ASX takes network neutrality to new extremes

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ASX takes network neutrality to new extremes

Customers connected with exactly the same length of fibre.

The Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) is promising mathematically consistent services to customers of its new $32 million data centre in Sydney's Gore Hill, even if that means rolling out hundreds of metres of excess fibre cabling.

The 1000-square-metre co-location data centre, which will host 100 of the stock exchange's cabinets and 500 more of its trading customers, is due to accept customer equipment by September 2011 for systems to go live in October 2011.

The facility will provide the exchange's customers - be they futures brokers, equities brokers, principle traders, high frequency traders or information vendors, with access to crucial financial data within nanoseconds.

Many of these customers run highly automated systems, sometimes written directly to hardware, to ensure the fastest possible link to the stock exchange.

The lengths customers will go to for the fastest access, and the exchange's attempts to level the playing field, were discussed at length yesterday by ASX network manager Mike Rakedbrandt at the Data Center Dynamics conference in Sydney.

Ever since the closure of the trading room floor, technology has been a key differentiator for traders attempting to move first on important data.

In the 1980s, the ASX attempted to even the playing field via a Wide Area Network spanning the breadth of the nation, but Rakenbrandt explained that those with better location and technology often got the data first.

"It was intented so that everyone gets a shake at the network," he said. "From a business perceptive, we could say that the market was fair. But the reality was if you weren't in Sydney you were [milliseconds] behind."

Customers approached the stock exchange's telco partners, "demanding... the shortest possible paths to the ASX."

As trading systems became more automated, the ASX tried to level the playing field again via two initiatives.

One was to roll out a dark fibre network with Pipe Networks called ASX NET for faster and more equitable customer connectivity.

Another was the introduction of co-location services at the ASX's Bondi data centre. But with just 20 of the exchange's key customers co-located, the data centre ran out of capacity. Again, a select few were gaining faster access to the core trading systems.

On that basis, the ASX scoped sites for a new facility to house all of its customers.

A site in Northern Sydney's Gore Hill was chosen for it's proximity to the city, carrier neutrality, and connections to dual power feeds from different substations. Rakenbrandt said it also ticked some physical security boxes being that it is close to the CBD but away from the harbour.

Rakenbrandt said the data centre will be twice as large as the ASX's current requirements to ensure it can meet future market demands.

"We decided to go big," he said. "This is a place where you want to be if you want to be in the market."

But customer concerns about neutrality didn't end there.

"Oddly enough, even in the same room, there is always the question of a level playing field," Rakenbrandt said. "This data centre is 60 metres corner to corner. There were concerns some customers would have faster access than others."

The ASX has had to cage off it's trading platform core in the centre of the room, straddled by two carrier PoPs either side, and is provisioning an exact amount of fibre connectivity to each customer, regardless of where they physically sit on the data centre floor.

So for example. the ASX will commission a 60 metre fibre path to customer equipment that is only two metres from its core systems, to ensure that customer gains no better speeds than customers in far corners of the room.

"Whether you are two metres away or in the furthest corner, every cable has to be the same length," Rakenbrandt said.

The data centre will also boast an average of 4kW per cabinet, 10 Gbps connections within the facility, under-floor cooling (with network and power cabled overhead), and a security token system so that each cabin can be individually locked.

The build has also been timed to attempt to beat out the introduction of new competition to the market, the Chi-X exchange, which will be hosted by Equinix.

"Competition is coming, we want customers in our data centre, not where Chi-X is going," Rakenbrandt said.

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