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Cloud computing powers the world’s financial exchanges

Many of the world’s largest financial exchanges are transforming the way they run global capital markets through the adoption of cloud computing technologies.

In November, CME Group entered a 10-year partnership with Google that will move its IT infrastructure and markets to the cloud. CME Group says this will enable it to launch new products and services much more quickly.

Then, a month later, Nasdaq and Amazon Web Services announced a similar collaboration. Through a several-year partnership, AWS will work with Nasdaq to transfer the latter’s North America-based markets to a cloud computing environment.

Traditional institutions such as financial exchanges are drawn to cloud infrastructure because they want to “increase market access” and “streamline operations”, according to Adrian Poole, head of financial services at Google Cloud UK.

He explains that they can achieve these goals due to the flexible and scalable nature of cloud technology, which enables organizations to scale capacity up or down, at any time.

But Poole adds that cloud adoption isn’t just a case of improving infrastructure. He points out that multinational companies, like CME Group, are using the greater processing power of cloud computing to “meet customer expectations in new ways” and “drive transformation”.

“The vast amount of computing power that the cloud offers means that data analysis can happen at lightning speed,” he explains. “This means that, when it comes to firms wanting to do things like risk management, it can be done in real time — adjusting by the minute to factors such as legal liability and financial uncertainty.

“Organizations can use these capabilities to their advantage — for example, using this data analysis to create automated tools that can help mitigate risk.”

Cloud computing also provides a range of security and privacy benefits for financial institutions that hold vast amounts of sensitive data — and have become prime targets for cybercriminals.

Poole says cloud providers are able to meet the need for continuous risk monitoring and regulatory compliance by adopting practices such zero-trust models. These ensure that all user identities — in, or out, of a network — are verified.

In addition, customer data are protected by the engineering principle of ‘redundant design’, where critical system components are duplicated to provide back-up and increased reliability.

Spectrum Markets, a pan-European trading venue for securitized derivatives, uses cloud computing for storing and analyzing data. The company’s chief executive, Nicky Maan, says the most significant benefit of cloud systems is how they allow digital infrastructure to be used for accelerating business growth.

“It is really easy to extend the cloud resources you use, as and when required, because the storage and processing of data are not dependent on traditional in-house hardware capabilities. You can simply rent the additional capacity you need.

“This can even run automatically, where your system detects it needs more capacity and immediately acquires additional resources,” Maan notes. “So, if the number of financial products listed on your venue grows from, say, 2,500 to 100,000, you don’t need to install new systems to store all the data or scale up your analysis capacity to handle the additional volume of information. ”

Financial institutions outsourcing their technical infrastructure to a cloud provider like Amazon, Google or Microsoft, however, must ensure systems comply with industry regulations, such as those set by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority and the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

“That includes having full control on latency — or the speed of information transmission required for accurately pricing financial products — as well as the ability to transfer any outsourced part of your infrastructure to another provider in the event something goes wrong,” Maan explains.

“Saying ‘my supplier went down’ isn’t a valid excuse to the regulator,” he emphasises. “So, you need to be able to switch your supplier to another one if they continually let you down.”

But, because switching between two cloud platforms is an arduous task, he recommends that financial exchanges keep “complex, integrated and time-sensitive systems” on hardware-based infrastructure instead.

An example of such a system is the matching engine of a digital exchange — “the heart of any marketplace, as it determines the prices at which buyers and sellers transact”.

A single cloud provider may not be enough to manage all risks, though, suggests Conor Colleary, group vice-president of financial services at US computing giant Oracle.

He warns: “With service availability and security being the main priorities, stock exchanges need to be aware that the stakes of a service interruption at a single cloud service provider are higher, as organizations need to make sure they are using the best cloud for each particular function or workload.” This is to avoid “putting all your eggs in one basket”.

Colleary says firms can avoid system outages, cyber security breaches and internet traffic problems by adopting a multi-cloud approach — whereby they use a variety of cloud services from several providers, instead of just one. This means stock exchanges can “play to the different strengths of different clouds” and “have a Plan B if their cloud service goes down”.

“Resilience and trust are crucial as capital markets companies rely on their customers being confident in their ability to stay online 24/7, in order to deliver data to customers as fast as technically possible,” Colleary adds.

Furthermore, cloud technology enables a move away from outdated networking equipment and servers, which are often expensive and time-consuming to maintain.

Chris Weston, principal of client advisory at analyst firm IDC, believes emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing will transform cloud capabilities in the foreseeable future.

For example, he envisages that businesses making lots of transactions and storing large volumes of data will be able to use quantum computing platforms to perform “calculations that until now have been impossible, or way too long with traditional computers”.

Meanwhile, powerful AI tools will let securities exchanges perform “real-time analysis of trading to highlight and mitigate compliance and conduct issues as they arise”.

Weston says he has no doubt that AI and quantum computing “will form part of the technology road maps of these organizations over the next five to 10 years”.

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