We have been speaking with users around the world – disruption or not, they are all working. Our thoughts go out to everybody affected by the current crisis at home and at work.
Workforces have transitioned to working from home, which is a major adjustment for many users. The change in location and the urgent impact on operations, are leading to long workdays. This paper includes details about working remotely Findur, and how operations can be handled while staff are working from home.
Many organizations have their operations setup to support remote work. For those that need advice, please feel free to reach out.
The majority of Openlink clients purchased a perpetual license and installed the application On-Premises (‘On-Prem’). As part of the implementation, clients were trained on the installation of the application, configuration of the database, and how to setup redundant services to offer fault-tolerant services. Much of this approach may have been driven by concerns around data security or internal policies set up quite some time in the past. At the end of 2019, many of those policies may have seen outdated. In March of 2020, they are simply not an option.
Larger organizations may have the option of using their present remote office connectivity through a Wide Area Network (WAN). However, due to the client-server structure of Findur, and the number of requests from the application to the database, that is frequently not a viable option. Some organizations have remote offices connect to the main Findur database over their WAN, which introduces a significant lag in many operations. This is because Findur is largely a client server application and hits the database much more regularly than would otherwise be necessary. As an example, in earlier versions of Findur, initially loading the FX Blotter caused a separate query to be run per portfolio per currency pair, which for one client resulted in 2500 separate queries! Even if the query returns nothing, there is always the roundtrip cost to pay. The structure improved in later versions, but in a piecemeal fashion. The same issues will occur when you have staff working at home running Findur on laptops while connected to the network via a VPN.
Another, less common, alternative is to use a VPN to connect to the network and then Remote Desktop application to connect to a desktop machine running on premise. Since this machine is running on the local network, it does not suffer any performance penalty, and the only VPN bandwidth used is the information necessary for controlling the machine and replicating the display. Unfortunately, Remote Desktop access is usually blocked by security policy, particularly on front office machines, so using this mechanism will likely require a temporary change in policy.
Many clients with multiple locations already rely on Citrix to access Findur. Citrix is a popular solution in the industry because it offers secure, fault-tolerant and performant access to the application, although there are substantial costs involved for licensing as well as the purchasing and maintenance of the Citrix servers. Using Citrix, almost all network traffic is between Citrix, the application and database servers, which are generally in the same data center for maximum performance. While it appears as if the application is running locally, the end-user desktop is just being used as a smart terminal and the only network traffic is information necessary to control the display and pass commands back to the application and this is compressed to reduce traffic even further. Findur has a very heavyweight client and most are surprised at the number of Citrix servers required for adequate performance. If you already have this in place, consider yourself fortunate!
Openlink OnDemand Installation
The Openlink OnDemand Software as a Service (SaaS) model has been available to clients for more than a decade, however, it never attained broader market interest and only about a dozen or so Findur clients adopted the model.
End users leverage a web browser to navigate to the Openlink OnDemand site and login to view the databases to which they are authorized to access. In general, clients that selected Openlink’s SaaS solution wanted to outsource the IT role to the vendor, and carry a small headcount in-house. The expectation was a good one, but some clients found themselves carrying a larger IT team than they originally planned in order to account for frequent and complex application customizations.
SaaS clients report, in general, an improved level of Production support. The Support Desk can analyze and potentially resolve Production showstoppers quickly with ready access to the SaaS environment. Further, the Support Desk can be enabled for access to a Test or Development environment, shortening the process of replicating issues. Compare that experience to On-Prem clients that may need to send a fresh copy of Production to reproduce the problem locally. In the best of circumstances the database delivery adds a week’s time to the troubleshooting process.
The SaaS implementations are typically set up with redundant services to guard against failures (such as redundant database and application servers). Because users connect to a Citrix farm that offers load balancing and redundancy, failover occurs if an individual server goes down.
The user group for this service has also benefitted from staff longevity. Many outsourced support models see a lot of turnover whereas with Openlink, and now ION, the SaaS technical support team, is a small team that has been in place for nearly the entire time that the vendor has offered the service.
Another benefit is that the SaaS model satisfies industry best-practice security, implementing Windows Active Directory and password policies. Even two-factor authentication is available (the vendor may charge extra for the service).
There certainly are considerable downsides though – especially for clients looking to have more flexibility. The standard Service Level Agreement (SLA) require restrictions on the environment. Clients cannot access the database directly, including using the Ad Hoc Query window available from within the application, which is a powerful tool. Clients are also not supposed to use IDEs such as Eclipse, although now that there is a decreased vendor professional services team (separate from the SaaS support team), some are questioning how the vendor can respond in a timely manner to requests.
The greatest problem clients encounter with OnDemand is the difficulty posed by system integration. Having the application within Citrix can make it more difficult to integrate easily with other applications and services. On a high level, we see this as a problem for which clients need a plan. Now more than ever, it is essential that trading and risk management systems integrate seamlessly with other systems, pre- and post-trade. We have worked on this in the past and are happy to share best practices.
Despite some of those risk presented by the downsides to the SaaS offering, chances are, for right now, it is not hugely impacting day to day productivity.
Openlink Cloud Installation
It is hard to read an article on technology these days without seeing the word ‘cloud’ mentioned enough times to catch the search engine algorithms. And with good reason – as a solution, it offers a lot of cost reduction opportunities, flexibility for clients with regards to work arrangements and even security has strengthened to where that is less of a concern. On the vendor side, given this set of circumstances, some existing SaaS clients are moving to the Cloud.
Compared to the OnDemand model, users can expect better hardware and multi-region redundancy. There is some feedback that, all things being equal, costs are a little lower, particularly if the client is using the vendor’s grid solutions. To be clear, the full benefit is simply not there – no news to anyone, but any application that was not designed and created very recently simply does not have the full benefits of cloud-native software. That is the same here, and clients should anticipate not being able to fully benefit from things such as elastic compute scalability and more.
The concerns clients have with Openlink OnDemand also serve as constraints in the cloud. Compared to On-Prem installations, it is more difficult to integrate with other applications, and clients are reliant entirely on the vendor for the service delivery. Consolidators frequently do not have a record for high levels of service and are known, in cost reduction efforts, to lose experienced staff. To that end, using them for your cloud solution means another connection and lock-in that many have expressed concern about or simply feel that stronger ties to aggregators do not align well with their longer term strategies.
These are all crucial aspects to consider for an off-site approach but, similar to the SaaS solution, working from home should have minimal impact on your Findur productivity.
It is not just remote access that is important at this time. We wrote previously about Findur users’ common difficulty with Operational Agility and Product Onboarding. The past month has seen a spike in market volatility on much greater volumes. P&L explained and Greeks are critical. Clients that have awkward workarounds for some operations, such as OTC instrument terminations or option exercise events, will be spending a long time these days working through those manually-intensive operations.
Come talk to us about how your operations can be enhanced! The present set of constraints is new but we have been working with clients on a variety of ways to improve their configuration and they dovetail nicely with an off-site strategy.