Microsoft powers up Excel
20 June 2006 | 1985 views | 0
At the largest single IT event targeting the securities industry, Microsoft Corp. today demonstrated what may soon become the standard modeling and trading platform of the future: Microsoft® Office Excel® and Microsoft Office SharePoint® Server built upon a Windows® Compute Cluster Server 2003 high-performance computing cluster.
The solution, which is being demonstrated on an HP Cluster Platform 4000 at the HP and Microsoft Break Room at this week’s SIA Technology Management Conference & Exhibit in New York, utilizes the ubiquity of Microsoft Office Excel spreadsheets in today’s financial services firms as a front-end interface, combined with the scalability and availability of Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 software as a back-end analytic engine.
"Securities firms have long been concerned about spreadsheet creep, particularly in today’s compliance-oriented environment," said Louise Westerlind, analyst in the securities and investments group at Celent LLC. "Microsoft and its industry partners are in a prime position to solve this problem by combining an Excel front end with a high-performance-computing back end to help brokers unleash the full power of algorithmic trading."
Several capital markets firms are currently testing the beta versions of Excel 2007 and Excel Services (as part of Office SharePoint Server) in production environments. In addition, Windows is increasingly being adopted for high-performance computing clusters in the financial services industry, such as international banks HVB Group of Germany, Consorzio Operativo Gruppo MPS of Italy and others.
"The banking group at Consorzio Operativo Gruppo MPS is currently evaluating Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, with the help of Microsoft and Avanade, to implement financial Monte Carlo simulations. We believe that Microsoft technology presents clear advantages in terms of implementation and skills utilization," said Piero Poccianti, head of planning and strategic development at Consorzio Operativo Gruppo MPS. "Windows Compute Cluster Server will provide us with a better integration with the existing Windows infrastructure; moreover, the familiar environment of development allows our developers to write parallel applications in the frame of Visual Studio 2005. We believe that this will allow us to reduce the total cost of ownership for high-performance computing solutions that drive news discoveries and breakthroughs."
Next-Generation Features in Excel 2007
Releasing in the fall as part of the 2007 Microsoft Office system rollout, Office Excel 2007 will take the platform a step further to address issues of compliance, exception reporting and more. Benefits will include these:
• Increased scalability. Office Excel 2007 supports spreadsheets up to 1 million rows by 16,000 columns in size, eliminating the need to work within multiple spreadsheets or other applications that traders need to analyze large amounts of information.
• Compliance and spreadsheet management. Office Excel 2007 and Excel Services enable spreadsheets to be managed on a server (such as Office SharePoint Server 2007) to help protect important information and ensure that employees are working with the most current data. Employees at financial firms can use Excel Services to navigate, sort, filter, input parameters and interact with PivotTable® views, all within their Web browsers.
• Basic visualization tools. Traders and other employees can apply conditional formatting to information more easily. They can discover patterns and highlight trends in data by using rich visualization schemes such as gradients, thresholds and performance indicator icons.
• BI tools. Office Excel 2007 provides full support for Microsoft SQL Server™ 2005 Analysis Services. Financial firms can use the flexibility and the new cube functions in Office Excel 2007 to build a custom report from an online analytical processing (OLAP) database. Firms can also connect to external sources of data more easily using the Data Connection Library in Office Excel 2007.
Taking High-Performance Computing (HPC) to the Mainstream
Providing a back-end platform that offers unparalleled computing performance for Windows environments, Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 brings together the power of x64 computers, the ease of use and security of Active Directory® service, and the Windows operating system to provide a more secure and affordable HPC solution. Benefits include these:
• Simplified cluster deployment and management. Windows Compute Cluster Server offers rapid node deployment and cluster configuration, monitoring tools, and policy-based scheduling for a security-enhanced and scalable management environment.
• Better integration with IT infrastructure. Windows Compute Cluster Server integrates seamlessly with existing Windows infrastructure, allowing financial services firms to leverage existing skills and technology for system and node management, workload management, user management, and security. For example, Windows Compute Cluster Server leverages existing Active Directory deployments to simplify authentication and security setup, Microsoft Systems Management Server for managing node updates, and Microsoft Operations Manager for system and job management.
• Familiar development environment. Developing applications for Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 allows developers to take advantage of their existing Windows-based skills and experience. Microsoft Visual Studio® system is the most widely used integrated development environment (IDE) in the world, and Visual Studio 2005 includes support for developing HPC applications (for example, parallel debugger). Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 comes with the Microsoft Message Passing Interface (MPI), based on the reference implementation of the MPI2 standard, to make it easier to port existing parallel applications.
"The combined solution of .NET applications, Excel 2007 and Excel Services with Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 is a game-changer in the securities industry," said Stevan Vidich, technology architect for the U.S. capital markets industry group at Microsoft. "Financial advisors and traders essentially gain a real-time strategic trading platform, while firms benefit by using the most common application in the financial services market today — Excel — with the power of Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003. And with the upcoming launch of Excel Services as part of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, firms can centrally lock down their spreadsheets to provide a single version of truth, alleviating risk and compliance concerns."
To help ensure simple integration of Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 with a broad set of applications and tools, Microsoft is working closely with software, application and hardware partners across the industry. Hardware providers such as Broadcom Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Dell Inc., HP, IBM Corp., NEC Corp., SilverStorm Technologies, Tyan Computer Corp. and Verari Systems Inc. are working with Microsoft to meet customers’ unique needs by enabling them to choose among and run a variety of compatible HPC solutions.
"HP’s strong alliances with companies like Microsoft enable us to deliver enterprise-class solutions based on open industry standards that meet the needs of our customers," said Chip Greenlee, director, marketing and solutions, Financial Services Industry — Americas, HP. "While competitors continue to tout expensive, proprietary systems, HP’s portfolio of industry-standard solutions offers financial services industry customers agility, accountability and return on investment."
Independent software vendors such as Digipede Technologies LLC complement Microsoft’s Compute Cluster Server offering by providing seamless, programmatic integration between .NET applications and cluster resources. Digipede delivers grid computing software that dramatically improves the performance of financial applications by distributing execution across a network of Windows-based cluster nodes, as well as desktops and underutilized servers throughout the enterprise. With the only grid software built entirely on .NET, Digipede helps customers scale out financial applications for maximum performance.