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Datacom Panel: Life After HFT For FPGAs

High Frequency Trading, evolving applications and programming advances were key topics at “FPGA Advances in Market Trading” – a panel discussion held in New York City this week, hosted by Datacom Systems. The panel also included representation from Altera, ITRS, NovaSparks and Strike Technologies, and was moderated by Low-Latency.com.

Among the issues debated was one raised by an audience member who noted that the future of HFT is uncertain, and wondered whether this meant that FPGA deployment would become less relevant.

The response from the panel suggested no. Between them, panel members reckoned that just 5% to 10% of capital markets applications involving FPGAs are for HFT. More popular applications include market data feed handling, noted Datacom’s Kevin Formby, while Altera’s Frank Ferrante mentioned high performance computing (HPC) applications, including risk analysis and derivatives pricing. Risk analytics was also cited by NovaSpark’s Olivier Baetz, who highlighted the low footprint and power consumption of FPGA appliances, and associated operational cost savings.

Strike’s Shawn Melamed pointed to emerging applications, such as driving the distribution of market data with low latency and jitter, such as the recent accelerated data feed from Nasdaq. Despite its cost, the benefits are clear, he noted, which is why Strike signed on as a customer.

Challenges to developing applications still remain, but in general the panel felt they are being addressed. FPGA development tools are becoming mainstream, suggested Justo Ruiz-Ferrer from ITRS. Meanwhile Ferrante was excited by the emergence of the OpenCL language – similar in syntax to C – which should make it much easier to build applications, and opens up FPGA technology to a wider development community.

In summary, the panel believed there is a strong future for FPGA technology in the financial markets. Said Formby, the technology has many application opportunities and clear benefits, allowing firms to redesign current applications so they are “better and cheaper.”

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