Sunday, February 1, 2009

Colocation and the Financial Industry

Given the recent collapse of the financial sector, and the concerns about IT spending and capital expenditure in general, it may seem quite odd to look at the financial services industry as an important source of business opportunities for data center Companies, right now.

In spite of the recent distress, especially among Wall Street firms, we believe that a few colo Companies are now competing for the leadership in this specific market, and that it may be very interesting to analyze the different strategies to understand who might emerge as the 800 pound gorilla, ready to capitalize from this position in the next few years.

As usual for the data center industry, it is necessary to divide the market between wholesaling to large institutions and colocation Companies targeting specific services that might attract customers of every size.

Digital Realty Trust (DLR) is probably the leading data center REIT servicing the financial sector. If we have a look at their latest conference call, their comments were still quite positive (transcripts available at Seeking Alpha):

Michael Foust – Chief Executive Officer

Financial services continues to be a strong demand area - and that's very broadly, everything from commodities, security trading platforms to major Wall Street firms.

What is also interesting to note is that some of Digital Realty renting activity, even if done by Telecoms, may be considered strictly related to the financial sector: it is the case, for example, of their Piscataway (New Jersey) data center, bought in 2006 and rented to SAVVIS and AT&T, among others – the data center is strategically located in an area close enough to service Wall Street financial institutions, and that's certainly the main reason why it was chosen by SAVVIS (we'll talk later about their leadership in this segment) and AT&T.

Last year, in the 1Q and 2Q 2008 Digital Realty expanded the number of data centers in that specific area through the acquisition of other two data centers, one in Piscataway and the other one in northern New Jersey (650 Randolph Road ). No doubt location is the name of the game in the New York metro area, and while many data centers are approaching capacity, few sites are suitable for development. This is a comment dating back to March 2008, taken from a Data Center Knowledge article on this subject:

“There is no data center space in the New York and Northeast corridor,” said said Shally Bansal Stanley, managing director for global services at Acumen Solutions. “It’s driven a lot of companies to change how they buy build and manage their data centers.” Stanley moderated a panel on data center real estate at DataCenterDynamics New York last week, which focused on the challenges of finding colocation space or building data centers in the New York market.

“Site selection is really a challenge in the New York area,” said Jim Smith, vice president of engineering at Digital Realty Trust. “The doughnut - a 30 kilometer to 70 kilometer circle around New York - defines the space where you can look. There’s lots of sites. But finding the right combination of location power and security is the challenge. A lot of our processes began months in advance. We spend a lot of time driving around with PSE&G guys looking for power.”

The recent credit crunch has probably made it even more difficult for Companies to plan new constructions, and we reiterate our opinion that data center space (expecially in the right locations) might become scarce in a couple of years, increasing pricing per cabinet (see our former Seeking Alpha article).

Among the companies building new data centers right now in the New Jersey area are Equinix (EQIX) and Switch and Data (SDXC).

For the purpose of this article we will mainly concentrate on a different approach from the Digital Realty one (wholesaling large centers to big customers) – and look for Companies offering an answer (specific service) to the low latency hosting/colocation needs of financial Companies.

The industry seems obsessed by speed achievable in trade execution, often calculated in terms of sub-millisecond performance – for this reason, being under the same “umbrella”, i.e. in the same physical data center, just a cross connect away from your partners, may be considered a great advantage.

The two leading Companies in this offering, worldwide, are Equinix and SAVVIS (SVVS).

Their offering isn't exactly the same (Equinix is a network neutral data center, and offers a much wider range of Telecom providers into its centers) – however SAVVIS has a longer experience in servicing the industry, with a focus on hosting. Both Companies will benefit from the rising volume of electronic exchanges, and both offer a worldwide network of data centers strategically located close to the main exchanges.

Competition isn't certainly limited to these two Companies, and locally some other colo providers may be active – just to mention a few, this is the case with Telx in New York, offering their Telx financial Xchange downtown Manhattan at 111 8th Avenue, home to one of the best served interconnections hotels downtown New York, in partnership with ACTIV Financial, or 360 Technical Center Solutions (offering high-density data center space to Chicago-area financial firms, see this Data Center Knowledge article for more information), or CRG West, that has recently refurbished a building downtown Chicago at 427 South LaSalle Street and announced a partnership with IDCG for an over-the-counter interest rate swap exchange.

