Complex optimization problems exist across every industry, such as vehicle routing, supply chain management, risk assessment, portfolio optimization, power grid operations, and many others.
While a number of sophisticated algorithms have been developed that can solve certain optimization problems very efficiently, many real-world optimization problems remain hard to optimize despite the remarkable advancements in both algorithms and computing power over the past decades. These scenarios usually involve many variables and are computationally difficult to solve using traditional methods.
Leveraging quantum methods allows us to find more accurate solutions in far less time with much less work, even for the most complex problems. In practice, emulating quantum systems has led to promising breakthroughs in MRI technology, improving traffic congestion, materials design, and more.
Emulating nature with Azure Quantum
Many optimization algorithms, such as simulated annealing, parallel tempering Monte Carlo, or genetic algorithms, mimic natural processes. As we’ve developed a deeper understanding of quantum mechanics, new optimizers have been developed that make use of quantum mechanics to accelerate optimization and escape local minima in the cost function landscape through emulating quantum tunneling.
Simulating these quantum effects on classical computers has led to the development of new types of quantum solutions that run on classical hardware, also called quantum-inspired optimization (QIO) algorithms. These algorithms allow us to exploit some of the advantages of quantum computing approaches today on classical CMOS-based hardware, providing a speedup over traditional approaches. Using quantum solutions on classical hardware also prepares us for the future of quantum optimization on scaled, fault-tolerant quantum hardware.
Azure Quantum enables customers to run optimization algorithms on industry-scale classical hardware with self-service solutions designed to solve binary optimization problems on CPUs, GPUs, and FPGAs in Azure.
Toshiba offering Simulated Bifurcation Machine through Azure Quantum
Expanding the portfolio of QIO algorithms and solvers, Microsoft is pleased to announce that Toshiba is joining the Microsoft Quantum Network and will be offering Toshiba’s Simulated Bifurcation Machine (SBM) in Azure Quantum. Toshiba joins existing partners 1Qbit, Honeywell, IonQ, and QCI in providing services to the growing quantum ecosystem.
Toshiba’s cutting-edge technique quickly obtains highly accurate solutions for complex large-scale combinatorial optimization problems and has demonstrated an approximately 10-fold improvement over other competing devices. Some examples of combinatorial optimization problems include dynamic portfolio management, risk management, and high-frequency trading. Practical applications include optimizing routing for electrical transmission lines considering cost, safety, time, and environmental impact; or finding the shortest route between cities, considering the time of day, traffic incidents, and driver schedule.
In principle, every computational problem we see in practice can be translated to a particular type of binary optimization problem: searching for the ground state of an Ising model. While, in general, this mapping can be too costly to be practical, combinatorial optimization problems are often easy to rewrite into this form, and for problems that are native to this form (such as planning, scheduling, or partitioning), techniques such as those employed by Toshiba’s solution provide a powerful tool for solving them.
Emerging from quantum computing research at Toshiba, SBM is a practical and ready-to-use Ising model solver—a software solution that is able to solve large-scale combinatorial optimization problems at high speed, while harnessing the GPU resources in the Azure cloud.
Azure Quantum users will soon be able to utilize the Toshiba SBM to explore highly accurate solutions using quantum methods for their own scenarios.
Build quantum solutions today
Azure Quantum is an open ecosystem of quantum partners and technologies. Building on decades of quantum research and scalable enterprise cloud offerings at Microsoft, Azure Quantum brings you rich software capabilities and development tools paired with quantum and classical hardware through a familiar Azure environment.
With our ever-growing offerings, like Toshiba’s SBM, achieve immediate impact with quantum-inspired optimization running on classical hardware today and build for tomorrow with quantum hardware. Sign up to become an Azure Quantum early adopter.
With this announcement, we are excited to welcome Toshiba to the Microsoft Quantum Network. The Microsoft Quantum Network is a broad community of individuals and organizations collaborating with Microsoft to advance a comprehensive quantum ecosystem, develop practical solutions, and build a robust quantum workforce.
To build this right, we need to build it together.