The fourth-generation quantum computer from Canada-based D-Wave Systems is twice as powerful as its predecessor, and can outperform advanced silicon-based servers by a factor of up to 10,000, according to the company.

Released for general commercial availability today, the D-Wave 2000Q provides 2,000 qubits (quantum bits) of computing power along with new features for optimizing problem solving. Priced at $15 million, the new computer promises practical applications in areas such as cybersecurity and machine learning, D-Wave said.

In fact, the first customer to acquire a D-Wave 2000Q is a Washington state-based cybersecurity company, Temporal Defense Systems. TDS said it plans to combine the computer with its own technology to "solve some of the most critical and complex cyber security problems impacting governments and commercial enterprises."

Thumbnail-Size QPU

According to quantum computing experts, these kinds of computers promise to deliver significant improvements in calculation and analysis speeds compared to traditional machines based on silicon chips. Rather than using the binary digits "0" and "1" -- known as bits -- to store information, quantum computers use qubits that can exist in different states at the same time, meaning information can be encoded as "0s, 1s, or both simultaneously," D-Wave said.

"Despite the incredible power of today's supercomputers, many complex computing problems cannot be addressed by conventional systems," D-Wave noted in its documentation for the D-Wave 2000Q. "The huge growth of data and our need to better understand everything from the universe to our own DNA leads us to seek new tools that can help provide answers. Quantum computing is the next frontier in computing, providing an entirely new approach to solving the world's most difficult challenges."

Enabling such computing requires an extremely controlled environment. D-Wave said its new machine's quantum processing unit, or QPU, needs to operate at a temperature close to absolute zero, with shielding that protects it from magnetic fields, radio-frequency waves and vibrations. While the QPU itself is the size of a thumbnail, the housing required to contain these protective systems means the D-Wave 2000Q measures 10 feet tall, 10 feet deep and seven feet wide.

'Skepticism and Excitement'

Temporal Defense Systems said it will offer the computing power of the D-Wave 2000Q to customers as "service-level offerings that can be integrated throughout the enterprise." According to the company's Web site, its services, built on "Quantum Security Model" technologies, include SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) protection, protection of critical infrastructure, cryptographic analysis, penetration testing and forensic analysis of cybersecurity incidents.

"[T]he introduction of post-quantum cryptography algorithms and the capability to solve complex computational problems achievable only using quantum computing platforms will aid in improving the security of constantly changing operational networks," Temporal Defense Systems CTO James Burrell, a former FBI deputy assistant director, said in a statement. "The intent is to introduce an entirely new approach to existing and emerging cyber security challenges impacted by the volume, sophistication, and complexity of modern attack methodologies."

D-Wave came out with the 512-qubit D-Wave Two, which it called the world's "first commercial quantum computer," in 2013. The company is already working on a 4,000-qubit fifth-generation model that could be released "within two years," according to an article today in the science journal Nature.

"D-Wave machines have attracted scepticism as well as excitement since they went on sale six years ago," according to the Nature article. "So far, researchers have proved that, for a problem crafted to suit the machine's abilities, the quantum computer can offer a huge increase in processing speed over a classical version of an algorithm . . . But the computers do not beat every classical algorithm, and no one has found a problem for which they outperform all classical rivals."