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The new data platform from the reclusive genius of banking IT

If you work in financial technology, you should know the name Arthur Whitney. He's the Canadian computer scientist who invented the A+ programming language at Morgan Stanley in the late 1980s. He's also the guy that founded Kx Systems, the data analysis company now owned by First Derivatives, which runs the Kdb databases that underpin most algorithmic trading systems today. Now Whitney - who has been described as having 'programming powers beyond the ken of mere mortals' - is back with a newer and better data platform. But he isn't talking to anyone about it.

Released last month, Whitney's new creation is called Shakti (after the name for primordial cosmic energy in Hinduism). According to Whitney, Shakti boasts a level of sophistication that will make it, "a new standard for data storage and analysis within financial services and beyond.” 

Whitney is reclusive these days and doesn't talk to the press, so Shakti's New York-based director of engineering (and ex-Nomura and Barclays kdb specialist) Fintan Quill is flying the flag in public. "High-data capture rates, combined with low-latency query response times make Shakti the perfect platform for trade signal calculation, pre/post-trade risk, real-time surveillance, back-testing among other things," enthuses Quill.

The new platform is also optimal for cloud computing: "The small memory footprint allows for fast deployment and processing of distributed elastic workloads." It can work with all kinds of datasets, including numerical, temporal and text data, whether structured or not.

Shakti's secret is parallelism, which enables it to work faster than predecessors. Parallelism is built into most of its primitive functions and can expand to multiple jobs and machines via what Quill describes as, "custom-built interprocess communication protocol as well as a native fork-execution model."

These allow it to function in highly distributed high performance computing (HPC) workloads, while single instruction, multiple data (SIMD) technology allows Shakti to function within the 256 or 512-bit register widths of most modern computers. As a result (says Quill), the platform boasts a combination of low cost and very high performance. 

If you think you might want to work with Shakti, it will help to proficient at programming in Python. - The system comes with a Python interface that merges that two interpreters into a single process. "This allows Python developers access to the extremely fast data-handling capabilities of Shakti," says Quill, who says the interface means there's "zero-copy" between the two systems, which reduces processing time. 

Shakti is very new and it's not clear who - if anyone - has bought-into it already. But after a display of its abilities in London and New York in the past six months, the platform may yet get some takers. Last week, it added a COO, Abby Gruen, who joined from Kx. 

Quill suggests that any system involving Arthur Whitney should not go ignored. Morgan Stanley, after all, is still using A+ years after Whitney left. "The simple yet intelligent ideas underlying the APL-derived languages inspired by Ken Iverson have shown the robustness to pass the test of time," says Quill. Shakti is only just starting out, but Whitney's history suggests it might be around for a while to come.

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • jo
    11 January 2020

    Arthur never gives away his source code; it's always proprietary.

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