Embrace And Extend With Java

Lehman Brothers breathes new life into aging analytic applications with off-the-shelf software components and a minimum of custom development. Traders gain near-real-time access to market data and customers don't have to

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

August 24, 2001

6 Min Read

How am I doing?" is the question institutional and private investors most often ask their portfolio managers. To answer that question, Lehman Brothers Inc. set itself this goal: Making it possible for financial traders to provide clients with an immediate sense of how their portfolios are doing, as well as the tools to better advise clients on various investment scenarios based on projected market changes.

"Embrace and extend" is a marketing phrase that characterizes what the New York global investment bank is accomplishing, using commercial software components from Infragistics Inc. Graphical user interface components are being used to retrofit an aging client-server application for doing portfolio management and scenario analysis.

Lehman Brothers is using the Infragistics JFC Suite to help build a new version of its Online Structured Credit Trading application, which manages the contractual relationships between parties where payment is derived from agreed-upon benchmarks. The JFC Suite extends the standard Java Foundation Classes with a rich set of user-interface JavaBeans.Lehman Brothers, which was founded in 1850, provides a wide menu of research, distribution, trading, and financing services to businesses, institutions, governments, and high-net-worth individual investors. For several years, the firm has been building client-server applications that use a Visual Basic client to access databases and a custom-developed Unix analytics engine through Common Object Request Broker Architecture (Corba). This aging architecture provided a lot of functionality to Lehman's traders and operations, but as market volatility increased, the firm needed more current market intelligence. The fat-client application didn't scale well and required too much support.

But Robert Okin, the Lehman executive heading the project, didn't want to sacrifice the current application's strengths. "We were asked to extend the reach of our app, yet maintain the rich client interface," says Okin, Lehman's VP of structured credit trading technology.

Lehman needed to improve its Online Structured Credit Trading application, which processes complex deals that have many operations associated with each transaction. Traders were accustomed to using Microsoft Office as an interface.

Tiered Application Architecture

With the Infragistics toolkit, developers can deliver the look and feel of Microsoft Office, Outlook, or Windows 2000 (Windows XP is in the offing). The presentation components include grids, charts, Outlook bars, calendaring components, and data explorers, which deliver the familiar look and feel of Microsoft applications. Using these off-the-shelf components, developers can more quickly deliver a professional-looking application with maximum code reuse.

"Java developers don't realize that they can deliver the same types of interfaces that they can under a client-server or Windows model," says Dean Guida, Infragistics' CEO. Developers can leverage users' experience with familiar Windows apps and deliver into the Java space the Office look and feel that 98% of desktops now run, he adds.

Lehman had used Sheridan Software Systems widgets in its Visual Basic application. (Sheridan Software Systems and ProtoView Development merged in January to form Infragistics.) When Okin began considering Java as a development environment and looking for something that would provide a functionally equivalent front end, he discovered that Infragistics had Java components similar to the ones he had previously used in the VB application. "We didn't think Java could look so good," Okin says.

Benefits Of Java Components

• Provide traders and their clients with up-to-the-minute market and account information

• Support complex business transactions

• Embrace and extend existing capabilities of analytics

• Redesign aging applications without discarding important functionality

• Maintain the Windows look and feel for users

• Provide a mobile interface into a rich set of application functionality

Okin explored several approaches--HTML pages, JavaServer Pages, and Java applets--and rejected them because of limitations or complexity before he and his team decided on a Java application that was deployed off an HTML page. Lehman switched to Java to better leverage the Web, as well as internal networks. Another goal is to propagate the most current data to the app's 300 worldwide users.

Okin looked at a number of Java integrated development environments and chose Borland Software Corp.'s JBuilder, a visual toolset for building applications, applets, JSP/servlets, JavaBeans, Enterprise JavaBeans, and distributed applications for the Java 2 Enterprise Edition platform.

Lehman has been depending on analytics engines that run at the end of the day and valuate a trader's portfolio. It's only on the following morning that traders can see where they stand. That's no longer good enough. The Infragistics components let Lehman create a front-end trading application that hooks into its existing middleware, letting its traders access the most current company and market data.

"The Java-based version we're working on now is going to allow traders to bring up their portfolios in real time as they enter trades," Okin says. "They can also play around with the various market dynamics that affect the valuation of those trades." When traders click on the page, Sun Microsystems' Java WebStart application-management tool in the background brings up the application on the user's desktop. Java WebStart lets users launch applications simply by clicking on a Web-page link. If the application isn't found locally, it initiates a download of all the necessary files and caches them.

Lehman was able to bring the application from planning to working code within three months with four developers--a month of specification and design and two months of coding put them close to beta. Certainly, the fact that they already had a client-server application in place that delivered significant functionality, as well as the server-based middleware interfaced with their back-end systems and real-time data, gave the Lehman developers a solid platform upon which to build.

Okin credits the use of commercial components for letting Lehman deliver the application sooner than if it had needed to build a JavaServer Page screen that could handle more than 50 deals, and provide the rich client-server capabilities that one expects from a desktop application. Another goal is to support mobility among traders so they can access the application while traveling.

Because Lehman wanted to enable its traders to continue to use its existing Corba-based analytics capabilities to do real-time valuation of portfolio changes, Okin and his team decided to use HTTP tunneling to communicate with the front end. Tunneling lets applications move requests and data to and from external application servers through a firewall.

Says Okin, "We have our own custom service layer to support tunneling that we've written, and we just do HTTP requests. It's extremely fast."

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