ASPEED Taking Financial Grids to the Next Level

By By Derrick Harris, Editor

May 29, 2006

In a move to gain traction in London's ever-important financial services sector, ASPEED Software has announced two partnerships in two weeks with organizations serving the United Kingdom's financial institutions. The first announced was with France-based NET2S, which describes itself as “an international consultancy specializing in capital markets technology.” The latter was with FIFTHWAVE Solutions, a firm that focuses on providing infrastructure solutions.

When I asked Kurt Ziegler, ASPEED's vice president of marketing and product management, “Why Europe, why now?”, he noted that “most financial institutions are … getting a lot of their Grid/multi-processing out of the UK now.” He added that although ASPEED has traction on Wall Street, and although Wall Street is still very important, a lot of the banking industry's technical efforts are either based in or have moved to London. And when it comes to Grid computing, it is in this plane of advanced users where ASPEED plays.

Said Ziegler: “It seems like the UK market is a little more mature vis a vis Grid, and they've come to a point where they're stuck. Meaning that they focused on the [applications] that were easily parallizable, and they've implemented that using DataSynapse or Platform — or whatever their choice was — and now they're having difficulty finding how to move the next one, which is the more complex application, where there are some data interdependencies and data sharing issues, and they weren't readily distributable.”

So, because the financial services industry, specifically in Europe, is (as we all know) the prominent vertical market in terms of Grid use, companies in this field are now running into what Ziegler calls “the next roadblock.” The first roadblock, which is an IT concern, was figuring out how to move to a Grid infrastructure in the first place — selecting a vendor, learning the technology, figuring out which applications are the low-hanging fruit, etc. The next roadblock, which Ziegler describes as an “application problem,” is figuring out how to make distributable across an enterprise grid the next level of applications, which are already parallelized within an individual box, without taking the time to rewrite (often times) hundreds of such applications.

As a result, “They're looking at what knobs they can turn to the application to take advantage of the grid,” Ziegler said. This is where ACCELLERANT, ASPEED's flagship solution comes in. I'll leave out the detailed product description (you can find out all about it at on the ASPEED Web site), but the gist of it is that ACCELLERANT is a software additive: It isn't relevant to the grid itself, Ziegler noted, just the application. ACCELLERANT allows applications run across multiple processors in one box, across separate boxes or across geographically dispersed systems.

It is this distinction that makes the partnerships with NET2S and FIFTHWAVE each unique in their own respects. NET2S, for example, is what Ziegler describes as an integration company, focusing on application content and a “vertical stack.” The company helps financial institutions using a top-down approach, managing their business applications all the way down to the actual infrastructure. This business model “fits very, very nicely” with ASPEED's own sales model, Ziegler said, where calls generally start with the lines of business (e.g., risk management, credit risk, pricing, etc.) that own specific applications.

FIFTHWAVE, on the other hand, takes a more horizontal approach to its services. The company, Ziegler said, is more of a virtualization company, whose emphasis is on providing underlying platforms that enable applications to run — a bottom-up approach. This allows ASPEED to cover all its bases because, as Ziegler pointed out, there are a lot of companies where the IT department is the entry-point, and FIFTHWAVE has “tremendous inroads” in this space.

However, despite the company's focus on financial services, ACCELLERANT has been successful in other areas, including the pharmaceutical sector, where Ziegler said it has helped in “dealing with algorithms that had not been presumed to be distributable.” It has been very helpful, in particular, with NONMEM models, which help to determine, among other things, certain populations that shouldn't take a particular drug (think of the caveats, or disclaimers, at the ends of prescription drug commercials). From a distributed computing aspect, the problem with NONMEM-based applications, Ziegler explained, is that they are concerned with non-linear regression, and are not easily separatable like a Monte Carlo simulation. That said, ASPEED has been successful in finding ways to cut lapse time in these models, he said, and the company currently has about 20 pharmaceutical companies in various stages of pilot models.

The company has also entered the energy risk market, Ziegler said, and is making inroads in the government sector, where users are trying to move applications from a shared-memory model to grid-like systems using commodity hardware.

Financial services, though, is where ASPEED has its roots and the market continues to be the company's flagship. Outside of the United Kingdom, where it just announced the two partnerships, Ziegler said the company has also gained some traction in Hong Kong and Singapore, although it is working on developing some service relationships there before “putting that flag up.” In the United States, the company has been quite successful, though. “We've had some major financial institutions in banking, as well as in the capital markets [and] hedge funds,” he said. Also, the ASPEED has a steady flow — about one per week — of pilot programs for financial services companies, something Ziegler calls “”nice problem to have.”

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