Modern Infrastructures Spur Business Growth

By Tony Kontzer  |  Posted 2012-12-04

By Tony Kontzer

Four years ago, facing a sprawling infrastructure that promised to hamper plans to host a cloud-based platform for the securities market, NYSE Euronext—operator of the venerable New York Stock Exchange, as well as exchanges in Amsterdam, Brussels, Lisbon, London and Paris—embarked on an ambitious modernization effort.

In scrapping its burgeoning assortment of data centers in exchange for two gleaming new facilities (one in New Jersey and the other outside of London), New York City-based NYSE Euronext sought not only to consolidate the data centers that had resulted primarily from a series of acquisitions, but also to establish the backbone for an ambitious cloud environment it was planning to build for all the participants in the capital markets.

Given the dual missions of enabling global securities transactions and supporting a private cloud for an entire industry, the data centers had to be bullet-proof. Security and reliability were tantamount design concerns, hence they were built with exoskeleton walls that can withstand gail-force winds, as well as a redundant power supply.

Just as important was ensuring that the new infrastructure was fair and impartial to all the organizations that would depend on it. To that end, every cable connecting a cabinet to the network core was of an identical length, ensuring consistent speed, performance and latency.

"Nobody gets an advantage," says Feargal O'Sullivan, global head of alliances for NYSE Technologies, the division of NYSE Euronext that managed the data center project and spearheaded its cloud-based Capital Markets Community Platform. "You can write a better algorithm or buy a different computer, but it will be an equal distance between your machine and the heart of the infrastructure."

The need to simplify increasingly complex and inefficient infrastructures and the opportunity afforded by cloud computing are just two of the many reasons large numbers of companies are investing in next-generation infrastructure components. Other objectives that are causing companies to rethink their infrastructures include green initiatives, governance efforts and, more recently, the desire to capitalize on big data. Often, various factors are at play within the same company.

Virtualization and Modernization

For NYSE Euronext, it was a combination of the need to consolidate its infrastructure and the opportunity presented by the cloud. At facilities management firm ABM, also based in New York City, the need to become more nimble and responsive as a business drove the infrastructure virtualization and modernization effort it's still completing.

Until 2009, the $4.2 billion-a-year company relied on an infrastructure that was largely outsourced to a third-party provider, and the related bureaucracy prevented new services from being rolled out fast enough. The challenges became especially clear when ABM overhauled some of its critical applications, including upgrading its ERP system and rolling out a new business intelligence (BI) platform.

"We learned that the infrastructure the business was running on was causing some hindrances," recalls Andre Garcia, assistant vice president of global infrastructure services. "It slowed down the adoption of technologies that would improve operations and customer service."

To solve the problem, ABM opted to bring everything in house, into what would be a newly virtualized environment running on a reconfigured 10Gb network with new switches and a storage area network. The company went from zero to 80 percent virtualized in less than two years, and is now approaching 100 percent, while supporting 40 percent more applications on less than one-fourth of the physical servers, Garcia says.

In particular, the virtualization of the SQL server database hosting BI content reduced the time required for the related nightly ETL (extract, transform, load) process to less than three hours, down from as long as six hours previously. That, says Garcia, has enabled the company to consider mid-day refreshes of BI data and has simplified the logistics of managing those after-hours changes.

Such efficiency gains have also enabled the company to more readily accommodate a growth spurt that has seen its employee ranks swell from fewer than 70,000 in 2006 to more than 110,000 today.

ABM's virtualization effort has essentially resulted in a fully functioning private cloud that Garcia calls "an organic offshoot of drinking the virtualization Kool-aid." Now, with the private cloud nearly complete, and more business units using public cloud resources as well, an evolution to a hybrid cloud is next up.

But what really gets Garcia excited about the potential of ABM's new infrastructure is the promise of putting big data to use. While the company hasn't yet formulated a big data strategy, Garcia is planting the seeds for big data initiatives, pointing out that ABM could gain such insights as how the rise and fall of the economy affects profit and revenue, how crime statistics correlate to sales of security services, or how weather patterns might affect the demand for cleaning services.

"I'm a big data advocate," says Garcia. "I see its value."


Big Data and Cloud Computing

Dave Schuette, CIO and chief scientist for information management consultancy Knowledgent, says many companies are beefing up their infrastructures in part because they're afraid they might fall behind in the race to put big data to use. "Most organizations are terrified that the competition is going to find something they haven't found," he says. "It's not the money and it's not the risk, but rather someone beating you to the unknown."

Mark Beyer, a research vice president with IT consultancy Gartner, contends that big data and cloud computing will become a huge part of what he calls IT's "new normal," and thus they figure to drive near-future spending on IT infrastructures. "These two components of the new normal will result in more use of infrastructure-as-a-service," he said via email.

NYSE Euronext's O'Sullivan says that cloud computing, in particular, has turned the infrastructure paradigm on its head. A few years ago, he says, IT still had to plan for peak capacity and then be ready for systems sitting idle much of the time. However, the notion of dynamically managing workloads has opened the door to a more efficient infrastructure model. "You still have to build to maximum capacity," says O'Sullivan, "but now you don't have to leave it sitting around doing nothing."

What's more, you can build shared infrastructures such as NYSE Euronext's community platform, which will be rolled out over the next few months. O'Sullivan says NYSE Euronext recognized several years ago that the securities world was in need of a new kind of IT infrastructure.

Over the past 10 to 15 years, he notes, trading has evolved from an almost entirely manual process with people filling out little pieces of paper into an almost entirely electronic one in which more than 60 percent of all transactions are triggered by machine algorithms.

Rather than watching the industry invest in separate infrastructures for each company, O'Sullivan said it made sense to establish a rock-solid cloud-based infrastructure that could support the whole industry. "Let's get savings by economies of scale," he says. "Our members should be selling expertise in financial transactions, not fast network connections."

As an example, NYSE Euronext's platform will include standard feed handlers (abstraction layers that the industry uses to standardize securities data from multiple stock exchanges) that normally are written separately by each company. Likewise, the community platform will offer services that its members won't have to develop themselves, such as one that monitors trades in near-real time and flags unusual behavior.

Regardless of whether companies act in concert as the subscribers to NYSE Euronext's platform will do, or opt to invest in their own next-generation infrastructures as ABM has, it's clear that running on a modern technology backbone is increasingly critical if an organization is to take full advantage of emerging business technologies.

Those companies that aren't taking a look at their infrastructures with an eye on such trends as cloud computing and big data risk watching the market pass them by, concludes Gartner's Beyer. "Organizations resisting this change will suffer severe economic impacts."