Quantum computing is reality, not fiction. Here’s how agencies can prepare
When President Joe Biden outlined his infrastructure spending plans, his administration committed $180 billion to research and development and future industries. One of the top five priorities outlined in the plan is quantum computing, which experts see as central to leapfrogging high-tech innovation and best positioning America as a technology leader.
With quantum computers, researchers and scientists can store and process information faster than ever, solve complex problems today’s computers can’t solve and integrate powerful insights into everything from weather patterns to the intricacies of the human genome.
But as quantum computing solves some problems, it also creates new ones. Networks must be optimized and managed, systems secured and quantum-ready data centers built. And that’s the tip of the iceberg.
As our country’s best minds come together to build this high-performing infrastructure, how can government IT leaders prepare for the age of quantum computing? Let’s take a deeper dive into critical areas with a potential need for immediate attention.
The quantum security quandary
Perhaps the most significant area in need of a rethink is cybersecurity, specifically data encryption.
Current encryption methods work well because they take so long for a bad actor to crack. But mature quantum computers have the potential to reduce this time by orders of magnitude, leaving bare databases, email and military communications to prying eyes. In other words, in a few short years, everything encrypted today will be at risk.
The intelligence community is so concerned about the threat that the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center recently issued a fact sheet detailing how agencies can mitigate the risk posed by “strategic competitors” like China, who are developing quantum programs aimed squarely at U.S. cyber defenses. “Without effective mitigation, the impact of adversarial use of a quantum computer could be devastating to national security systems and the nation,” the report states.
Beyond these basic steps, cryptography as a function of cybersecurity must rapidly evolve for critical data and assets to stay secure in a quantum world.
Fortunately, the nation’s top experts are working on it. For example, the Department of Energy and the University of Chicago have partnered to develop a secure quantum computing network infrastructure for use by researchers (although there are also plans to roll the network out to government agencies and industries handling highly sensitive data). Also on the horizon is a nationwide unhackable quantum internet — bringing safer communications into the mainstream.
This isn’t theoretical; it will happen, and agencies should prepare. They must think now about how they can be quantum-safe. For instance, IT teams should take inventory of data assets requiring encryption. They must also assess if new encryption methods must be applied to archived data protected by older encryption algorithms.
Building a quantum-ready infrastructure
The current White House isn’t the first to tackle the quantum computing imperative. Biden’s plan builds on legislation and initiatives already in play, including the Quantum Network Infrastructure Act, which accelerates innovation in the infrastructure needed to realize the full potential of the technology.
What will a quantum-ready infrastructure look like? Beyond R&D investment in compute components, any large-scale technology implementation will require more cooling, power and transmission lines. When it comes to networking, will quantum protocols run over existing fiber? How will signals be amplified across campuses, cities and states?
It’s a herculean effort requiring intense coordination between federal agencies, standards bodies like the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, education institutions and industry.
IT monitoring and management is about to change – in a big way
Quantum computing will also transform the future of IT infrastructure management.
Using supercomputers and predictive analytics, IT pros can wave goodbye to the glitches and outages from faulty configuration changes (like the one that crashed Facebook for nearly six hours in October). With quantum power, they can quickly model the enterprisewide impact of configuration changes before they’re rolled out — eliminating human error and saving time.
Quantum technology can also be used to identify problems before they grow into more significant issues — automatically and at scale. For example, powerful computers will scan terabytes of logs for advanced analyses of infrastructure performance in ways not previously possible.
But with potential also comes risk. How do agencies scale the tools they use to monitor, manage and maintain today’s systems to a quantum-based infrastructure? Is it possible without losing some level of visibility? Researchers and government leaders will need a game plan.
The science is here, and agencies better be ready
Quantum computing is no longer science fiction; it’s science reality. Indeed, investment by Congress will continue to advance understanding across government and industry of the unprecedented opportunities this computational speed-up brings.
But as quantum computing’s evolutionary path quickly ramps up, many unknowns remain.
Reaching the point of large-scale production will involve trial and error. Establishing supply chains — infrastructure, network and security — for quantum computing is a formidable and far-reaching task. But we’ve been here before. The past 25 years are a testament to the leaps and bounds in technological advancements society can make. It can happen again. However, if the U.S. is to get ahead of its adversaries and seize the opportunity, the groundwork must start now.