Let's now have a closer look at Equinix and SAVVIS. As we said, both Companies have a worldwide presence, and offer very secure high density data centers (power consumption is very high in this vertical, and needs to be taken into consideration while planning these centers).

Equinix first introduced its Financial eXchange back in November 2003, with ABN AMRO, the Eurex division of Deutsche Boerse AG, First Traders, Euronext.liffe and Rosenthal Collins Group LLC as some of the first names participating in the service - see this Press Release.

Today, Equinix Financial eXchange extends to IBX centers located in Chicago and New York, in the United States (where new data centers were recently opened also to respond to strong demand from FX participants), Frankfurt, Paris and London in Europe, and Hong Kong in Asia, with Tokyo and other markets due to follow soon.

Chicago was the first market to gain strength in this vertical, as shown by this comment back in 2006:

“The speed and reliability of our IT infrastructure have become critical elements of our business, and we have built our reputation around providing a high-performance online brokerage for the trading of options and other securities,” said Ben Stein, vice president of IT infrastructure at optionsXpress. “Equinix’s Chicago IBX center is a unique facility where all of the top players in the financial trading industry locate their IT operations under a single roof, enabling us to have the most streamlined links to our strategic partners and customers.”

Recent wins include the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange (see Equinix 3Q 2008 c.c. Transcripts by Seeking Alpha), NASDAQ, OMX and the CBOE (see Equinix 2Q 2008 c.c. Transcripts by Seeking Alpha).

With the 2007 acquisition of IX Europe, Equinix got not only access to the main European financial markets, but found an entity that had concentrated and obtained a large part of their success from this specific vertical. As we may notice from this slide, presented at the November 2007 Analyst meeting, financial services did represent a large part of revenues.

Equinix Europe is also in charge of their eXchange for the Financial Sector newsletter, a useful source of information of Company wins within the industry and trends.

Starting our analysis from the USA, Equinix had a recent very important win in the new York market (more later), and is expanding its success in Chicago into the newly built Elk Grove center [while the legacy downtown CH1 and CH2 centers are at 350 East Cermak (a Digital Realty building), close to the Chicago Stock Exchange and Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE)].

This is a brief quote from Equinix 3Q 2008 conference call bout their success in the vertical (transcripts available at this link from Seeking Alpha):

Stephen M. Smith – Equinix CEO

In the New York market it’s the same couple of competitors particularly for the financial exchange activity. But, I have to tell you our win rate is still north of 80% to 85%. We just have not seen any degradation in win/loss rates. That’s just another single to me of the strength of the model and the proposition here.

Jonathan Schildkraut – Jefferies & Co.

Actually, you bring up an interesting topic, the financial exchange. Obviously you’ve had great success extending that from Chicago to New York. I know that you’re in the early processes of getting it in Frankfurt and London. What are the plans around maybe Tokyo or Hong Kong?

Stephen M. Smith

Well that whole ecosystem Jonathan as you know a little bit about that, we are extending that across all regions today. The demands we see there are pretty consistent. Network connectivity has become the primary driver for these guys so where we have density of networks we are advantaged. We don’t see any let up in their demand in terms of their bandwidth requirements. They still have to plan their platforms around surge capacity, they’re still growing. They like our service delivery. They like the fact that we’re still expanding which gives them contiguous space.

There’s still I think somewhere in the order of magnitude of 20% to 30% of these firms that still have not gone to electronic trading. We’re still very focused on the matching engines and on the access pops and getting those guys in so that we can get the members to connect in to them because they still look like a magnet to the members. We’re pushing this forward across the board. I think we’ll see black box trading increasing also. I think I read somewhere recently that there’s going to be somewhere in the next two to three years a 400% increase in the trading infrastructure spend just to support the algorithmic black box trading activity.

Jonathan Schildkraut – Jefferies & Co.

That should help volatility.

Stephen M. Smith

Maybe Jon, one of the final points, if you look at the Top 10 markets globally for financials, those are the markets that we’re in; London, Frankfurt, Tokyo, New York and Chicago; you get customers in some cases that start out in one market and then want to expand to the others. So having this global reach has been really important for that vertical in particular and going forward.

Jonathan Schildkraut – Jefferies & Co.

So are you seeing the financial exchange partner that you had in Chicago come to New York and then move into your other markets or are you attracting a new group of financial partners in every new market? …..

Stephen M. Smith

I’d say to your first question Jonathan, we’re seeing both. We’re seeing it come at us from both ways and as I mentioned in my script we signed on the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange in the Hong Kong market which when you see a guy like that is going to attract many other players to come into that center to connect. We are seeing requests for movement from Chicago to New York, London to Frankfurt.

