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Trading floors need new IT

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Since the JSE adopted SETS – London’s Stock Exchange electronic order book – it has more doubled its trade, showing that technology has an incredible impact on the financial world, writes CHRIS BUCHANAN, Director of Client Solutions at Dell EMC.

In 2002 the Johannesburg Stock Exchange adopted SETS, the London Stock Exchange’s flagship electronic order book. When a 2013 research paper studied the impact of this, it found the JSE was more liquid, had doubled its trade and lowered trading costs. There is no doubt that good technology has an incredible impact on the fast-moving yet nuanced world of financial trading.

Modern-day financial trading floors are a far cry from the noisy, frantic telephone-centred scenes of the 1980s. Significant upward trends in computing, data distribution and automated trading techniques have placed IT at the core of these environments. Trading floors are now dynamic hotbeds of IT innovation, where latency is king, and where even a few minutes of downtime can result in multi-million dollar losses. At the New York Stock Exchange, computers even have the exact same cable lengths so one doesn’t beat any others by being a little shorter and therefore faster to the mark.

But this is placing IT management teams under intense pressure to ensure operating environments are perfect. Whether performing maintenance, patching vital software updates, carrying out regular moves/adds/changes (MACs) according to traders’ requirements or ensuring processes are compliant with ever-changing security regulations, these teams have their work cut out.

With these unique challenges, organisations can benefit from Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) – the practice of hosting a desktop operating system within a virtual machine running on a centralised server, with users accessing this virtual environment through any endpoint device. When assessing how best to adapt their IT strategy there are a number of areas financial trading houses should consider:

Workforce transformation

The first of these is IT management. On a trading floor, MACs – a set of tasks that IT teams regularly perform to keep computing equipment up-to-date and aligned with user requirements – happen continuously. With traders regularly relocating and demanding ever-so-slightly different configurations of hardware and software – IT teams can find themselves on a carousel of moving parts, each one scrutinised.

The prevalence of multiple devices and mobile working compounds this challenge – laptops must be kept up to date and software applications patched to mobile devices so that trades can be executed on the move. For many financial institutions, this array of devices often includes multiple PCs per trader – sometimes one per monitor – which must be moved and managed individually.

With VDI, workstations are moved to the datacenter and can be replaced by location-agnostic thin clients, which are centrally configured, eliminating the need for a member of the IT team to visit the user’s desk. Utilising thin clients improves reliability and, in the case of MACs, enables immediate reconfiguration, getting the trader back online and sustaining invaluable uptime. For this reason, organisations such as Kotak Securities have implemented thin clients in order to benefit from the devices’ secure, high performance capabilities, and reduce the IT management burden.

Application deployment

Software deployments present another significant challenge for IT. Traders use customised application sets for news monitoring, price analysis and communication, amongst a range of other purposes. Deploying and updating these manually, across the myriad of devices, is time-intensive and adds further weight to the IT management workload.

With virtual desktops, all software deployments and updates are administered centrally, enabling the complex web of applications to be coordinated from a single system. Not only does this reduce time spent “keeping the lights on”, but also enables IT teams to focus on innovation. In a world where IT innovation can lead to millions in additional revenue, this is a significant ‘value-add’.

Security and compliance

Amongst the IT management issues regularly faced by financial institutions, security is also close to the top of the list. As data protection regulation continues to tighten and malware techniques become more varied, monitoring endpoints and storage methods becomes a business necessity.

For trading houses handling market-sensitive information, this level of protection is nothing new. Many organisations already utilise virtual desktops to remain aware of where their data resides and how it is communicated both internally and externally. With all data held in the datacenter, information is secure, and reporting/auditing is more straightforward.

The threat of malware is, comparatively, a new challenge. For traders on the move, even when operating in a virtualized environment, it is essential to keep endpoints safe from would-be hackers. To do so, organisations can patch embedded endpoint security software. This additional layer of threat protection ensures vital information is kept safe and is easily managed across all devices.

Energy consumption

The final challenge for financial trading houses seeking to get more from their IT is its impact on energy consumption. In terms of building regulations, many of the world’s financial offices are already maxed out in terms of energy usage, not least because datacenters are often housed on site. Moving workstations to the datacenter and replacing with low energy consumption desktops, such as thin clients, has a significant impact on power consumption, and air-con demands. VDI also enables more straightforward integration of hybrid cloud storage techniques, again, removing power-intensive datacenter components from the building.

VDI is helping the financial sector to overcome some of its core IT challenges. Through centralized client management across a range of devices, companies no longer have to dispatch technicians to traders’ desk or to remote deployments. Traders are not disrupted, and IT personnel can execute repairs and software upgrades in minutes rather than hours. This frees up time for IT innovation, all while ensuring vital data is kept safe.

To ease the regulatory and budget pressures facing IT departments across the finance industry, VDI is a safe bet.

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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