September 8th 2008 was one of the worst days ever for the London Stock Exchange (LSE), and high-end Windows server-based applications. That was the day that the LSE came to a crashing stop. What happened? While the LSE has never come clean on the whole story, my sources told me that the LSE's Windows-based .NET TradElec stock exchange had crashed. What we do know is that the CEO who had brought Windows and TradElec in was fired, TradElec was dumped, and a Novell SUSE Linux-based platform was brought in to replace it.
Today, February 14th, the LSE's Linux-based Millennium Exchange took over and everything just worked. It did take longer to switch to Linux than expected, because of what the LSW first called "sabotage" but later put down to "human error" in late 2010. On its first day, out LSE ran like a charm.
It's not the only stock exchange that's found that Linux worked better. The Johannesburg Stock Exchange in South Africa is moving to Millennium Exchange. The LSE's parent company is in the process of acquiring the Toronto stock exchange so it will soon be using Linux as well.
Novell's not the only Linux company doing well by the stock exchanges. The Qatar Exchange, a major Persian Gulf Exchange, recently migrated from AIX and Windows to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). These exchanges were only following in the footsteps many other stock and commodity exchanges that had moved to Linux.
A short, incomplete list of Linux-powered stock exchanges includes: The New York Stock Exchange and the Deutsche Borse Group's family of Linux-based Xetra stock exchange platform exchanges. Xetra powers the International Securities Exchange, and the Eurex. The Xetra stack is also used by the Irish Stock Exchange, the European Energy Exchange, and the Shanghai Stock Exchange among others.
So why is the biggest of big business switching to Linux from Windows and Unix? It's the three "Ss": speed, security, and stability.
Day trading is so 20th century. Today's sharp traders make their cash by running programs that trade milliseconds ahead of the other guy in High Frequency Trading. To do that you need really fast stock exchanges, which is where Linux comes in.
As a Deutsche Borse representative told me these days, "Speed, or 'low-latency,' is everything for exchanges. A fraction of a second can mean mega gains or losses to investors. Transactions that once took minutes and seconds to complete are now processed in thousandths and millionths of a second, with the fastest trading engines reaping the biggest benefits."
They also have to be secure. When you're looking at a million plus transactions per second, which is what both the LSE and Deutsche Borse claims their platforms can do, you don't want anyone messing with the till for even a micro-second.
In addition, these systems have to be stable. The LSE failure cost millions of pounds. Traders, who'd expected a good day, were infuriated. Any system can, and will, fail, but Linux is simply far more stable on servers than its competitors.
So it was that September 8th 2008 was a black letter day for both the LSE and Windows. But, as it turned out, it would be a red letter day for Linux as Windows' very public failure impelled the LSE, and other exchanges, to finally move to Linux.