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Heading Beyond Wall Street--HP's Linux-Enabled Blade Workstation

Dumb Terminals Redux? Hardly.

  • December 11, 2006
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

Hewlett-Packard is eyeing additional markets for a new Linux-enabled remote blade workstation solution, already in use at Lloyds TSB and several other big financial trading firms.

"There's nothing else quite like this available right now. But just wait. Other vendors will be coming into this area soon," said Gene Kim, consulting manager at IDC Financial Insights, during a recent HP customer and press event in New York City.

Before turning to the HP Blade Workstation Solution, Lloyds TSB found that the Windows XP PCs on the trading room floor kept temperatures so hot that some traders actually showed up at work in shorts, according to Tom Walker, IT director of the UK-based company's Financial Markets Division.

The PCs also created distractions by stirring up a lot of noise on Lloyds' trading floor in London, Walker noted, during his presentation at the event in New York.

Displaying a slide that featured beaming Lloyds employees, Walker suggested that, since then, the remote workstation approach has served as a valuable tool for retaining traders, a hotly sought after commodity in the financial world.

HP is now working with customers in the areas of government and manufacturing to adapt the solution to other markets, said Dan Olsen, HP's worldwide business development manager for blade workstations, in a follow-up interview with LinuxPlanet.

HP's current financial trading solution uses HP's recently unveiled Proliant xw25p Blade Workstation in conjunction with Remote Graphics Software (RGS) a multi-display 2D/3D graphics package containing advanced algorithms for compression and encryption.

In the financial solution, HP blade workstations--capable of running either the XP or Red Hat edition of RGS--are physically housed outside of the trading floor, within the main data center.

Separate appliances, operating a "plain vanilla" Linux kernel, provide processing power and encryption security on the trading floor, eliminating the need for a separate PC to be assigned to each trader. Instead, hardware provided to the traders includes only a keyboard, mouse, and display panel.

Each of these appliances, or "black boxes," can support up to four traders, said Jim Zafarana, HP's VP of marketing for workstations, also speaking during the event in New York.

HP's RGS, however, can also be used for communications between Windows XP and/or Red Hat desktop or notebook PCs. The PCs can provide all the processing power, without the need for a separate appliance.

On the other hand, the embedded Linux appliance saves room on the trading floor, according to Olsen. Further, by using Linux, HP can pack more capabilities on to a smaller device.

To create the financial trading solution, the vendor has been working with customers to fulfill the wish lists of IT managers, HP officials told LinuxPlanet at the event.

Beyond heat and noise reduction on the trading floor, financial IT managers have expressed requirements that include increased security, along with the ability to locate data centers far away from the trading floor for disaster recovery purposes.

Walker told the group that, at Lloyds TSB, some additional factors came into play. Lloyds was moving its trading center into a new facility, anyway. So, the trading company decided to go with a solution that would help to showcase its trading capabilities for its own customer community.

Aside from the Linux-enabled appliance, Lloyds is running the trading solution on Windows XP, since all other aspects of the data center itself are also XP-based.

IT managers attending the event in New York seemed quite intrigued by the solution, peppering the speakers with questions. For example, one manager wanted to know whether the solution will support the demands of some traders for multiple display screens. The answer was "yes."

In terms of other potential markets, HP is working with customers in government around imaging and command/control applications, and with manufacturing users around solutions in research and design review.

"But these are highly specific solutions. You can't just 'throw them out there,'" Olsen told LinuxPlanet.

Some HP customers in auto manufacturing are planning to transition their CAD (computer-aided design) applications from HP-UX to either Linux or Windows Vista environments, Olsen said.

"You will see these solutions running on Vista," according to the worldwide development manager.

Revolving around "sender" and "receiver" software components, HP's RGS software also runs on HP-UX-based PA-RISC workstations. "But the blade workstation is not a PA-RISC machine," he observed.

HP intends to introduce future enhancements for remote workstation markets through an ongoing series of updates to its RGS software.

For instance, beyond the current support for Reuters and Bloomberg data feed plug-ins, requested by financial IT managers, HP expects to add "broad-based USB" for support of the peripheral devices used in scientific imaging and CAD.

In another planned enhancement, support is in the works for single sign-on across multiple blades, Olsen said.

IDC's Kim said that, in talking to several banking customers, IDC found that the remote workstation configuration resulted in greater productivity among both financial traders and IT personnel.

Kim acknowledged to Linux Planet that, in some ways, the remote workstation solution provides benefits to IT managers similar to those of the text-based "dumb terminals" of old.

"But this is different, too. It's sort of like remote video capture," according to the IDC analyst.

Kim predicted that vendors such as Sun Microsystems and IBM might also become competitors in the remote workstation space.

A financial IT manager attending the event, who requested anonymity, told LinuxPlanet that, in his view, HP's remote workstation solution is comparable on some levels to existing KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switches from other vendors.

But the manager noted that, instead of demanding LAN connectivity, HP's approach is IP-based.

"So you don't have all those tangles of wires everywhere. Also, you can put your data center just about any place you want. And that's really nice, because on Wall Street, a lot of [firms] are short on space," the IT manager told LinuxPlanet.

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