What is the fastest route to take, the most efficient employee schedule, or the financial portfolio with the least amount of risk? Optimization is the science of finding the best solutions among many possibilities.
The Optimization team at 1QBit is a group of scientists who are experts in physics, math, operations research, quantum computing, and computer science. The team collaborates closely with clients, partners, and with other researchers at 1QBit, relying on experience and curiosity to uncover new approaches for solving optimization problems and developing tools to tackle them.
“The 1Qloud platform enables researchers to harness the power of advanced computing resources and novel algorithms without the need to manage complex and expensive computing infrastructure.”
What Kind of Work Does the Optimization Team Do?
The team has worked extensively on benchmarking cutting-edge hardware and algorithms to understand the performance of the latest hardware on various optimization problems and design new approaches to improve performance. These efforts have led to the development of the 1Qloud™ platform—accessible through Microsoft’s Azure Quantum—which connects intractable industry problems to optimization solutions that can utilize the most-advanced hardware. The 1Qloud platform enables researchers to harness the power of advanced computing resources and novel algorithms without the need to manage complex and expensive computing infrastructure.
1Qloud solves optimization problems by casting them in a mathematical form known as “quadratic unconstrained binary optimization” (QUBO) problems. In a QUBO problem, all decision variables should be represented as binary variables and the constraints should be incorporated into the objective function. Most optimization problems can be mapped into QUBO form. Once the mapping has been done, the problem can be solved either on a quantum device or on application-specific, customized hardware.
The Optimization Team’s Products: HOPE and FOCUS
Exploring specialized hardware like quantum annealers and the Fujitsu Digital Annealer has made it clear that parameter tuning, a computationally laborious and manual process, is an integral step in using such specialized hardware because they have a large set of free parameters and their performance is strongly dependent on these parameters. This led the 1QBit Optimization team to develop a modular, extensible, and automated software package called the Hyperparameter OPtimization Environment (HOPE), which automates benchmarking and parameter tuning for optimization purposes.
HOPE is employed in client engagements and research projects by various teams at 1QBit. As an example, HOPE was used to find the optimal parameters of various solvers available in Azure Quantum when solving a portfolio optimization problem for a financial institute.
Although solutions that are tailored to a specific problem are often more efficient than “one-size-fits-all”-type solutions, designing a custom solution for each application is expensive and time consuming as it requires additional resources.
In the quest to reduce this extra burden, the 1QBit Optimization team has developed a flexible heuristic toolkit of problem-agnostic solvers for constrained optimization, known as FOCUS. This toolkit facilitates rapid prototyping, validation, and deployment of optimization solutions. A user needs to define a problem just a single time, and can then employ all solvers in FOCUS using the same problem definition.
Due to its flexibility in utilizing a problem’s structure when employing different solvers, FOCUS has great potential to be a successful product in the optimization market. To illustrate, FOCUS is being used to solve large instances of bin-packing problems of up to 6000 items and quadratic assignment problems of up to 256 facilities. Benchmarking results have shown that FOCUS outperforms Gurobi and LocalSolver by a wide margin on both of these problems.
FOCUS and HOPE are currently used internally at 1QBit to serve clients’ needs. The Optimization team is collaborating with business and software development teams toward a private pre-release trial of FOCUS later this summer for selected 1QBit partners and clients.
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