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Talking TradingTech with Andrew Delaney: Is FactSet’s Move to AWS a Market Data Nirvana?

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FactSet’s announcement this week of its plan to migrate its real-time ticker plant to Amazon Web Services may represent the boldest statement of intent yet with respect to cloud delivery of market data. And things seem to be accelerating rapidly in this department.

Recent weeks have seen SIX launch a strategic partnership with Xignite to offer the full universe of the Swiss vendor’s database to clients via the cloud. We know Refinitiv has a major project to make available its entire database in the cloud via one simple API (if there is such a thing). And representatives from Google Cloud have featured strongly in our recent TradingTech Summit Data events, talking about how clients and partners are running a range of applications whose on-prem status was heretofore considered sacrosanct.

For its part, FactSet says the new partnership will involve migrating its ticker plant, currently implemented on premise, to AWS creating “first global ticker plant of its kind in the cloud.” The FactSet ticker plant will make use of the new Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances built on AWS’s Nitro System, which allows it to break down processes like CPU, storage and networking to more efficiently deliver EC2 instances to customers.

This approach, FactSet says, means that its clients “will benefit from faster cloud-based content delivery and AWS’s large global footprint, which will allow for reduced latency and increased local data processing and normalization.” Migration is scheduled to begin before year-end with completion expected in 2021.

FactSet chief product and technology officer Gene Fernandez says that through “rigorous testing and validation” it has found that “AWS provides a stable and secure environment for processing major exchange feeds.” This, he says, has given FactSet confidence that the partnership “will help us drive greater speed and efficiency to accelerate our clients’ digital transformations.”

AWS seems excited too: “By running their large-scale ticker plants on AWS, FactSet can leverage AWS’s global infrastructure and cloud services to provide fast access to financial data that investment professionals need to make time-sensitive decisions,” said Greg Pearson, vice president, worldwide commercial sales at AWS. He goes on to say AWS’s capabilities and security will help FactSet “to drive efficiency across their business and support their customers by delivering innovative and new experiences that better enable them to respond to market volatility.”

What’s interesting in these quotes is the emphasis on speed and volatility. It’s been a long-held belief in the marketplace that cloud is too slow to handle the data demands of fast markets. FactSet and AWS seem to be telling us that’s no longer the case.

Meanwhile, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that AWS features in many vendors’ cloud plans – not least SIX and AWS partner Xignite – and seems to be moving rapidly toward becoming a kind of cloud consolidator for market data. So will AWS emerge as the single point of access to all market data services, to some a kind of Nirvana? In their statement, Fernandez said: “Moving a full ticker plant onto the cloud is the holy grail of market data engineers.”

By partnering with the likes of FactSet, will AWS start to offer a kind of ‘fund of funds’ for data consumers, giving access to the most appropriate data sets as and when they are needed? Or is this really not that big a deal, a kind of ‘coffee table book about coffee tables’; interesting but peripheral to the real world, in which firms consume data from dozens if not hundreds of different sources and a cloud connection is just another relationship to manage?

The answer, surely, lies in the fine print, and in the world of market data that means how customers ultimately consume mission-critical data from the likes of FactSet and its peers. Much of that, in turn, depends on the complexity of the client organisation. For sure, if FactSet is your main (only?) data supplier, this must be great news, a significant step toward realization of many firms’ ambitions to offload much of their on-premises compute to cloud-based applications.

For more complex environments – whatever their size – the answer is less clear. Indeed, we at A-Team will be hosting a webinar on the practical aspects of cloud migration for market data and trading applications on November 3 (we’ll be posting details soon but you can sign up now here, it’s free).

From our preparations for the webinar it’s clear that cloud doesn’t represent a simple one-size-fits-all solution. Many firms are struggling with how to deal with a hybrid market data environment featuring cloud (perhaps for work from home staff), a continuing incidence of on-prem consumers, and high-performance applications requiring colocation with execution venues’ matching engines.

Cloud delivery of market data is becoming a reality. But is it for everyone? Here’s the hedge: Not yet.

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