It's All About the Silicon

Rob Daly, Sell-Side Technology

A few jobs ago, I covered the use of IT in manufacturing, and when I moved over to financial technology, I thought that I would never have to write another story about field programmable logic devices (FPLDs), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) platforms or real-time operating systems. How wrong I was.

It seems that the IT needs of the two industries are actually converging, but from different directions. Where manufacturing controls are evolving to add more intelligence to their performance-focused missions, the financial services industry is stripping down the functionality of general performance computing environments to get the best performance out of its systems.

I doubt that financial technologists will ever tweak their smart order-routers or low-latency gateways with screwdrivers and voltmeters, as it's done on the factory floor, but compute appliances for purpose-built functions are becoming more and more popular.

Take, for example, an announcement this week from co-location service provider Fitnetix about its iX-ecute programmable logic device (PLD), which is supposed to provide pre-trade risk checks in less than 8 microseconds, according to press reports.

To get single-digit microsecond performance, the process can't be done in software anymore—it has to be burned into silicon.

While the trend in general computing has been moving toward higher levels of abstraction in programming, performance computing is moving directly in the opposite direction, and knowledge of chip design and low-level programming will be the major skill sets in demand.

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