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Hard Drives That Can Keep Up With Quants

The heads-down financial wizardry that quants perform - constructing and running pricing models, volatility models, market simulations and such - as well as the reams of data traders look at and the analysis portfolio managers perform, all call for supercomputer-like desktop machines. The round of high-performance solid state drives that Intel announced today looks like

The heads-down financial wizardry that quants perform - constructing and running pricing models, volatility models, market simulations and such - as well as the reams of data traders look at and the analysis portfolio managers perform, all call for supercomputer-like desktop machines. The round of high-performance solid state drives that Intel announced today looks like a good fit for such Wall Street power users. The drives hold a lot of data (80 gigabytes), are high performing (with read speeds of up to 250MB per second and write speeds up to 70MB per second) and have low latency (85 millionths of a second read latency). They have no moving parts, which should make them less likely to break than mechanical drives (these SSDs boast a mean time between failure of 1.2 million hours) and they consume a mere 150 milliwatts of electricity each (a milliwatt is a thousandth of a watt; a household light bulb consumes 25 to 100 watts)."There's definitely a relevance for any desktop or notebook that requires fast system responsiveness," says Troy Winslow, marketing manager, Intel SSDs. "We're talking about a no-to-low latency, so this would be able to respond instantly in a trading environment as well as crunch through large volumes of data."

"Quants use real-time data but they also use an increasing amount of historical data to run their models, so the ability to store data in a larger capacity with higher performance and lower power usage should be of great interest to them," adds Rick Jacobsen, director financial services marketing, Intel Americas.

Compared to a typical desktop hard drive today, users who buy desktops bearing the new SSDs can expect to see a ninefold performance improvement, according to the PCMark Vantage benchmark. Users should also experience a 50% improvement in total system responsiveness.

The new drives are drop-in compatible to today's sata hard disk drives - they fit in the same socket and the interfaces are compatible. However, it's hard to imagine Wall Street firms going this route. Installing the new drives on an existing machine would entail transferring operating system, applications and files over to the new drive. The more likely scenario is that as firms refresh PCs, they'll replace them with computers containing the new SSDs.

Solid state drives do cost more than mechanical drives. An 80-gig Intel SSD costs $585, whereas we've seen 80-gig SATA hard drives on the Internet for $50 to $100. "It's no different than the way a premium laptop is priced higher than an entry level laptop," says Winslow. "You get what you pay for and we think that for IT environments that value the performance, the reliability, and the ruggedness of the device, it's worth the investment." HP and Lenovo have announced their intention to use Intel's solid state drives in their desktops and laptops and equipment should be available within 30 days. Other manufacturers use SSDs also, and some only ship notebooks with the solid state drives. Gartner and IDC are predicting that by 2010, tens of millions of notebooks will contain SSDs. Server versions of these solid state drives will start coming out this fall; the specs have already been released. "We're engaged in studies and proof points with major enterprise customers who see this as an opportunity to replace and accelerate the performance of their computing systems," Winslow says. "Where you'll find SSDs deployed in financial markets is where have to be ultra-responsive, they're concerned about I/Os per second and trying to crunch as many data points as fast as they can."

"The data centers on Wall Street are at full capacity, with electricity constraints they can't put more servers in there, as much as they'd like to," Jacobsen says. The solid state drives should enable them to do much more within existing footprints, he says.

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