RinFinance Conference Thoughts

Thursday and Friday of this week our new CIO, Michael Bommarito and I were in Chicago for the R in Finance conference. The conference was great, with a lot of very well done presentations. The R project has come a long way and is growing quickly. We use the R language for some of the more complex analytical projects we work on with great results. While the conference subject matter was very specific to the quantitative finance field, there were many things that carry over into other fields. A couple of the main ones are below:

Business Intelligence Labor Market

The Business Intelligence (BI) labor pool for people with skills in Big Data, Business Intelligence and enterprise level statistics and analytics area looks to be small, relative to other IT fields, and seems to be centered within specific geographic areas (NYC, Chicago, Silicon Valley, etc.). The skilled people are in high demand now and wages are up across the board. If your company is outside of these areas or not a large operation with a large budget for BI your options are fairly limited and generally priced accordingly. This tightness is in part due to the large growth this area is seeing, but also the newness of the field and the speed of innovation currently seen.

Commercial Open Source Software

The R project, being an open source project has a wide spectrum of users. At the conference there were people from large, leading hedge funds and investment firms to students and hobbyists. This wide user base seems to be unique to open source software and even more unique is the fact that it all seems to work so well and support different requirements well. Quick example….a student doesn’t have the money to pay for an enterprise level BI software package so he/she doesn’t use it. He/she may use a free or open source alternative product. The enterprise customer generally won’t use an open source product without dedicated technical support or  community support, unless they have in-house talent to fix issues that may come up. This can leave the software project in a bind because of the disparity between the users and then people that would pay money to sustain development.

One solution to this is commercial open source software. Some easy examples of this are Red Hat Linux and MySQL (now part of Oracle). The commercial company gets a potentially large set of available labor to develop and work on the products and the students have a job market open for them with their new skills. The end client ends up with a additional layers of ‘insurance’ and support – from their chosen consulting company, the commercial company supporting the product, and the original the large open source community of free users – generally at a lower cost than in-house developed or proprietary solutions.

This is likely one of the reasons that we’ve seen large growth in the market share of commercial open source software in recent years.

Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/5392982007/sizes/o/in/photostream/

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Great New Amazon Web Services (AWS) Announcement – DynamoDB

Solid Logic has been using Amazon Web Services (AWS) since 2008 now with great results.  Today was a big day for the AWS team.  They launched a new NoSQL service -DynamoDB- today around noon.  Like the other AWS offerings (EC2, S3, etc.) it is a scalable, variable cost service.  Here is the product listing page and other relevant info: http://aws.amazon.com/dynamodb/

Werner Vogels’ blog: http://www.allthingsdistributed.com/2012/01/amazon-dynamodb.html

Announcement Video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3I5PZv6vmZY

DynamoDB Overview Video:

We primarily use EC2, S3, CloudFront, and RDS (MySQL as a service).  AWS allows us to be much more agile and can reduce system complexity.  It removes SLTI from many of the day-to-day demands of setting up and managing physical infrastructure.  By using AWS, we are able to launch an internal or client application in minutes to hours, instead of days to weeks.

There are tons of great reasons to switch many use cases over to an AWS cloud-hosted infrastructure instead of a physical one.  In the future, we will work up our spin on a cost-benefit model for AWS.  There are many good ones available on the web, most notably here – http://aws.amazon.com/economics/.  Unfortunately, many of the ones available do not include any intangible benefits.  In this case, I am defining an intangible benefit as something that is “fuzzy” to put a price figure on and is subjective in nature.  Things like how it can affect focus, hiring practices, time-to-launch, required in-house skill sets, etc. would fit into this category.  These items can have a huge impact on the decision making process, especially for small-to-medium size firms or firms outside of concentrated technology areas with a large pool of qualified candidates.

We are excited about today’s announcement and look forward to using DynamoDB for a product that we have coming to market in 2012.  As we begin to work with it more, we will try to document our findings and include them in the blog.

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