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News Analysis

Gimme shelter: Wall Street braces for next superstorm

In the wake of Sandy, data centers, exchanges and trading firms grapple with system backup plans

By Marc Ferranti
August 20, 2013 08:06 AM ET

IDG News Service - Heading into the heart of hurricane season 10 months after Sandy slammed the New York metropolitan area, Wall Street has had time to reassess and revamp backup plans.

Sandy's storm surge caused the first weather-related, 48-hour closure of markets since the Great Blizzard of 1888.

"You could say Sandy forced the hand of the trading firms," said David Weiss, an analyst with the consulting firm Aite Group.

"A confluence of trends" that lend themselves to overall system resiliency was, however, already under way, Weiss added. The commoditization of server hardware suitable for trading and back-office systems, for example, has helped give rise to third-party data centers that can help financial-sector companies reduce risk.

Meanwhile, researchers sound increasingly urgent alarms about the risks posed by climate change. What was once considered a safe increase in water temperature now appears to "commit" the area to a sea level rise "nearly twice the height of Hurricane Sandy's peak storm surge at The Battery in New York City," wrote Benjamin H. Strauss in a recent analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Data centers serving the metro area's financial services business are not going anywhere, however. To meet the low-latency network requirements of certain types of trading, data centers need to be near the exchanges and trading firms that use their computing resources.

Even though the New York Stock Exchange maintains a trading floor at 11 Wall St. and major market participants have offices and headquarters in Manhattan, data centers are located across the Hudson River in New Jersey. Exchange data centers are in Carteret, for Nasdaq; Mahwah, for NYSE Euronext, including the Arca all-electronic exchange; Secaucus for Direct Edge; and Weehawken, for BATS.

Data center operators including Savvis, Equinix and Telx, which have co-location agreements with the exchanges and telecom companies, have facilities scattered throughout Manhattan and the New Jersey metro area.

Certainly major storms present risks far greater than data outages: Deaths linked to Sandy numbered more than 50 in New York and more than 30 in New Jersey. While most people in the area were concerned about the loss of lives, homes and power, there was grumbling in financial circles about the halt to trading and outages in communications systems.

Depending on who's talking, the market closure for Sandy was a responsible, communal decision, or a sign that trading systems are not as resilient as they should be.

"People look to the New York Stock Exchange as being the symbol of American capitalism, and to see the exchange go down for two days without an adequate backup plan is very, very unfortunate," said Arthur Levitt, former chairman of the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, on a Bloomberg Radio interview.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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