4th March 2024

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Technology and Computer

Cisco enters quantum networking collaboration

Cisco has announced a new quantum networking collaboration with Nu Quantum, a UK startup. The partnership with Nu Quantum, based in Cambridge, will see Cisco become a prospective end-user for “Lyra,” a project that aims to deliver the world’s first “Quantum Networking Unit” (QNU.) Funded by a UK government contract valued at £2.3m, the goal is to build a network capable of connecting disparate quantum processing units (QPUs) and massively scale the number of qubits available to researchers and private companies.

“It is increasingly accepted that to reach its potential, quantum networking will be needed to scale quantum computing to a Fault Tolerant era,” said Cisco’s head of co-innovation, Peter Shearman. “We are delighted to partner with Nu Quantum to accelerate this journey towards a modular, qubit-agnostic and data centre-optimised future.”

A mockup of a quantum computing data centre rack, which utilises quantum networking technology to scale the number of qubits available for practical use.
A mockup of a Nu Quantum-branded quantum computing rack in a hypothetical quantum data centre. Cisco has announced a new collaboration with the Cambridge-based startup, which will see it become a prospective end user of its quantum networking units. (Photo by Nu Quantum)

Quantum networking needed to scale qubit numbers, say experts

Though significant breakthroughs have been made in recent years in raising the number of fault-tolerant qubits in single quantum computers to the double digits, most experts agree that successfully commercialising the field will require networking solutions that combine the raw power of individual machines. One of the loudest advocates of this approach has been IBM, which envisions modular quantum computing circuits powered by its proprietary QPUs. 

Nu Quantum’s strategy, meanwhile, is platform-agnostic. According to the startup, LYRA will deliver “discrete 19-inch rack-mount [QNU] modules for control-plane and optical interfacing” which are fully upgradable and support various quantum computing modalities. Nu Quantum added that its quantum networking solution also “incorporates a new high-precision timing architecture and digital control bus, allowing the system to easily scale to support a large cluster of quantum-compute nodes.”

By using Nu Quantum’s QNUs to build quantum computing networks, its founder Carmen Palacios argues, operators will not only be able to harness the requisite number of qubits necessary to solve large and complex problems but also help to move quantum computers out of the laboratory and into data centre-like environments. 

Road to the quantum data centre

“A large-scale, fault-tolerant quantum computer will look relatively similar to a high-performance supercomputer today,” Palacios told Tech Monitor. Alternatively, QNUs could allow for the creation of quantum data centres, wherein “you have four racks of quantum computers and a fifth rack that is the quantum networking unit that is interconnecting all of them.” 

LYRA is partly funded by a UK government contract won by Nu Quantum in a competition to develop new quantum networking technologies. Founded in 2018 by a team led by Palacios, the firm raised £7m in a pre-series A funding round late last year. It has also previously collaborated with Cisco on the similarly mythological-sounding Project Medusa, where the two collaborated on developing integrated photonic technology to network clusters of trapped ion quantum computers.

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Project Lyra follows a series of investments made by Cisco into the field of quantum computing. In March the firm announced its creation of the Cisco Quantum Lab in Santa Monica, California, dedicated to researching quantum security and networking. These fields, said Cisco, would open “near-term commercial markets” for the company as global interest in the technology matures.