Keeping Financial Traders Connected Remotely During the COVID-19 Crisis

JM Finn’s head of IT and CISO Jon Cosson describes how the financial firm used its private cloud data center to quickly scale up virtual desktop technology so it could stream high-powered workstation applications to fast-acting traders, who were forced to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

By Ken Kaplan

By Ken Kaplan April 17, 2020

Offices were closed to protect workers’ safety during the coronavirus outbreak, but financial institutions and stock markets did their best to stay in full swing. London-based wealth management firm JM Finn unleashed a trove of in-house technology to their 400 remote workers. Their dealers and traders didn’t miss a beat.

In the first week of March, after the company asked workers to stay home, Jon Cosson, head of IT and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at JM Finn, and his team acted quickly to connect the company’s applications and data to remote workers. While many worked from home using laptops, a handful of employees had multi-screen, high-performance workstations streamed from the firm’s private cloud directly to their home office setup, allowing them to buy, sell and trade without a hitch.

“Dealers and traders are our power users,” Cosson said. “They need powerful machines with lots of storage and fast memory. This is not your normal setup.”

Speed, accuracy, operational resilience, security and data privacy are paramount in the world of financial services, especially when it comes to stock market trading. When employees across the industry were sent home to safeguard against the COVID-19 pandemic, IT departments scrambled to keep remote workers connected and operations humming. Not being able to trade and manage wealth portfolios for clients in a time of crisis could be financially devastating. But Cosson’s team was ready because it recently built easily scalable, software-defined IT infrastructure that allowed him to deliver even the most high-intensity trading capabilities to trader’s homes.

Over the shoulder view of stock broker trading online, talking on mobile phone.

These power users need as many as eight computer screens to do their job. In recent years, they’ve come to rely on virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), which streams heavy-duty financial applications run on JM Finn’s data center, powered by HP hardware and Nutanix enterprise cloud software. That same VDI now keeps power users and all of the company’s remote workers connected. Employees simply connect to the internet and use their browser to tap into a virtual machine that processes and delivers a reliable, instantaneous computing experience.

He said running VDI on his private cloud works like a dream.

“They are very impressed with the technology,” said Cosson of the power users, who require zero lag time and have zero tolerance for system downtime. “It’s running like lightning.”

This is the first time all of their power users have simultaneously worked remotely.

“It’s something many of our peers are struggling with at the moment, given the demands of this setup.”

The Cloud Counsel - Driving Successful Remote Business Operations

He said he got VDI up and running in less than a week because he had the right infrastructure in place.

“Virtualization is extremely important, and it is evident that many financial firms have not prioritized this,” he said. “Many companies look at cloud services to address these needs, but they need to keep regulations in mind. Lots of cloud solutions are not a fit.”

Private Cloud Enables Remote IT

Nutanix-powered private cloud infrastructure powers all of JM Finn’s workloads, including VDI.

“It has played an integral part in keeping our employees safe and productive while working remotely.”

Even his IT staff of 18 system administrators and developers worked remotely during the COVID-19 crisis. To support employees and maintain business continuity, they used technologies that were easy for end-users, yet secure, robust and compliant with regulatory requirements.

“We need to ensure people can log in securely from their homes,” Cosson said. “We already had two-factor authentication in place, and we ramped up regenerating security PINs (personal identity numbers) for all of our employees.”

When the work from home order came, his department reorganized so each member could act as a service desk for end users. In seven days, they transitioned from a central office in London to a remote workforce in order to keep their people safe. Nutanix VDI allows the IT team to troubleshoot issues quickly while remote.

“We’ve been able to support employees with almost no issues,” he said. “In situations like this, there is so much out of our control. We can't control what's happening in the stock market, we can't control what is happening around the world, but we can enable our company to continue operating remotely and supporting our clients with the same high-quality service we always have.”

To do that, Cosson has learned never to underestimate the value of investing in the right technology infrastructure before it’s needed. Establishing a plan on paper is one thing, but actually acting on it is completely different because it will never be the same in real-time. To be able to adapt and pivot requires having the right technology infrastructure in place, one that is not only flexible and secure but is also easy for the end-user.

“As a result of investing in the right infrastructure with Nutanix, we were able to go remote in record time.” 

Cosson offered these three tips:

  • Meet regulatory standards: Cloud solutions often offer the quick set up necessary during these times, but IT teams should ensure these solutions allow them to comply with regulatory standards around data protection and security.

  • Support power users: Many firms are not able to allow their power users to work remotely, but we made sure our team was set up to work from home without sacrificing performance or security.

  • Build the right infrastructure: Having scalable, virtualized private cloud infrastructure allowed us to provide support for nearly the entire team in about a week.

He said he did not reinvent…he just adopted new technologies.

“We never anticipated that this would happen, but we enhanced our system last year, starting with VDI. This year we’re planning to be all on Nutanix.”

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Ken Kaplan is Editor in Chief for The Forecast by Nutanix. Find him on Twitter @kenekaplan.

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