In Layman's Terms
At Cisco I developed this software called the Datagram Acceleration Layer (DAL) which improves the performance of market data computing clusters. These clusters of computers are used for many purposes, from executing trades on Wall Street, to running algorithmic trading programs. To understand why the financial institutions need cutting-edge technology, just consider how markets are implemented.
The Technological Arms Race in Financial Markets
Financial markets live in a virtual world of networks of networks of computers. At a basic level, the computers do processing (crunching numbers, etc.), and the networks allow them to communicate with each other and other networks.
Modern financial markets consist of many players and many instruments. This creates much opportunity, but also a lot of competition.
For a large investor, being able to process and react to very large amounts of information, very quickly, is key for being able to compete. If the market presents an opportunity, whoever is able to act first will profit, and others will miss out. This means that the computers and their programs have to make a decision quickly, and that the network used for communication has to be very fast.
Communication Latency: Measured in Millionths of Seconds
The DAL software I developed at Cisco addresses the speed of the communication network. DAL gives the software used for market data a shortcut to the network. This allows a machine to send messages more often (throughput) as well as reducing the amount of time it takes a message to get from one machine to another (latency). For example, in this press release, we see that DAL reduces the message latency seen by Wombat financial software from 250 to 40 microseconds. To put in into perspective, in 40 microseconds light travels about 7 miles.
In summary, light is still faster, travelling seven miles in the time we make it across the room. I'd better get back to work.