Insuring the Grid
That's a far cry from caretaking Wall Street's legacy systems, and it's the source of inspiration for other segments of financial services. After capital markets, insurance is poised to be the second-hottest area for grid. "Insurance products are becoming more complicated, and they're starting to look like derivatives," says Boettcher. "When they write an insurance policy, they're often giving their policyholders options to extend, options to cancel or options to convert a debt stream to a return on a stock index."
Furthermore, insurers have to price their offerings "based on the demographics of literally millions of policyholders," says Don Russo, vice president of financial services for Oracle (Redwood Shores, Calif.). Another benefit to insurers is that grid architectures can take advantage of slack capacity on hardware obtained to manage peak renewal periods, he adds.
Oracle's latest release, 10g, continues to support distributed processing in both its application server and database, and it now includes automatic provisioning tools to manage that capacity. "It takes away the DBAs [database administrators] having to monitor workload and say, 'Oh, I've got to add more resources to this job because it's running hot,' and it allows the system to do that automatically," says Russo. "The system is self-learning, so over time it will do a more efficient job, certainly, than any DBA can do around provisioning and deprovisioning."
But massive databases aren't the only applications with heavy computational needs. That's why Platform Computing introduced an adapter that supports data-crunching on a smaller scale. "Microsoft Excel is ubiquitous on the trading floors of banks," says Platform Computing's Boettcher. "We can allow people to just highlight a range of cells within a spreadsheet, and those calculations can be run anywhere on the grid."
Sensing the potential demand for grid-enabled applications, other applications providers have been readying their software. For instance, SAS (Cary, N.C.) recently released a new version of its business intelligence suite, SAS9, which includes support for parallel processing. "We can definitely take advantage of increasing use of grid architectures, particularly in financial services companies," says Russ Cobb, director of financial services strategy. "The interest level, and certainly the articulated strategies of our customers, is moving more toward that environment."
In retail financial services, SAS is working with Platform Computing on a grid deployment for a top U.S. credit card issuer, an initiative that demonstrates how grid technology is moving from Wall Street to Main Street.