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Low latency high priority in SOA event handling

Reducing transaction times is a high priority on Wall Street and architecting for low latency is becoming increasingly important for service-oriented architecture applications, analysts say.

On Wall Street where time literally is money, low latency architectures are becoming increasingly important for stock trading applications, but it is also becoming important for the service-oriented architecture applications on Main Street.

Companies that are spreading XML and Web services in their network really do need to think about performance.
Ron Schmelzer
Senior AnalystZapThink LLC.

Low latency is so important on Wall Street that firms will spend millions of dollars to reduce transaction times by 30 milliseconds, said Pete Harris, an analyst with A-Team Group and chief author of "Faster Than a Speeding Bullet - Low Latency Architectures and Building Blocks For Tomorrow's Trading Applications." Low latency architecture is designed "to capture and distribute data in as near to zero time as possible," he explained.

The report was commissioned by Intel Corp., which along with other major vendors of hardware and software for transaction processing are increasingly focused on providing low latency products, both for proprietary stock trading systems and the larger world of SOA.

High latency or long delays in processing a transaction is one of the stumbling blocks to SOA adoption, which is why vendors are turning their attention to it, explained Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst with ZapThink LLC. Low latency is something architects and developers need to focus on, he said.

"Companies that are spreading XML and Web services in their network really do need to think about performance," he said. "A lot of people are scared by the performance issues and so they are negative on SOA because SOA is based on Web services and Web services are not very efficient. Where companies are trying to build these high-performance systems, they are reluctant to use SOA."

However, because SOA is an architecture and not a technology, Schmelzer said, this concern can be addressed by developers and there is technology available to address the performance issues. "You can use SOA with any number of technologies," he said.

The technologies for improving millisecond transaction speeds for trading stocks tend to be proprietary, Harris said, but he pointed out that these specialized high-performance systems can fit into a SOA environment.

"While low latency applications are very specialized, very high performance, a lot of them are about processing data and producing a result," Harris explained. "It could be analytics. It could be a trading signal. Those kinds of results could easily be made available to an enterprise using an SOA environment."

Schmelzer agreed and said just because a specialized low latency application isn't using SOA it can still be a service in an SOA. "Building high-performance services increases the value of a service-oriented architecture because you're increasing the performance of individual services. You wouldn't necessarily service-orient everything in a Wall Street firm or a bank because there are some things that don't really require the flexibility that service oriented architecture provides."

However, Schmelzer warned that it is incumbent on SOA architects and developers to design their consuming systems with low latency so they can handle the speedy specialized service. For example, he said, "If the bank has a proprietary system for doing wire transfers and you want to be able to consume the wire transfers in some sort of mobile app, but if it take you 10 minutes to do a wire transfer it's going to be a pain. You're not going to do it by mobile phone."

So while every developer may not be building millisecond trading applications, they need to pay attention to the emerging technologies for providing low latency even for systems processing XML via Web services.

"What Intel and other people are trying to say is don't let latency concerns be a hang-up in adopting SOA," Schmelzer said. Intel Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and IBM are all working on this problem through hardware.

For more information
SOA moves toward event handling

Cisco Systems buys Reactivity in SOA networking play

Bradley F. Shimmin, principal analyst, application infrastructure with Current Analysis LLC, agreed that architects and developers need to keep up with developments in low latency. "SOA architects must pay careful attention to the latency issues that can emerge from business processes that require a great deal of XML transformation, data encryption and protocol mediation," he said. "XML particularly when it undergoes XSLT transformation routines can create significant latency. To that end, vendors like Intel, Layer 7, Cisco and IBM continue to invest in hardware appliances capable of accelerating XML transactions, trying to keep everything running at wire speed."

Schmelzer said the issue of low latency was behind IBM's acquisition of DataPower and the recent acquisition of Reactivity by Cisco Systems Inc. "It's a space that's rich with innovation."

The good news is that while so much of SOA is dominated by marketing hype, low latency is something of a hype free zone, Schmelzer said.

"You can't really have a lot of hype here because you can easily test the claim by plugging the box into the network and seeing if it speeds things up," he said. "It's a prove by example business. Either you're faster or you're not."

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