IBM’s Wizard Arvind Krishna Oversees Red Hat, Quantum Computing and Cloud Operations

Arvind Krishna believes that quantum computing could be the next big deal for commercial enterprise. They won’t be a staple of every household, he says, but the technology will be industry-viable within the next five years. He is IBM’s senior vice president of cloud and cognitive software and head of research and may not need his quantum computer to predict the future.

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IBM unveiled their first commercially-available quantum computer – called the IBM Q System One – at the Consumer Electronics Show that took place earlier this year in Las Vegas. While the applications for qubits are still being worked out - Krishna says they could make airplanes lighter and batteries last a “thousand times longer”. Industry isn’t sure what to do with the Q quite yet but it’s only a matter of time before some of the bright minds in business figure it out.

“The IBM Q System One is a major step forward in the commercialization of quantum computing,” said Arvind. “This new system is critical in expanding quantum computing beyond the walls of the research lab as we work to develop practical quantum applications for business and science.”

Krishna, himself, is uniquely suited to helping IBM shape the future of quantum computing. He earned his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

IBM has been Krishna’s career home since he graduated with his Ph.D. in 1990. He accepted a position with the Watson Research Center where he spent the first eighteen years of his professional life shaping IBM’s security and database/warehouse products. During his tenure, he coauthored 15 patents and acted as editor of IEEE and ACM Journals.

From general manager to senior vice-president, Krishna’s move up within the organization has been steady. He has served in several management roles with increasing levels of responsibility as his portfolios grew in size and importance. It’s clear that Krishna has an eye for trends as he has played a key role in acquiring key assets that kept IBM competitive – such as the tech giant’s recent acquisition of open-source software company Red Hat.

Krishna is overseeing the onboarding of IBM’s $33 billion acquisition of the North Carolina-based company – their largest purchase to date – which is expected to close in June. Red Hat represents a big bump in IBM’s cloud-computing street cred and offers them an important edge in a competitive market. Krishna isn’t concerned about beating the competition in who-gets-to-the-cloud-fastest race because he thinks flexibility is key.

According to a 2017 Gartner report, IBM was trailing behind the other tech companies in the cloud-computing market but that’s a secondary concern in some ways. The plan is to offer hybrid options to customers with more complex or specialized needs that straight cloud services may not be able to fully support. Krishna believes there are many options so offering the best of both worlds is where he sees IBM really shining.

“I’m not trying to catch up to Amazon and Microsoft,” he said. “They are going down the path of public cloud and we are going to be hybrid. There is so much investment that’s already happening and there is so much data that can’t sit on the public cloud. I believe there is space for all of us,” he said.

Despite moving on to other leadership positions within the company, he still plays a role in steering IBM’s future direction. In his role as SVP for IBM research labs, Krishna oversees a worldwide organization consisting of about 3,000 scientists and technologist in twelve labs spanning six continents. Currently, IBM is building another commercial quantum computer because Krishna knows the Q-One is only the beginning.