An employee is seen behind a glass wall with the logo of Alibaba at the company's headquarters on the outskirts of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province
An employee at Alibaba's headquarters on the outskirts of Hangzhou.  Photograph by Chance Chan — Reuters

Alibaba’s cloud unit teams with Chinese researchers on quantum computing

Jul 30, 2015

Quantum computing which, in theory, taps the power of quantum mechanics to create better, faster, smaller computing devices, is a potentially huge opportunity. And now Alibaba's(baba) Aliyun cloud unit and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have agreed to build a new research facility to further research this field.

Both parties have agreed to build a new Shanghai-based Alibaba Quantum Computing Laboratory which will look into new security technology for e-commerce and data centers, based on quantum mechanics. Clearly, security is a huge strategic focus for Alibaba, which is China's largest e-commerce provider and which runs the data centers running both e-commerce sites and the Aliyun cloud.

From Alibaba's statement:

Both parties will jointly promote the research, development, dissemination and application of quantum computing to lay a strong and stable technical foundation for China to push the envelope on quantum computing.

Quantum computing, which would harness the power of molecules and atoms, is a natural extension of the continued miniaturization of the computing era , where ever more transistors get packed onto microprocessors per the edicts of Moore's Law. But moving that to the atomic scale could unleash a lot more computing power.

Google(goog), IBM(ibm), Microsoft (msft) and other tech superpowers are working on their own quantum computing efforts.

While practical applications for quantum computers are still a ways off, cybersecurity and cryptography will likely be hot spots. As Stratfor Global Intelligene reported earlier this month, quantum computers will be able to perform mathematical calculations in a timeframe that today's computers cannot match. They could, for example, unlock "Shor's algorithm" which is a way to find the prime factors of any large number. That breakthrough, in turn, would make cracking complex codes much easier and faster.

"A quantum computer can do in minutes or hours what a classical computer would take years or much longer to do. Of course, the floodgates of stored data will not suddenly open once Shor's algorithm comes into play; quantum computers could also be use to encrypt information far more securely than is possible with classical computers, something already under intense study."

This partnership news comes at a time when Alibaba is pushing its cloud business beyond China to the U.S. and elsewhere where it will compete with Amazon(amzn) Web Services and other U.S.-based cloud providers. The company this week said it is investing $1 billion to fund that growth. This joint effort with the Chinese Academy of Sciences is part fo that investment, an Aliyun spokeswoman said

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