Stock Exchange shores up e-commerce

The Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) has reshaped and stabilised its online presence and can now develop an application and implement it online in about six weeks. It has more online services to come next year.

Using WebSphere and its development environment, WebSphere Studio, the ASX has gained the stability it sought along with up-to-date functionality needed to definitively plan online offerings.

The road to WebSphere itself was hardly planned though, according to ASX IT manager Marg Williams.

The ASX e-commerce group's decision to standardise on J2EE was followed by the initial choice in 2000 of Sun's pre-iPlanet application server, Net Dynamics. However, a short time later Sun announced it would no longer be supported.

Ruling Net Dynamics out, the ASX looked at other offerings.

"We already had a commercial relationship with IBM," said Williams. "But the requirements we identified were our environment had to be more robust, and we needed scalability."

WebSphere was then chosen to achieve the goal of ASX customer self-management.

"We have two Web sites," said Williams. "There's asx.com.au, which is the public face and consumer oriented site. It's more a push marketing site. Then there's the site fewer people see, and that's the B2B site."

The sites are hosted on a combination of Windows 2000 and Sun servers.

Performance and capacity issues with these sites were the top priorities to conquer, said Williams.

"We wanted to ensure that asx.com.au didn't go down under more hits. We used to be constantly upgrading the site," she said. "It was a challenge because we do 300,000 to 400,000 page impressions a day."

Also increasing the challenge was, and still is, the tendency for the sites to experience sudden and enormous increases in visitors on some occasions.

"We allowed more things to be accessible [on the sites], and our goal was to get to a stable environment," Williams said.

The B2B site was the first to use WebSphere in November 2000, at first functioning as a small service for listed companies.

Since then, further additions include subscription services, the ability to electronically lodge company announcements, and market notifications, which are now taken for granted by the business community.

To illustrate the system, the current configuration sees the Web sites run from an Oracle database.

"[The database] receives real-time prices through another system that provides our market information signals which ultimately receives the information from two trading systems, equities and derivatives," Williams said.

Between 400,000 to 500,000 price updates occur between 10am and 4pm each day, according to Williams. Company announcements range from 200 to 300 a day.

Asx.com.au, the consumer site, used WebSphere in September 2001. A year later it offered share market games, these being competitions for school students to experience hypothetical investing.

Like most IT projects though, there were problems in the WebSphere implementation stages.

"The biggest problem we had was tuning database connectivity," Williams said. "It appeared slow, we didn't think we were getting the responsiveness we should. Access from the database was quick, but not from the application server.

"It turned out we had to understand how to tune the parameters. We had to change the way we accessed the database. So it was an issue of tuning the database, the software, and WebSphere."

WebSphere also enables the ASX to use Java Web services, with the B2B site again chosen to be the first adopter of new technology.

"We'll eventually have a Web services interface for market information. There'll also be Web services for short-sell information."

Results are hard to quantify, Williams said, considering the main aim was to provide a stable environment. However, day-to-day support has been noticeably reduced, she said.

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