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FPGA Momentum Accelerates!

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Perhaps it’s just me reacting to NIWeek, which just concluded here in Austin, but I seem to be noticing the F word – for FPGA (that’s Field Programmable Gate Array for you x86 guys) – cropping up more and more these days.  Could it be that these specialised ‘go faster, run cooler’ chips that have long been considered rather niche are finally becoming mainstream, even commonplace, for low-latency applications in the financial markets?

First, just to explain: NIWeek is the annual user conference for National Instruments, a local company that builds systems and tools for embedded computing.  One of its products is LabVIEW, a graphical design tool that – among other things – provides a rapid development environment for programming FPGAs.  Thanks to some introductions from Wall Street FPGA’s Terry Stratoudakis, I got to spend an evening with about a dozen FPGA geeks, some of whom were engaged in hush hush work for government intelligence agencies, while others were looking at launching FPGAs into outer space.  All of them, though, were very interested in what Wall Street is up to with their favorite technology.

The answer is: quite a lot, judging by various news releases coming my way of late.  Here are some highlights:

– Deutsche Bank’s Autobahn equities electronic trading business recently expanded its ?ltra FPGA products to the US, to provide pre-trade compliance and risk checks in its co-located trading apps at NYSE, NYSE Arca, Nasdaq, Direct Edge and Bats.  The claimed performance of the risk checks are 1.35 microseconds for OUCH messages and 1.75 microseconds for FIX messages.

– Nomura extended its NXT execution platform to Direct Edge’s co-lo centre at Equinix in Secaucus, NJ.  And it’s claiming latencies of under 1.8 microseconds for fixed-length exchange protocols and 2.8 microseconds for FIX.

– Fixnetix introduced its iX-eCute trading gateway, offering latencies as low as 740 nanoseconds wire-to-wire, with 20+ pre-trade risk checks in less than 100 nanoseconds.

– Burstream rolled out its managed market data service at Nasdaq’s co-lo and Telx’s proximity centre in Chicago, leveraging data feed handling and order book generation technology from NovaSparks.

– TS Associates updated its Application Tap precision time card to make more use of FPGAs for transferring data to host memory, reducing its performance overhead.

– Impulse Accelerated Technologies introduced an FPGA development kit for 10gE ITCH/OUCH protocol handling, allowing CPU/kernel bypass to application memory space.

– Maxeler introduced MaxNode10G, a platform designed for wire-speed processing of multiple 10 gigabit network data streams.

So there’s definite action, both by market participants deploying FPGAs – and pre-trade risk as mandated by the new SEC 15c3-5 regulation is the hot spot – and by a number of information and trading systems providers. And the published news is almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg … I’d love to know exactly what Getco is up to with FPGAs, for example.

Add to the above news snippets, ongoing development at vendors like Accelize, Activ Financial Systems, Exegy, Solace Systems, Celoxica, HFT Technologies, In-FPGA Trading Systems, RedDot Networks, Redline Trading Solutions (OK, they use Cell processors, not FPGAs but it’s the same kinda thing), Ullink and Wall Street FPGA – plus development tools such as Impulse’s C compiler and LabVIEW – and it all adds up.  Enough to say there’s momentum?  I’d say so.

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