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Q&A: Ameritrade CIO on open-source, smaller arrays

Asiff Hirji also discussed the company's merger with Datek

May 6, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Since his company paid $1.29 billion for Datek Online Holdings two years ago, Ameritrade Holding Corp. CIO Asiff Hirji said, he has increased overall IT staffing while cutting the combined IT budgets. Hirji spoke with Computerworld this week about the consolidation with Datek and how Ameritrade has slashed costs by replacing high-end storage arrays with midrange equipment and using open-source technologies.
What are your greatest challenges these days? One, I'm trying to create additional functionality that takes complexity out of trading. Second, some of the vendors we work with simply don't get where they need to be on a cost/performance scale. So we're throwing them out and replacing them with people who get it. Third, I'm trying to cope with the volume of demand. I don't think there is an IT shop on the planet that will tell you it has everything under control and doesn't have a year's worth of backlog of stuff its business wants delivered. That's the constant battle.
You say some vendors aren't getting where they need to be on the cost vs. performance scale. How is that different today from two or three years ago? My personal belief is something like 90% of all databases out there right now could be replaced by open-source, because most of the database applications that exist are a very simple databases with a thin-layer application on top that says, 'Do a query, or do an insert.'
You don't need the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in an Oracle implementation or Siebel or anyone else to do a lot of that stuff. Do you need them for some applications? Absolutely. But not for the vast majority of the stuff. So we're marching down the path where we're replacing a lot of our databases with open-source databases.
Are you looking into using less expensive ATA disks to replace Fibre Channel or SCSI drives in your back-end storage arrays to cut costs? Not aggressively. No. We've done things like replace the highest-tier-type storage systems with more midtier storage systems, because the performance in the midtier storage systems has come to the point where, for our needs, they do what we need them to do. We don't need to spend the additional money on the high-end systems.
How much money have you saved by replacing the high-end arrays? I can't really give you a number, but on a systems-by-systems basis, the new systems cost less than half what the old systems have.
When did you start replacing them? Most of [the change-out] happened late last year. Someof it is still happening.
The Datek acquisition took place two years ago. How has that conversion effort gone? It's been done for a year and a half. We looked at the success of that based on 'If we do it right, we won't lose clients.' We managed to keep something like 96% or 97% of the Datek client base. We basically copied the experience they had on Datek onto our platforms by playing Lego with some of the systems and integrating a lot of the Datek technology onto our platform.
Where did most of the cost savings come from? Whacking out tons of cost from the infrastructure. None of our clients care if we use EMC or Toshiba. What they want is the cool trade tool. So every dollar I invest in storage is a dollar I could have used in developing the next cool tool.

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