Microsoft Previews Next-Gen Financial Services Solution

Microsoft and its partners demonstrate a new grid-based financial services platform meant to displace Unix and Linux in Wall Street back-end systems.

NEW YORK—Microsoft is following up on its plan to take a bigger piece of the financial services market by introducing technology based on the companys high-performance computing platform.

At the SIA (Securities Industry Association) Technology Management Conference here on June 21, Microsoft and its partners, including Hewlett-Packard and Digipede Technologies, demonstrated what the software giant said could become the standard modeling and trading platform of the future.

The solution features Microsoft Office Excel and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server built upon a Windows CCS (Compute Cluster Server) 2003 HPC (high-performance computing) cluster, said Stevan Vidich, a technology architect in Microsofts Financial Services Group.

Vidich said the platform leverages the ubiquity of Microsoft Office Excel spreadsheets in financial services firms as a front-end interface, combined with the scalability and availability of Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 software as a back-end analytic engine.

Moreover, Vidich said Microsoft will in November release two new Excel-related products: Excel 2007 Client as part of 2007 Microsoft Office system and Excel Services as part of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. The new Excel 2007 Client will feature usability and performance improvements, he said. Meanwhile, Excel Services will deliver centralized management and increased scalability via native support for multi-CPU x64 servers, among other features.

/zimages/6/28571.gifMicrosoft plans to take on Linux in the HPC space. Read more here.

And by combining an Excel Services front end with Microsoft Windows Computer Cluster Server 2003, Microsoft is shooting for even greater performance and scalability, Vidich said.

Meanwhile, Digipede, a maker of distributed computing solutions for the Microsoft Windows platform, based in Oakland, Calif., pitched in with its grid-enabling technology.

John Powers, chief executive of Digipede, said his company is working with HPs Industry Standard Server team and Microsofts Financial Services Group to adapt new offerings from Microsoft, such as Windows Compute Cluster Server, to the needs of major financial services customers.

Together the companies are bringing together "the power of a compute cluster, the ease of deployment and administration of Windows Server, and the ease of programming of the Digipede Network," Powers said.

Powers said the Microsoft Financial Services Group became interested in the Digipede Network, and began telling its customers about it, "because the Digipede Network complements the Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 by extending the cluster," he said. "It allows customers to treat all Windows resources as part of the same grid, including CCS cluster nodes, existing department servers and even desktops that are under-utilized."

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about Microsofts Windows Server 2003 Compute Cluster beta.

For instance, CCS combined with the Digipede Network extends the cluster by enabling users to run .Net jobs natively on CCS cluster; extend the cluster by taking advantage of other resources; send 64-bit jobs to CCS and 32-bit jobs to other machines; make better use of the cluster by matching all jobs to appropriate hardware; and run .Net jobs across all available resources, Powers said.

Microsoft announced the release to manufacturing of Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 on June 9 and made it available to attendees at the Microsoft TechEd conference that ran June 11-16 in Boston.

"Windows Compute Cluster Server is our version of the operating system that represents our entry into high-performance computing," Vidich said. He added that although Wall Street back-end systems have been dominated by Unix and Linux, "It would be nice if Microsoft and partners could [move] into that space. Thats what were doing today. When you can take an Excel spreadsheet and distribute to Compute Cluster Server you can achieve unprecedented performance."

Moreover, Vidich said Microsofts tools story for high performance is made simple by Digipede.

"Microsoft has only one development tool for pretty much everything, Visual Studio," he said.

Developers who want to build .Net applications that take advantage of grid technology need only use Visual Studio and the Digipede Network, Vidich said. "You build your application in .Net programming model and provide a reference for Digipede and your code runs seamlessly on the grid," he said.

"Were trying to make it as easy as possible for .Net developers to take advantage of grid technology," said Nathan Trueblood, vice president of Digipede. "All we do is say create your objects, but instead of running them locally, send them to the Digipede Network."

Powers said Digipede focuses on two primary markets, financial services and life sciences. But the company has customers in manufacturing and other industries, he added.

"Microsoft wants to bring high-performance computing to the masses and were helping them do that," Powers said. "Were built on .Net; our entire system is built on .Net."

Meanwhile, Microsoft officials said several capital markets firms are currently testing the beta versions of Excel 2007 and Excel Services.

"The banking group at Consorzio Operativo Gruppo MPS is currently evaluating Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, with the help of Microsoft and Avanade, to implement financial Monte Carlo simulations. We believe that Microsoft technology presents clear advantages in terms of implementation and skills utilization," said Piero Poccianti, head of planning and strategic development at Consorzio Operativo Gruppo MPS, Siena, Italy, in a statement.

"Windows Compute Cluster Server will provide us with a better integration with the existing Windows infrastructure; moreover, the familiar environment of development allows our developers to write parallel applications in the frame of Visual Studio 2005. We believe that this will allow us to reduce the total cost of ownership for high-performance computing solutions that drive news discoveries and breakthroughs," Poccianti said.

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