Cisco and Nu Quantum collaborate on quantum networking

UK-funded ‘LYRA’ project aims to deliver a quantum networking unit for future data centers.

University of Cambridge spin out Nu Quantum is collaborating with telecommunications equipment giant Cisco to advance quantum networking technology. The two firms are working on a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)-funded research project called “LYRA” that will aim to deliver a world-first, modular, 19-inch rack-mounted and scalable quantum data center prototype – with Cisco as a prospective future end user.

Modular architecture

Running for 18 months, the LYRA project began in October 2023 and is valued at £2.3 million, with other collaborators involved. Nu Quantum’s VP of product management Ed Wood says that Nu Quantum will be delivering a control module comprising rack mount control electronics, and an optical module featuring discrete single-photon detectors. The combination of the two modules will form a complete ‘Quantum Networking Unit’, or QNU. “This modular architecture allows in-field upgrades to support different quantum computer modalities and alternative wavelengths,” announced the two companies.

“The 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.”

Under the collaboration, Cisco says it intends to contribute to key system requirements and help to evaluate final deliverables.

Out of the lab

Carmen Palacios, the co-founder and CEO of Nu Quantum, said in a joint release: “We are honored to be awarded the contract from UK SBRI to pilot the first prototype of a quantum data center in the world, and to have an amazing partner like Cisco. “LYRA takes the cornerstone quantum networking units from [the] optical bench to a deployable, prototype-product, capable of supporting test-bed integration with trapped-ion qubits and software stacks.  “The LYRA QNU is designed for future support of different qubit modalities and is a huge step forward in bringing quantum out of the lab and into real world use.” The optical module is wavelength-specific, typically matching the native emission wavelength of the ion or atom used as a communications qubit. “This is required as wavelength conversion is to be avoided where possible,” Wood explained. “It is a lossy process that will damage the overall performance of the system. But the modular nature of the system means that the control module can be retained and a new optical module at a new wavelength installed.” Although interfacing to the qubit is beyond the scope of LYRA – the project only requires presentation of the photons from the compute nodes into fiber – the distance of the quantum links will ultimately relate to the wavelength of the photons. Wood says that “tens of meters” should be possible for any wavelength. “LYRA is very specifically about use inside a datacenter (highest rate and fidelities), not long-range inter-datacenter connections,” he added. Peter Shearman, Cisco’s head of “co-innovation”, stated: “It is increasingly accepted that to reach its potential quantum networking will be needed to scale quantum computing to a fault-tolerant era. “We are delighted to partner with Nu Quantum to accelerate this journey towards a modular, qubit-agnostic and data center-optimised future.”