Chicken Soup for Computer Viruses

When Archipelago needed a fast, reliable, scalable platform to reach its goal of becoming the first fully open, fully electronic stock exchange—a platform that wouldn’t get sick whenever a new virus came along—there was just one answer.


Choosing a new platform for their electronic communications network (ECN) was, say the folks at the online stock exchange Archipelago, a no-brainer decision, made as quickly as one of the company’s investors can book a stock order.

“To achieve our goal of becoming a fair, efficient, and open marketplace for all investors, we need to provide an exchange platform that is reliable, scalable, and fast,” Archipelago CEO Jerry Putnam says.

And Archipelago knew there was only one platform capable of delivering on all fronts: Sun Microsystems’ Solaris Operating Environment (Solaris OE) running on Sun Fire 4800 and V880 servers.

“It’s no secret that Sun has the expertise and the systems to handle the volume we get today and the volume we anticipate tomorrow,” says Putnam.

Given the pace of Archipelago’s growth, that’s no easy task.

Just a year after its founding, in 1996, the Chicago-based company was one of four Securities and Exchange Commission-approved ECNs trading Nasdaq stocks. After merging with an ECN competitor and purchasing the Pacific Stock Exchange’s equity-trading business, Archipelago was well on its way to its goal of becoming the first fully open, fully electronic stock exchange.

This puts Archipelago, which has seen its share volume soar from 30 million shares per day in 1999 to 400 million today, in direct competition with the Nasdaq, the recognized leader in handling high-technology stocks.

Archipelago hasn’t been daunted by the competition, but it has recognized the need for a platform that won’t crumble under the weight of the company’s success.

“It has to do what our customers want it to do,” says Steve Rubinow, Archipelago’s chief technology officer. “It has to be very fast, because our most sophisticated customers measure response time in milliseconds—and they differentiate companies on small differences of speed. And it’s got to be up and available as close to 100 percent of the time as is practical with computer systems.”

Price and Time Are a Priority

Archipelago’s fundamental priorities are price, time, and an open order book. The Archipelago Exchange searches for the best price for all investors, giving everyone the same information at the same time. That means the platform the Exchange runs on has to be instantly scalable, capable of handling a 300-percent volume increase without skipping a beat.

Previously, the exchange ran in a Microsoft/Intel environment, which was much more expensive and a lot less reliable.

“We felt that the cost and reliability we were getting from our Microsoft/Intel platform weren’t where we wanted them to be,” says Rubinow, “and it wasn’t clear how long it would take those companies to get the price and performance we needed.”

No More Viruses

Of course, you can’t be reliable if you’re worried about every little computer virus that comes along. And they come along with startling frequency. Rubinow says the Solaris OE is the chicken soup of operating systems when it comes to viruses and is significantly more robust and proven in this area than Intel or Microsoft systems. The Solaris OE, he says, is a much more hardened environment, providing a benefit that’s crucial to online investors: security.

“In the Microsoft world, every time a new virus is discovered, you wonder whether you’re going to be affected or not,” Rubinow says. “In the UNIX world, you don’t worry as much—and that’s a big advantage for us.”

And as it turns out, there are no disadvantages. The Solaris OE provides Archipelago with everything an aggressive, entrepreneurial, fast-growing, no-holds-barred company needs. It’s just what the CEO ordered: fast, reliable, and scalable.

It had better be. Archipelago expects the Sun systems to accept and book 5,000 orders per second, accommodate up to 500 simultaneous connections, and handle up to 10 million trades a day, all without breaking a sweat.

“The whole trip between the time the order is submitted and enters our order book and the time it takes to respond shouldn’t take more than 100 milliseconds,” Rubinow says. Which is why Archipelago’s decision to go with the Sun platform took just a millisecond to make—less time than it takes to book a stock order.
» Read the full story of Archipelago’s meteoric rise to success and its selection of the Solaris OE as its platform.

» Discover the advantages of listing your company with Archipelago.

Additonal Information

Fewer Servers, Greater Reliability

In just seven years, Archipelago has become one of the leading electronic stock exchanges, handling a volume of more than 400 million shares a day.

Initially, the exchange was using a Microsoft/Intel platform to run its processes, but that solution required upwards of 1,000 servers. To handle its 300-percent increase in traffic, Archipelago moved to a Sun Microsystems platform and reduced its number of servers to 20.

“The staff and the complexity required to maintain a thousand servers—although each server itself is inexpensive—sets up a whole different dynamic than maintaining 20 systems,” says Steve Rubinow, Archipelago’s chief technology officer. “That complexity was an indication that we should go in a different direction.”

And Rubinow was sold on Sun’s reliability—a key factor for Archipelago. He knew that the company couldn’t have many outages and still maintain customer satisfaction.

According to Rubinow, the New York Stock Exchange has about one minute’s worth of outages per year. “To be competitive,” he says, “we have to be as close to that level of reliability as we can be.”