Low Latency is Just the Ante

This article was originally published in May 2012 at 10GbE.net

For the past few years, all you needed was a low latency network adapter to win business in High-Frequency Trading (HFT).  Now that’s just the Ante. Today most shops have a much greater appreciation for the role that NIC latency plays in their HFT infrastructure. They are also now aware of the other key requirements driving network adapter selection. One of the most obvious today is out of the box integration. How quickly & easily can the low latency drivers be installed and engaged with your existing production code? Does their low latency driver also provide a Java interface? Do they have low latency drivers for Windows? There are a number of far more technical requirements involving multicast groups, polling models, etc…, but this is not the place to be giving away any secrets. 

Today only three low latency NICs have anted up to deliver sub four-microsecond performance for the HFT market: Myricom, Solarflare & Mellanox. Solarflare and Myricom dominate the market because both were early to market with a transparent acceleration mode which enabled customers to quickly install the low latency driver and engage existing production code with little or no modification. Furthermore, both support Java. In January Mellanox introduced VMA 6, which requires their latest ConnectX-3 adapters, that now supports a transparent acceleration mode. This one feature has kept Mellanox at the table.
So what’s next? Solarflare’s CTO implies in his May blog post that the “world just got smaller” and says “one more down” then refers people to a link about the Emulex/Myricom partnership. Here he’s intimating that the partnership will remove Myricom from relevance in the HFT market. Nothing could be further from the truth, this partnership validates Myricom’s model and provides them with a substantial channel & manufacturing partner that is enabling them to compete even more efficiently, and aggressively moving forward. What Solarflare fails to understand is that Myricom has developed market specific software like DBL for HFTs for several other markets: Sniffer10G for network analytics, VideoPump for video content providers, and MX for high performance clusters. Furthermore Myricom has tuned their generic 10GbE driver to offer 50% better throughput than Solflare’s and double Chelsio’s. In the HFT space Myricom is the only vendor to offer a transparent mode low latency option for Windows. In addition Myricom has a roadmap of HFT features, built on customer requirements, that will dramatically improve DBL performance and functionality over the next 12 months. So is your NIC vendor focused on making the low latency driver you run your business on today even better, or have they gone down the FPGA rabbit hole?

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