So I think there’s going to be emerging requirements that we’re going to see that are going to have us take on metro to metro connectivity. We’re going to have to go figure out ways through that with our partners. It’s growing and this is a great spot for us to be in. It’s all about latency and proximity. We bring a great advantage to them for this. As I talk to these folks, network connectivity is at the heart and it is the primary driver for these guys.

It’s hugely advantaging us as we build this ecosystem. And it’s growing at a pretty alarming pace. Just in Asia alone our peering traffic alone since early 2008 has grown by 10 times. Some of that’s fed by the peering network content activity; some of it’s going to start to be fed by the financial exchanges. So it’s going to give us a good lift in cross connects; it’s going to give us a good lift in the interconnection revenue in total to supplement the peering activity that’s been here for quite some time.

On January 16, Direct Edge announced its plans to use Equinix as Data Center for its Next-Generation Trading Platform. Direct Edge is an independent broker-dealer that recently reported 1.1 billion shares handled per day in December 2008. Here is a part of their P/R:

Dear Subscribers, Potential Subscribers, and Friends of Direct Edge,

We are pleased to announce that Direct Edge has signed an agreement to use Equinix’s Secaucus, N.J.-based NY4 data center facility as the primary location for Direct Edge’s next-generation trading platform, which is scheduled for release in Q4 of this year, pending SEC approval of Direct Edge’s two exchange applications.

The current EDGA, EDGX, and ISE Stock Exchange platforms are UNAFFECTED by this data center migration.


Assuming SEC approval of Direct Edge’s exchange applications and completion of all tasks necessary to commence operations of EDGX and EDGA as exchanges at some point in the 4th quarter, the anticipated time-line for implementation of Direct Edge’s next-generation trading platform is as follows:

Late Q2/Early Q3

Commencement of user acceptance testing


Completion of all next-generation platform development

Early Q4

Completion of user acceptance testing


Simultaneous retirement of the ISE Stock Exchange, EDGA and EDGX ECN platforms and launch of next-generation EDGA and EDGX exchange platforms in the Equinix data center.

More detailed information regarding the migration schedule, including details surrounding user acceptance testing, will be made public as it becomes available.

On January 27 Direct Edge also had a teleconferencefor those interested in learning more about Direct Edge’s recently announced agreement to use Equinix’s Secaucus, N.J.-based NY4 data center facility as the primary location for Direct Edge’s next-generation trading platform

During the conference, the Company also discussed the data center migration plan. It is interesting to note that the agreement between Equinix and Direct Edge has an initial 5 year term, almost twice as much the average Equinix contract. This is taken from Securities Industry News:

On a Jan. 27 conference call, Steve Bonnano, CTO of the Jersey City, N.J.-based electronic communications network (ECN), explained that Direct Edge’s biggest concern had been finding “a mission-critical infrastructure that basically would support our new exchange platforms.” The company is in the process of filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission for exchange licenses for its EDGA and EDGX platforms.

After looking at other data center providers, Direct Edge selected Equinix because the “Secaucus facility and the Equinix company itself came through as top-notch,” according to Bonnano. Foster City, Calif.-based Equinix and Direct Edge announced a five-year deal Jan. 16. “We felt their presence in the marketplace … and their access to over 300 networks globally made it an easy choice,” he added. “The security of the facility, the reliability of the facility, all shine through.”

Other very interesting strategic wins are being announced in Europe (this is taken from the “Winter 2008 edition of the eXchange for the Financial Sector” newsletter):

NYSE Euronext is pleased to announce its choice of Equinix as their new primary point of presence in Frankfurt. NYSE Euronext has chosen the Equinix data centre in Frankfurt as the location for their new POP in Frankfurt. The NYSE Euronext Frankfurt POP will go live in Q1 2009. In the following quarter NYSE Euronext plans to offer access to the Liffe market from the Equinix data centre via a LIFFE CONNECT(R) gateway farm.

On December 11, 2008 Equinix issued the following P/R in Europe (translated from German):

Commerzbank Increases Speed and Bandwidth with a Direct Connection to the Services of Gruppe Deutsche Börse at Equinix IBX Data Center in Frankfurt

Foster City, CA/Frankfurt am Main, 11th December 2008 – Commerzbank AG, one of Germany`s leading banks is in a first mover role being the first major bank making use of the premium service solution provided by Gruppe Deutsche Börse with a direct connection to the systems of the stock exchange trading environment in an IBX® data center of Equinix (Germany) GmbH in Frankfurt.

