From legacy to leading edge

Front Arena

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Agility is an important business differentiator. Delivering it from a technology perspective is complex. Financial markets are being squeezed from four directions: continuous, rapid changes in markets and products; a changing regulatory landscape; a competitive need to find and exploit new business opportunities; and all of this using technology delivered at the lowest possible total cost of ownership (TCO).

Thus, the vendor challenge is to create products that support trading institutions in a long-term and flexible manner, allowing them to invest in new systems while still obtaining value from legacy systems - or systems from other vendors.

For SunGard FRONT ARENA, these challenges translate into a few easy-to-understand architectural objectives for customer value:

- Scalability and performance.

- Integratability and industry standard compliance.

- Extensibility.

- Technology and platform agnosticism.

Many of these issues are driven into focus by new regulations, such as the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (Mifid).

"We know that Mifid - whatever its final shape - will put demands on the way that trading systems can interact with compliance reporting systems and data vendors," says Nils Unden, chief technology officer at SunGard FRONT ARENA. "Mifid is looking at using industry standards to achieve this connectivity. This requires proven architectures and development methods, an area in which we believe FRONT ARENA now has a vanguard role."

SOA since 1998

To explain where SunGard has taken its architectural concepts, we have to back up a bit.

SunGard's new Common Services Architecture (CSA) represents two things. First, it is an infrastructure for collaboration that allows SunGard product development teams around the world to share, contribute to and leverage each other's work. Second, it is a services-oriented architecture (SOA), based on mainstream open standards, enabling discrete components from SunGard's product portfolio to be plugged together to form configurable, composite applications.

Simply put, CSA is a smarter way to develop smarter applications. And it is an essential part of SunGard's strategy for synchronising its software assets.

Although SOA is now a buzz word, FRONT ARENA has been deploying functions under an earlier SOA framework since 1998. In its newest release, FRONT ARENA uses a specially constructed service bus that provides support for high-performance messaging, built on modern enterprise service bus industry standards.

"It's not just Mifid," says Unden. "If you're managing a complex trading system without a uniform architecture, you might have to tweak three or four systems when your trading desks are pushing for increased load or faster performance. A well-managed cross-asset system - with efficient messaging in the middle - does a lot to reduce cost of ownership and time to market.

"Using SOA, you can develop valuable services on the back of component services and data without knowing their inner workings and without control over the computers that connect them," he adds.

And it is true that with 'services' in mind, SunGard is developing software differently today, leveraging existing assets without worrying about the existing technology. The use of CSA/SOA has been combined with a new 'federated development' organisational structure throughout SunGard, built on open sources and the use of open-source technologies, such as the Linux operating system and Apache web servers. This enables SunGard to produce high-quality code at very low cost, making efficient use of its 3,000 developers.

FRONT ARENA's Common Service Bus plays a prominent role in system management throughout SunGard financial systems, by providing efficient message routing and control. The following are some of the ways in which customers benefit from it.

Scalability and performance

There are significant business advantages to be gained in a trading organisation from increasing transactional volumes and speed when necessary. FRONT ARENA's Calculation Engine helps achieve speed in cross-asset position analysis and trading by having every asset class, risk and pricing in a single framework.

In order to facilitate increased transactional volumes, a system must also be able to handle an increased load by adding hardware to scale-up, or distributing calculations over several computers in a 'grid farm', which might consist of 20, 50 or more computers operating together.

Grid support relies on the Common Service Bus as the taskmaster that assigns and delivers the load to each computer.

Integratability and industry standards

Meeting industry standards makes integration easier and lowers the TCO. The Common Service Bus enables 'instant plug-in' of specific services, such as esoteric pricing services, as well as integration with other legacy systems. This capability is essential to the rapid deployment of new products as well as making the best use of legacy systems and proprietary models. In the day-to-day functions of a trading organisation, being able to make use of traders' own calculation spreadsheets on a standard software platform is a huge plus. Traders can continue to use their favourite pricing tools in the manner they prefer, risk managers can obtain consolidated reports, and maintenance becomes easier for IT people.

Instead of using expensive customised software, any commercial software with industry standard components can be used - and they will still be able to talk to FRONT ARENA. From legacy to leading-edge, one might say.

Extensibility

A key business objective is keeping costs down. Systems therefore need to be altered or extended without incurring high development or maintenance costs. The ARENA Extension Framework lets you, for example, change user interfaces, make them multilingual, perform individual pricing algorithms and extend the product using proprietary or third-party models. The software developer's kit, meanwhile, lets you create your own services. The custom code fits and has the look and feel of the FRONT ARENA code. And it is easy to apply. One customer took a three-day training programme in January and had put eight service extensions in place by the end of February.

Technology and platform agnosticism

Agnosticism is the term used to indicate that components with different technical origins can still be integrated seamlessly.

"Since the Service Bus API is available in many different programming languages - Java, C++ and Python - you can mix and match components, and they can still talk to each other, regardless of whether they are implemented in Windows, Solaris or Linux," points out Unden. "It enables you to integrate product components with completely different internal technologies and architectures. It neutralises the differences. You jump up one level in abstraction. You have a lingua franca for implementation, allowing you to reuse assets rather than re-code them."

CSA roll-out in SunGard

SunGard is a relatively large company today, employing more than 16,000 people. Its roots are very entrepreneurial and it still cherishes its entrepreneurial culture.

CSA arose from a client-requested integration process and was built by a relatively small number of teams from a corner of SunGard. Now its entrepreneurs are embracing the commercial advantage available by collaborating at an architecture level; the number of development teams using it has grown exponentially, it has been tested over five years and is now an integral part of SunGard's Financial Systems business strategy.

SunGard's business units are voluntarily joining the CSA collaboration process and beginning to benefit from shared technology components from one another. Today, SunGard has hundreds of systems that are learning to talk to each other, thanks to the new architecture - and gaining operational synergy in the process. SunGard's customers are beginning to experience faster time to market. They are beginning to experience even greater agility.

FRONT ARENA - with the powerful Common Service Bus playing an important role - is the leading front-office solution for SunGard in Europe and beyond. As the year unfolds, we will look for more product and organisational innovations that build on our technical platform.

Figure 1. Common services architecture roll-out in SunGard

There are four levels through which SunGard applications can conform to the CSA framework:

- CSA Level 1 - Autonomous common services: CSA Level 1 refers to legacy components that can be wrapped as a web service (where a service-oriented architecture already exists) and reused globally and deployed in a variety of environments.

- CSA Level 2 - Collaborative common services: CSA Level 2 provides structural standards for common services and calls for the presentation layer to be standardised according to the CSA user interface specification to ensure a consistent look and feel for applications. Level 2 also calls for adoption of the CSA admin. common service for user management and entitlement.

- CSA Level 3 - Common data model: CSA Level 3 focuses on the underlying data structure, which is normalised and defined using CSA's database-agnostic XML schema definition. The common data model facilitates vendor neutrality and provides easy access to other CSA services.

- CSA Level 4 - Native: The highest level of CSA adoption provides a complete reference implementation of a service-oriented architecture to make collaboration as efficient as possible and simplify the runtime environment. The native level also makes product integration much more seamless, i.e., requiring much less development effort.

For more information visit:

www.sungard.com/csa

www.sungard.com/frontarena

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