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Balancing Performance And Energy Efficiency

Financial institutions need better performance from their data architectures to support algorithmic trading, complex event processing and risk simulations.

Wall Street is no stranger to high-performance computing (HPC). The HPC industry's unofficial tag line once was "Performance at any cost." Today, HPC vendors realize there is a cost associated with speed and that there is a limit to how much firms can pay for increased performance.

Therein lies the rub. Financial institutions need better performance from their data architectures to support algorithmic trading, complex event processing and risk simulations. But the HPC technology that best supports the needs of the business — including the fastest chips and processors from Intel and AMD — generally soaks up the most power and requires the most cooling.

At this year's SIFMA Conference, the talk is of "performance per watt," rather than performance at any cost. Improving performance per watt, and server utilization and density are especially important for financial firms and exchanges that face limitations that often are outside of their control, including real estate and power grid constraints. According to Richard Reichgut, senior manager, financial services, AMD, "Our Opteron chip provides the finest performance per watt in the industry."

The Philadelphia Stock Exchange is pleased with the performance it is receiving from AMD's products, according to Gene Peters, director, information services, at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange. The PHLX is using AMD (booth #2000) Opteron processor-based systems to conduct millions of transactions daily.

"We are tight on space, power and cooling," says Peters. "We have one data center, and it can't grow any more. ... AMD has improved our usage and helped us to save on power." The exchange is using two-socket Dual-Core AMD Opteron processor-based HP (booth #2211) ProLiant DL385 servers to run many of its mission-critical applications.

Specifically, "We were getting a 50 percent improvement in throughput with the AMD Opertons" compared with the previous Intel Xeon-based servers, Peters says, noting that 95 percent of the exchange's servers running Windows OS have been converted to servers running AMD processors.

Being able to reduce power consumption and increase throughput and capacity is extremely important for the PHLX, Peters adds. And it's not just the technology and data center managers who are concerned with capacity and scalability anymore. "We keep finding ways to increase capacity without increasing the power supply. ... The more that we do to conserve [power], the more there is to go around to other projects," Peters says. "The amount of computing power per square foot has gone way up, and our projections for what we will need in the future continue to grow significantly."

Intel, exhibiting at HP's booth, also is working hard to reduce power consumption in its processors. In March, Intel introduced two energy-efficient 50-watt server processors, the Quad-Core Intel Xeon processor L5320 and L5310, that deliver a 35 percent to nearly 60 percent decrease in power from Intel's existing 80-watt and 120-watt quad-core server products, according to the company.

But just as important as more-efficient multicore processors, says Christian Sommer, director of financial services solutions marketing for Intel, is using grid computing, virtualization and power management capabilities. "Power management capabilities can control the platform based on demand," he says. "The intelligence is built into the chips, and it can cut back on power if it is not being used."

Rick Jacobsen, financial services marketing, Intel Americas, adds that many Wall Street firms have turned to virtualization technology to increase the percentage of computing capacity that is actually utilized. "Most servers only run at 10 to 20 percent of capacity," Jacobsen says. "With virtualization technology, firms can tap into unused capacity without adding more servers that draw more power."

Virtualization technology is especially important as more financial services players move to analyze data during the day, rather than waiting until the evening to run analysis on large amounts of data. "Firms need to run intraday risk and analytical models so they can be more accurate with their trading strategies," Jacobsen adds.

PHLX's Peters says he is seeing numerous requests to do more and more analysis of data. "The computational and analytical business has grown so fast," he observes.

"There are people processing data for all sorts of reasons," Intel's Sommer adds. "Customers want more efficiency, but their appetite for computational power is just immense."

Larry Scott, VP of global financial services, Sun Microsystems, also stresses virtualization as a way to increase utilization. "Virtualization can give six times the performance out of a single box," he asserts.

At the PHLX, "We went to virtualization on many of our systems. We have a lot of systems that have a lot of peaks [in demand], but during some times they have only a trickle of usage," says the exchange's Peters. "We started the virtual computing project about two years ago, and 50 percent of our systems are virtualized."

Later in the year, Peters says, the PHLX will take a look at some of AMD's newer processors. The company's Barcelona processor, due to be released later this year, will feature additional energy-saving enhancements to AMD's celebrated AMD PowerNow technology, including Dual Dynamic Power Management and other enhancements — all of which enable a more granular power management capability and improved energy efficiency, AMD says.

Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio

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