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The Trading Mesh

The Evolution of FPGA in the Financial Markets

Mon, 25 Jun 2012 08:00:00 GMT           

An interview with Mohammad Darwish of AdvancedIO Systems

25th June 2012

 

Sponsored by AdvancedIO Systems (www.advancedio.com)


In this interview for HFT Review, Mohammad Darwish, Chief Executive Officer of AdvancedIO Systems, a provider of ultralow latency FPGA network interface cards for the finance, telecommunications, and defence industries, discusses how FPGA technology is being increasingly adopted in the financial markets.

 

HFT Review: Mohammad, welcome to HFT Review. Can we start with you giving us some background on yourself and your company, AdvancedIO

 

Mohammad Darwish: Thank you for inviting me. My whole academic and professional life, I’ve had the privilege of working with some nifty technologies with an eye on creating business value. I think that eventually gave birth to AdvancedIO Systems back in 2004. We created the industry’s first 10 Gigabit Ethernet FPGA network interface card to move high-performance data to processors in radar applications because commodity network cards are not capable of providing the real time performance required for defence applications. I would argue that financial applications are no exception. We have been deploying our products into the finance market for the past few years and it is very rewarding to see the adoption wave occurring. We are committed to continuing our leadership in this space and we are excited about what the future holds for us.

 

HFTR: What are some of the key challenges when working in the finance industry versus defence or telecom?

 

MD: It is relatively early in the wide spread adoption of FPGA technology in the finance industry compared to other industries. We need to align the business objectives with FPGA technology to better harness its capabilities and benefits for the market. There is a misconception about FPGA technology and this may be impeding the adoption by some firms putting them at a disadvantage in the highly competitive finance market. I think the solution is finding the right partner with the right experience and knowledge.

 

HFTR: Are you mainly seeing adoption of FPGA cards amongst market-making firms, proprietary HFT firms and quantitative hedge funds, or are you seeing adoption across a wider cross-section of firms (sell-side brokers, banks, exchanges, etc)?

 

MD: We are seeing activities across the spectrum. The early adopters of FPGA technology are already realizing the benefits of FPGAs and the rest of the market is now catching on. There is effort underway by many firms to identify the business problems suitable for the technology, while recognizing that a different design process and additional skills are required on their team. I think as we address the business aspects, we will see more adoption of FPGA technology.

 

HFTR: What are the main limitations of software-based solutions in the electronic trading ecosystem and how can hardware-based solutions help?

 

I think it depends on the application and the business benefits. As an example, a market making strategy may only want to see market updates for a smaller set of symbols. With a software only solution, the application ends up drinking from a fire hose in order to process all unwanted symbols. Naturally, some filtering will not only help develop the strategy faster but also help improve the strategy execution leading to better business results.  

 

I recall in the late 80’s we used the 8087 coprocessor to help the 8088 perform math functions. Then we started using TCP offload chips to help the computer accelerate network communications. History is repeating itself and today we are using FPGA technology to accelerate financial functions like feed handlers and symbol filtering to allow the electronic trading platform to run much faster. I expect the trend will continue as we go from 10GE to 40GE. This applies to other areas of the trading infrastructure.  

 

HFTR: What sort of FPGA development frameworks are there that can shorten the development cycle?

 

MD: When it comes to framework offering, we see three business approaches in the market, a fully integrated FPGA framework, a loosely integrated functionality, and a third-party à la carte offering. Each approach results in a different level of performance, development effort, cost of ownership, and time to market. Obviously, the desired level depends on the application and the business objectives.

 

HFTR: What is AdvancedIO's strategy regarding the OpenCL standard?

 

MD: I strongly believe in standards and their value in the market place. Actually, we have successfully championed standard activities related to 10GE FPGA cards for the defence industry. I think standards take time to evolve and mature. The use of OpenCL for FPGA development is relatively new, but promising for some applications.

 

Today, we look at OpenCL the same way we viewed high-level programming languages in the past. Programming a computer application in assembly language is different than programming in Java or C++.  Each has its merits. High level languages make it easier to program applications, but there are always tradeoffs between ease of use versus code size and performance. We have activities underway to make OpenCL available with our 10GE Altera products to provide a choice.

 

HFTR: How do you see FPGA technology evolving and what does the future hold for AdvancedIO?

 

MD: I think FPGA devices will continue to benefit from advancements in semiconductor technology. There is a substantial increase in logic density and performance, coupled with noticeable reduction in power consumption. We have witnessed this over a few generations of our FPGA products. The tools have become more mature and smarter making it possible to implement more sophisticated applications with FPGA technology. 

 

We are seeing a wide spread interest in FPGA technology. These are exciting times for us at AdvancedIO. We seem to be in the right place at the right time with the right products.

 

HFTR: Thank you Mohammad

 

For more information about AdvancedIO Systems, please visit www.advancedio.com


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