Home opinion-and-analysis The Linux Distillery London Stock Exchange gets the facts and dumps Windows for Linux

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Microsoft’s marketing arm excitedly churned out a case study in 2005 when the London Stock Exchange (LSE) rolled out a C# stock exchange ticker system on Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000. Four years later the LSE has scrapped the whole system in favour of a Linux-based solution instead.

The London Stock Exchange was established in 1801 and employs hundreds of people. It has a fast-moving atmosphere and has a crucial need for reliability, accuracy and high performance. It is the most international equities exchange in the world.

During its “Get the Facts” campaign Microsoft produced a case study documenting the LSE’s adoption of a C#, SQL Server 2000 application to facilitate real-time stock information prices. About 40% of the LSE’s revenue came from sale of such information and consequently the application had the potential to deliver real value, provided it was up to the task.

Previously, the LSE disseminated data through the London Market Information Link (LMIL), a COBOL application running atop a Hewlett Packard Tandem environment.

This architecture was noted as being extremely reliable and with a full 100% availability record. Despite this, it was not known for its agility. Any development or scaling took time to design and implement.

The LSE thus sought a new system which would retain reliability but with greater capacity and be cheaper to manage.

Several proposals were reviewed with Microsoft and Accenture having the winning tender in the form of Infolect, designed to handle more than 15 million real-time messages per day through a network of 120 HP ProLiant servers across multiple data centres. These messages were distributed to more than 107,000 trading screens in over 100 countries.

Although the volume of messages is massive, Infolect is, according to Microsoft, “100% reliable on high-volume trading days.” At a cost of 40 million pounds or $USD 65 million you would certainly hope so.

The LSE Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at the time said the decision to implement Infolect on a Microsoft architecture “was a high-visibility to customers of the importance placed on reliability and support.”

Infolect went live on September 19, 2005 with big boots to fill. In the preceding six years there had been no production outages at the LSE. It was critical the new Microsoft-based platform prove to be just as reliable.

Although Infolect was not replacing a Linux system Microsoft still touted this case study as an example of Windows Server being chosen over Linux for reliability reason. Microsoft used this claim as the headline for the first issue of “The highly reliable times.”

Of course, nothing in the case study makes any reference whatsoever to Linux, unless it is assumed that one or more of the potential architectures reviewed was Linux-based. (It’s not uncommon, it seems, for the “Get the facts” case studies to have sensational titles which are not supported by the story.)

Nevertheless, fast forward to today and the London Stock Exchange is writing off its huge $USD 65m development, looking instead to Linux. What happened?

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David M Williams

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David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. Within two years, he returned to his alma mater, the University of Newcastle, as a UNIX systems manager. This was a crucial time for UNIX at the University with the advent of the World-Wide-Web and the decline of VMS. David moved on to a brief stint in consulting, before returning to the University as IT Manager in 1998. In 2001, he joined an international software company as Asia-Pacific troubleshooter, specialising in AIX, HP/UX, Solaris and database systems. Settling down in Newcastle, David then found niche roles delivering hard-core tech to the recruitment industry and presently is the Chief Information Officer for a national resources company where he particularly specialises in mergers and acquisitions and enterprise applications.

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