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Nasdaq Commits To HP's NonStop Platform

The stock exchange boosts performance by installing more than 30 HP S88000 NonStop severs running more than 500 MIPS R16000 processors in its data center.
The Nasdaq Stock Market has turned to Hewlett-Packard for the first major overhaul of its trade-reporting systems, agreeing to a three-year contract that extends an existing 20-year relationship between the two companies.

More than 30 HP S88000 NonStop severs running HP OpenView enterprise-management software and containing more than 500 MIPS R16000 processors were recently installed at the Nasdaq data center, says Steve Randich, executive VP and CIO for Nasdaq.

The contract is valued in the tens of millions of dollars and demonstrates that the NonStop server line "continues to have the flexibility and reliability to really meet the needs of the financial community," says Pauline Nist, VP of the NonStop enterprise division for HP.

The NonStop servers, introduced in January, provide a 30% increase in processor performance, allowing the stock market to handle up to 20,000 transactions per second, a threshold that has increased from peak demand of about 1,000 transactions per second only four years ago, Randich says. "That [transaction] number continues to climb at what appears to be 20% to 30% per year," he says. "We're seeking to manage our capacity today by ensuring we can handled the projected peaks based on trends 18 months in advance."

In the past, Nasdaq has built its trading infrastructure using multiple contracts with varying life cycles. But the company last year decided to renew the entire platform so it could create a regular three-year life-cycle refresh pattern, Randich says. When that next refresh cycle rolls around in 2007, Randich knows that the NonStop platform that Nasdaq has used since 1984 will have migrated away from the MIPS processors to new systems based on Intel's Itanium 2 processor.

HP has previously said the S88000 will be the last NonStop system upgrade based on MIPS. The company has also revealed plans to phase out systems based on the PA-RISC and Alpha microprocessor architectures, migrating those to Itanium 2 as well.

Nasdaq couldn't wait for the new NonStop system based on Itanium 2 to be introduced, Randich says, but he believes the market migration to the new processor architecture over the next two years will be positive. "We see this as a natural and positive evolution," he says. "We're optimistic that [Itanium] will provide a pretty significant stair step in terms of price/performance going forward."

Although Nasdaq could mix and match NonStop systems based on MIPS and Itanium processors, Randich says the company will likely be able to make a complete conversion to Itanium-based systems during its next upgrade.

By 2007 it's expected that Intel will manufacture dual-core Itanium 2 processors, providing an even greater performance boost than could be achieved with normal generational improvements in processor families, Randich says.

Much of the success of the Nasdaq trading system is attributed to the company's own in-house software, which would have to be ported over from the MIPS platform to Itanium. But Randich says he doesn't believe it would be too arduous a task.

The NonStop systems run the Nasdaq Marketcenter, which includes the Nasdaq trading system for Nasdaq stocks; a trading system for stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange; and a trade-reporting system that connects to specific brokers. The combination of improved servers and software has allowed the company to cut the average time it takes to complete a stock transaction from around three-quarters of a second to less than one-fiftieth of a second, Randich says.