant, nevertheless. Neither company has had a fantastic year.

Oracle’s growth has been slowing while it has been trying to spin up belated cloud hosting businesses and services. For its part, IBM has stumbled badly-- hit by falling hardware sales and struggling on the cloud, it’s now spending about $1.2 billion to roll out no less than 40 cloud data centres to make up it lost business.

Larry Ellison has long wanted to make his company the new IBM, based on size and status. But the competition has been on servers – particularly integrated systems, one reason Ellison acquired Sun Microsystems’ server business four years ago.

Meanwhile, Big Blue has pinned its future to software. IBM’s goal under a five-year roadmap published in 2010 is for EPS of $20 a share in 2015 – with about half of IBM’s profits coming from software. It will be tough to achive that goal, however.

IBM has sold its x86 server business to Lenovo – the final step in exiting low-profit hardware that started with its sale of the IBM PC business in 2005, also to Lenovo.

Particularly painful for IBM will be the fact that Gartner thinks Oracle’s growth has come from big data and analytics. IBM has been pushing both, through sales of things such as its SPSS predictive analytics software and initiatives such as Smart Cities.

Chad Eschinger, Gartner research vice president, said in a statement-- “Global trends around big data and analytics with business investment in database and cloud-based applications helped to drive Oracle's top-line growth."

In other IT news

MariaDB is launching version 10 of its open source database today. It has woken up to the importance of giving its users access to non-relational databases.

New in version 10 is the CONNECT engine, which can link up the MariaDB database system to outside sources of data, and Cassandra-compatibility features.

Maria DB 'CONNECT' can access information managed by NoSQL software, such as Riak and MongoDB, offering system admins read/write access to various data sets through traditional SQL commands, along with some other features.

"With CONNECT, MariaDB has one of the most advanced implementations of Management of External Data (MED) without the need of complex additions to the SQL syntax (foreign tables are "normal" tables using the CONNECT engine)," said Team MariaDB.

It's worth noting that MySQL has had a similar capability for several years via its implementation of the Mem Cached API for slurping NoSQL data into its InnoDB storage engine.

This technology also offers MySQL developers a way to link NoSQL web applications into MySQL infrastructure, allowing them to present and further integrate with modern applications built with these systems without having to indulge in the long and complex migration of a production database.

Source: University College in London.

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