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How the Amman Stock Exchange ensures high availability

Tom Paye | April 30, 2013
"The most challenging thing at a stock exchange is high availability. The stock exchange operates for three or three-and-a-half hours every day, and the trading system has to be available for every second of these three-and-a-half hours."

It sounds like a simple solution. However, Khatib and his team then realised that this would do nothing if the data itself was corrupted. Of course, the Amman Stock Exchange invests heavily in firewalls, IPSs and data leakage prevention, but a highly skilled hacker might still be able to get through. In this scenario, simple storage virtualisation would not cut it, Khatib says.

Inflection point

The team moved onto another idea, then, but it seemed even more improbable: "We thought that the only solution was to create a redundant software environment that is updated and managed completely separately. This means 60 servers over here, 60 servers over there, then another 60 here and another 60 there. It becomes ridiculous," he says.

The answer, it seemed was to look toward server virtualisation technology. Having scoured the vendor market for a viable solution, Khatib landed on VMware's Enterprise Plus, the highest-tier product in the vendor's portfolio. The attraction, Khatib says, is that the virtual machine will expand and contract according to the load it gets.

"We thought that we'd create Environment A and B -- software-wise -- and we'll put five gigantic servers at Site A, another five gigantic servers at Site B, virtualise everything and just throw it at the VMware."

The result, Khatib says, is that virtual machines getting the hits are fully expanded as they're being hit, but the redundant environment is completely shrunk because the virtual machine just lies there. The redundant machine is being updated, but it's not actually managing any hits itself.

Meanwhile, the IT team could switch between Environment A and B through their load balancers. Switching from A to B resulted in Environment A gradually shrinking back to the smallest size, while B would immediately expand to serve the extra traffic. It's a simple yet elegant solution.

The IT team completed the project with IBM, because, Khatib says, they liked the vendor's storage virtualisation appliance, the Storage Virtualisation Centre (SVC). What's impressive is that neither IBM's SVC or VMware's Enterprise Plus, were originally meant to improve high availability -- they're virtualisation solutions, sure, but Khatib and his team have combined them to solve an altogether different problem.

Market infancy

But how well does the system work? Khatib, for one, seems happy with the results.

"The services have always been running, but now all the high availability issues are done automatically, and the convergence time between the two sites is less than one second -- it's really fast," he says. "I think we have managed to leverage storage virtualisation and server virtualisation effectively to achieve a goal that was not intended."

That said, the solution wasn't simple made available overnight; Khatib says that it took months of work before he was able to even start thinking about migration from the old system.


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