Stock market startup Alpha seeks IT resiliency

The CIO of a soon-to-be-launched Canadian stock market trading system is keeping as close an eye on his IT infrastructure and customer issues as the manged service providers to whom he’s outsourcing.

Alpha Trading Systems (ATS) was announced last year as a possible rival to the Toronto Stock Exchange, backed by the investment-dealer subsidiaries of Canada’s Big Six banks, along with Canaccord Capital Inc., Desjardins Securities Inc. and CPP Investment Board. ATS is building a platform for high-frequency traders that will offer a trading service, a data service and a trade-through management service, among other things. Designed to make trades on the best market available – whether an existing exchange or other trading platforms – pre-open and extended sessions will be available outside of the regular 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. trading day. The company plans to launch in September.

According to Karl Ottywill, who is leading the technology strategy at ATS, the No. 1 priority in terms of making the trading system credible is to ensure high resiliency across all parts of its IT infrastructure. That’s why he said the company has created a virtual network operations centre (NOC) that will monitor core raised floor facilities within its outsourcing partners, as well as all processes and controls.

“The one thing very important to Alpha is that they have a view into that, a view into all of those facilities – including the physical NOCs,” Ottywill said. “We will know at the same time our providers know when there’s an issue, if tickets are being created, if subscribers calling in. We’ll be part of that triage process.”

ATS is preparing to launch at a time when the Toronto Stock Exchange is trying to solidify its place in the financial market following a major overhaul of its IT systems. Called Quantum, the project involved the deployment of HP Integrity NonStop servers running Intel’s Itanium 2 processor and Red Hat Linux, at an estimated cost of $20 million. ATS has not revealed much about its technology strategy, but the company last year said it has chosen the TradeExpress platform from Stockholm-based Cinnober Financial Technology AB.

Ottywill would not comment on what the TSX is doing, but he said ATS believes its strength will be in a service with the highest-performance, and that is much more fault-tolerant than anything else on the market.

“It’s that race to zero latency,” he said. “That focus on resiliency starts at the NIC cards in the computers and goes all the way up to the network gear and server components.”

ATS has chosen Q9 Networks to house its production, testing and disaster recovery hardware and software trading solution. Q9 will also manage services such as bandwidth and redundant communication. The production environment will be split between Q9’s main facility in downtown Toronto as well as its Brampton, Ont. site, Ottywill said.

Q9 CEO Osama Arafat said ATS was a particularly discriminating customer when it went through the vendor selection process.

“A really important component for Alpha is going to be its ability to attract a lot of trading partners,” he said. “Part of that will depend on our ability to service those trading partners if they wanted to collocate within the same physical proximity.”

Ottywill said ATS is primarily focused on build and provisioning activities, as well as what he described as aggressive testing. “I’m strictly focused on delivery for September,” he said.

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