Half a million well spent at Quintillion

14 Jan 2008

Technology investment needs to happen at many stages of a business, but it’s especially important when a company is in start-up mode. Making the right decisions at that early stage directly affects a firm’s ability to grow rapidly and meet the needs of customers and staff without hitting obstacles along the way. One such business is Quintillion.

Quintillion is a hedge-fund administration specialist formed in late 2006. In the space of a year it has gone from six founders to a 30-strong team serving clients around the world, with approximately US$4bn in assets under administration.

From its offices at City Quay in Dublin, within line of sight of the International Financial Services Centre, Quintillion offers outsourced back office and fund accounting services to the investment community. Charles Gillanders, chief information officer with Quintillion, (pictured above, right with Colm Spollen, account manager, Fujitsu Siemens Computers) takes up the story.

“You could have someone seeking to run a hedge fund out of, say, London or New York. There is a lot of complex back-end accounting work that needs to be done. We take on that responsibility for clients so they can concentrate on their core business,” he says.

When defining an IT strategy at the outset, several considerations had to be met. Quintillion wanted technology that would keep pace with business growth, reduce risk, be highly available and be fully backed up to recover quickly in the event of a disaster.

Some of the infrastructure decisions were imposed on the company – the main software application needed is Geneva from Advent Software, which runs on the Sun Solaris operating system. Only two vendors support this platform: Sun itself and Fujitsu Siemens Computers. Performance and cost considerations helped to swing the decision in favour of Fujitsu Siemens, according to Gillanders.

“It was a cost decision and there were other factors too. From previous knowledge, the software certainly runs slightly faster on Fujitsu Siemens hardware than on Sun hardware – only slightly, but there was a difference. The Fujitsu Siemens hardware also had elements like more highly available base components,” he says.

“Fujitsu Siemens could also supply us with a Windows on Intel processing environment that would go hand in hand with the Sparc-based equipment,” Gillanders adds.

The hardware spend was roughly 25pc on Sparc systems and the remainder on Intel machines, which were needed to run a combination of third-party applications and some proprietary custom-designed software specifically built for Quintillion’s business.

These include the usual line of business systems like Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server, as well as tools like Workflow Manager and Mantra that are specific to the hedge fund administration sector.

Gillanders is very happy with his choice of technology supplier. “When we were forming the company and looking at IT providers, I went straight to the guys at Fujitsu Siemens and asked them to come talk to us. They were extremely open to the services we required,” he says.

Rather than taking on the responsibility of storing and managing the IT infrastructure on its own premises, Quintillion chose to house the servers at two different data centres: one production site and a second disaster recovery site. This kind of set-up is known as a dynamic data centre.

“Part of the requirement we had in terms of being flexible and planning for growth and being nimble to adapt to customer requirements was that we didn’t want to be in a situation where we had run out of space or processing ability or cooling,” Gillanders explains. There were also internal strategic reasons for handing over this task to a third party, he adds.

“For ourselves, we wanted to outsource those parts of the business that weren’t our core competencies, and data centre rack space falls into that category for us. As a start-up with a greenfield opportunity, we didn’t have legacy systems that would make such a decision difficult to us.”

System uptime was a critical consideration for Quintillion. “We just couldn’t run our business unless we can rely on the systems being available to support the fund specialists based here. Clients weren’t going to place their business with us unless we could deliver a service to them,” says Gillanders. “Disaster recovery was a significant focus for us at the launch of the business.”

Both data centre sites have mirrored FSC Sparc hardware in addition to network-attached storage from Network Appliance, which offers network-attached storage in a traditional mechanism whereby Quintillion staff members have access to files on the network effectively. The total installation also includes four Fujitsu Siemens Intel-based servers at each site that host the other applications and servers.

“We have iSCSI cards in each of the Fujitsu Siemens servers and each of those servers can effectively use disk space on that storage device over an Ethernet network. In other words, we don’t have to have lots of discrete disk storage in each of the individual servers but they can access a pool of storage available on the storage device as well,” Gillanders explains.

All told, the IT outlay came to €500,000, which is a significant cost for a business at such an early stage. “We certainly consider it money well spent, if you anticipate that money from a technology perspective basically formed that launch pad for the services we offer,” says Gillanders.

“That money spent on technology is effectively underpinning our ability to offer services to those clients. We’d see technology as a strategic differentiator between ourselves and competitors and we’re going to maintain that. We would be aggressively investing anywhere we see opportunities to stay ahead of the competition.”

By Gordon Smith