British Telecom flexes penguin-power VoIP

Institutional trading houses and banks may not wear penguin migrations on their sleeves but the shift to open source within the world's dealing rooms is so pronounced that British Telecom (BT) is now shipping only one flavour of a fully converged trading console - Linux.

Colloquially known as turrets, the converged devices provide an all-in-one combination of voice, data and integrated transactional applications which form the front line of dealing in markets ranging from commodities to shares, currency and derivatives.

Citing an average lifespan of seven to 10 years, BT's Australian general manager for consulting and systems integration Tom Frtunik concedes his phones - dubbed ITS.Netrix - don't come cheap at an entry price of $14,000 per seat (console). They have to be bulletproof, he said, because consoles that fail to perform to expectations are returned to vendors with "the handpiece [literally] through the screen".

"Reliabilty is absolutely critical, you just cannot have latency. It's an integrated trading system with a Linux open API so customers can write their own applications to it. It displays a customer's previous trading history and their current positions... it can run CRM if necessary.

"We're running Linux because that's what more and more banks are using. We do regular surveys of what our clients are doing [on their technology back-end] and that is where we are seeing [Linux]. You'd be surprised [at what they are doing]," Frtunik said, adding that BT has been an original equipment manufacturer of trading consoles and switches since 1982.

While Frtunik declines to comment on the notorious code-of-silence surrounding Linux in the finance sector, he concedes banks are ultra-protective about any technology capable of delivering faster transaction solutions for traders.

Rather than delivering on price, Frtunik feels open source has finally cracked the big time in terms of a highly customised solution where uptime is paramount.

"There is no such thing as voicemail in the trading room - you never put a customer on hold, the moment you do they do the deal with someone else. Mobiles are banned in trading rooms, everything has to be recorded, it [legally] has to go through the desk for compliance," he says.

In terms of what lies under the hood of a $14,000 open source handset, BT's current offering runs a Motorola Power PC chipset for processing combined with what Frtunik describes as "straight IP rather than SIP" for voice running over twin Ethernet connections.

To compensate for redundancy, the units also have in-built TDM and PSTN capacity, running off dedicated switches. The units can also be configured with "as many handpieces as you like".

ComSec, ANZ, NAB, St George, ABN Amro and Merrill Lynch all refused to comment on the BT's ITS.Netrix, but confirmed they were clients of the telco.

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