With this measure Commerzbank is underlining its high demand for data quality in the financial trading business. The connection is increasing the bandwidth, therefore Commerzbank is enabled to gain faster access to market data and stock exchange relevant information. This lead is playing an important role in the financial trading business. The high reliability of the transactions stays secured. With its infrastructure Equinix is providing this reliability in the Equinix IBX data centre and is maintaining Commerzbank`s high technical and security relevant requirements for a connection to the services of Gruppe Deutsche Börse. Commerzbank’s business processes are supported by modern high performing IT infrastructures.

As we said, SAVVIS probably represents the most important competitor for Equinix in the vertical, worldwide. The Company has a long tradition servicing the financial industry, dating back to 1996, when Bridge launched the first high performance IP VPN to support 235,000 trading terminals - this is the link to the section of their web presence dedicated to their specific offering.

This is how the Company describes their offering in a recent P/R, dated November 2008:

Building on its position as a leading provider of low latency IT infrastructure services for financial markets, Savvis, Inc. (NASDAQ: SVVS) today announced new connectivity options with major financial exchanges, electronic communications networks (ECNs) and liquidity venues spanning the U.S., Europe and Asia.

The new connectivity options expand Savvis’ portfolio of secure, high-availability, low latency connectivity to hundreds of exchange feeds around the world from major exchange companies such as NYSE Euronext®, NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc., BATS, CME Group and the London Stock Exchange. “Savvis is a leader in the provision of market data and trading connectivity,” said Randall Hopkins, Vice President, NASDAQ OMX Global Data Products.

For those interested in knowing more about the hosted exchanges and feeds by SAVVIS, here is a very interesting data sheet.

As a short summary, these are the main platforms serviced by SAVVIS:


  • BATS Exchange, which already provides low latency connectivity to the fast-growing BATS trading platform via Savvis Proximity Hosting and Exchange Express, has added a disaster recovery location featuring connectivity via Savvis Exchange Express and Savvis COIN.

  • CME Group’s FIX Adapted for Streaming (FAST) is a new protocol being adopted by many Exchanges to optimize bandwidth and further reduce latency. CME Group, which already provides low latency access via Savvis Proximity Hosting, will now add FAST on SAVVIS’ COIN making it available globally. In addition to feeds for CME and CBOT products, Savvis’ CME Group feed features new connections to the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), the Kansas City Board of Trade (KCBOT) and the Minneapolis Grain Exchange (MGEX).

  • Direct Edge, both Direct Edge platforms (EDGX and EDGA) can now be accessed in the New York metro area via SAVVIS Exchange Express and globally via Savvis COIN.

  • NASDAQ OMX is now available via SAVVIS Exchange Express from one of Savvis’ New York metropolitan area data centers. NASDAQ Global Index ServicesSM will soon be available via SAVVIS Exchange Express from one of Savvis’ New York metropolitan area data centers.


  • BATS Europe, which already provides low latency connectivity via Savvis Proximity Hosting and Exchange Express from data centers in London, is now available globally via Savvis COIN.

  • Chi-X Europe will soon be available in the London metro area via Savvis Exchange Express and globally via Savvis COIN.

  • London Stock Exchange (LSE) Performance Channels are high speed delivery mechanisms that increase the rate at which data can be sent out to the market. Performance Channels are of particular benefit to customers who need to have the lowest latency connectivity to the Exchange during peak trading periods. The service offers a reduced latency, high speed delivery mechanism, which increases the throttles that are necessary on Service Channels to provide a managed service. It is now available in London via Savvis Exchange Express and globally via Savvis COIN.

  • NASDAQ OMX Europe is NASDAQ’s new Multilateral Trading Facility (MTF) in London. It will soon be available in London via Savvis Exchange Express and globally via Savvis COIN


  • Singapore Exchange (SGX), which already provides low latency direct access via Savvis Proximity Hosting, is now available in Singapore via Savvis Exchange Express.

As said at the beginning of this short insight into the financial vertical, in spite of the distress recently experienced by many financial institutions, it looks like this is a key moment for the definition of who, among colocation providers, will gain a leading role in the sector and attract the major players within its data centers – no doubt the domino effect this event will generate might guarantee a great long term business to the winner.

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