London Stock Exchange Woes not Linux's Fault

The London Stock Exchange is having problems both its systems and on its Web sites, but it's not Linux's fault.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The London Stock Exchange (LSE) has had better times. First, it had reoccurring problems with its integration with large-stock market data players such as Thomson Reuters Eikon, Interactive Data, and Morningstar. Then, adding insult to injury, Google rightfully flagged the Exchange's site as a malware danger, thanks to a third-party advertiser that was hosting malicious software. None of this had anything to do with the LSE switching to Linux as the basis of its new trading system.

I mention that because I've gotten several obnoxious e-mail messages claiming that all of LSE's troubles are Linux's fault. Sorry guys, it's not. Here's what, as far as can be told, is what's really going on.

First the malware problem actually belongs to a third-party ad vendor. If you clicked on this company's ads on the LSE Web page, or any other Web page, you'd end up at a site bearing Windows malware.

Google, which does a good job of finding and marking dodgy sites, marked the LSE site as having malware problems over the weekend. Users of Web browsers, such as Chrome, Firefox, and Safari that use Google's Safe Browsing API (Application Programming Interface) were warned off the LSE site. Users of Internet Explorer, which doesn't use this API, could have still visited the site without any warning.

Since the problem was uncovered, the LSE has removed the advertiser and its infected links. Google now reports the site as being safe for browsing.

This kind of thing can happen to any Website that uses third-party ad services. Still, I do have to ask what the LSE was doing letting any ads on its site in the first place. I mean, it's a stock exchange! They don't need to run ads to make money.

The other problem is far more serious. Beginning right after the switchover to the new system, the LSE started having troubles sending data to three of the big four traders. Bloomberg and most of the smaller trading partners seem to have done their homework and are having no trouble with the new LSE system.

On Friday, the companies that didn't have their ducks in a row and the LSE combined to bring the Exchange down for four hours. Tomorrow, March 1st, the big four, some smaller trading houses, and the LSE will be getting together to work out the data transfer glitches.

Specifically, the problem seems to be in differences in the ways how each of the major stock dealers, Thomson Reuters Eikon, Interactive Data, and Morningstar, handle the Financial Information Exchange (FIX) protocol and its closely related FIX Adapted for Streaming (FAST) protocol. It's noteworthy that Bloomberg, which doesn't use FAST, has not has the problems reported by the others which do use FAST.

The FIX Protocol Ltd. has stated that they've not been told that the problem lies with FIX. FIX, though not well known outside the trade technology field, has long been the stock market trade execution and data protocol. FAST, which is used to support high-throughput, low latency stock data communications and trades, has also been widely adopted, but not nearly as widely as plain old FIX. So, what happened?

At an educated guess, it looks to me like the LSE implementation of FAST isn't compatible with Thomson Reuters Eikon, Interactive Data, and Morningstar versions of FAST. This kind of data transfer protocol interoperability bug shows up all the time.

What usually doesn't happen though is that a bug of this magnitude involving such large players as the LSE and these financial firms would have stayed hidden during the 18-months of testing before Millennium Exchange was rolled out. While I wonder exactly how the LSE implemented FAST and its associated networking technologies, I also wonder how in the world the trading companies couldn't find the incompatibilities earlier. It looks to me like they'll plenty of blame to spread around in tomorrow's meaning, but none of it will fall on Linux.

Editorial standards