One of the clearest manifestations of how fund managers have changed the way they work in recent times lies in mobility. A portfolio manager today is equally effective working from a sun lounger on vacation, or from the home office during inclement weather, as he is working in the office. But it’s only thanks to technology innovation, driven in part by the tremendous advances made in cloud architecture, that this has been made possible.
Moreover, as managers grow they open offices in new geographies, which can place pressure on data management and file sharing; this takes up precious time and resources.
New York-headquartered Abacus Group, which celebrated its 10th year anniversary this January, is a leading technology service provider catering to the alternative investment space. Its clients include hedge funds, private equity funds, as well as private banks, to whom it provides platform computing as a service. Abacus’s engineering team has created an exciting new system, referred to as a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). A VDI effectively moves the desktop from the office to a virtual machine, running in a data centre.
“More specifically, Abacus VDI is a managed service desktop that is security hardened. Users are able to connect to the virtual machine from anywhere, be it their office or home, utilising the desktop they use every day. VDI has security controls, performance integration, application management; everything a fund manager needs for their security and compliance, providing them with a unified, seamless work experience,” explains Paul Ponzeka (pictured), Managing Director of Engineering at Abacus Group.
Each user logs into a terminal when they come into the office, or work from home, which then connects to the virtual machine running in one of six different data centres, which Abacus manages end-to-end.
Both from a security and operational stance, Abacus VDI has some unique features. The desktops themselves are self-healing so that interruptions to the end user are less impactful, support hours go down and the fund’s operating costs go down. The manager no longer needs to manage a fleet of PCs as everything is wrapped up in a monthly cost model.
Four of the six data centres referred to above are located across the US with two in the UK. One of the key benefits to clients using VDI is that it provides a robust disaster recovery and business continuity solution; something that investors are paying increased attention to in their ODD process.
“If one of our data centres were to go down, we have done testing and validation to the extent that we are confident we could switch over to one of our other data centres within our infrastructure; either in the US or the UK. In the event of a power grid failure in New Jersey we can move all of our VDI services to our Texas data centre. We are removing a client’s reliance on their office and providing continuity of business services on the cloud.
“Another key consideration when designing the Abacus VDI, as well as mobility and disaster recovery benefits, was cybersecurity in terms of being able to meet a lot of the industry-specific requirements and controls.
“We’ve built next generation firewalls, artificial intelligence tools to detect threat attacks, multi-factor authentication to give clients the protection they need, regardless of where they are accessing their work files. VDI also complies with GDPR and Privacy Shield certification,” affirms Ponzeka.
He says that delivering a unified experience was an important consideration, as was the scalability of VDI for both Abacus’s own internal processes as well as its clients’ processes.
“The landscape is definitely changing in that people are getting more comfortable with running directly in the public cloud but the majority of our clients are looking for localised, high performance that our private cloud provides, in addition to security and scalability.
“I imagine this is a service that will eventually be offered through the public cloud but certainly from a performance standpoint we think it’s more advantageous running everything through our private cloud,” adds Ponzeka.
That said, Abacus does use a mix of private cloud and public cloud technology. For instance, it integrates with Office 365, as well as leverages certain services from Azure and AWS “but the virtual machines are running directly in our private cloud”, clarifies Ponzeka.
To illustrate the tangible benefits of VDI, he refers to one client that had no central office and a workforce of 25 or more people working from different locations. They had developed a number of software programs but were struggling to get them to work in a way that supported the team.
Moving to VDI has allowed the client to provide the same experience across their whole workforce, regardless of where they are coming from or what device they are using. “They get the same performance. Our VDI solution allowed the client to integrate the whole team into a corporate-based system without having to spend a large amount of money on infrastructure or network connectivity.
“Moreover, moving to VDI has allowed them to put the controls and compliance processes in place that they need around their products and their data because everything is locked in our secure VDI. This has helped the client overcome the challenge of using a mobile workforce,” outlines Ponzeka.
In terms of new developments, one key area of R&D centres on hybrid integration with the public cloud. Ponzeka explains that while Abacus currently has the ability for clients to run their servers and workflows within its private cloud, “we want to be able to extend our security footprint and reach and network connectivity to the public cloud. We want to offer the same performance, the same security and the same scalability wrapped around our platform, leveraging the public cloud to run workflows.”
As fund managers look to develop products that are native to the public cloud, this hybrid approach means they will enjoy the same seamless experience (as the private cloud), as well as all the institutional controls and enterprise level deployment that they need.
It’s difficult to be 100 per cent native public cloud but there are workflows and applications that work well.
“We find that clients end up straddling the two: they have a need for the private cloud for certain workflows and for products, such as email through Office 365, that work really well in the public cloud,” says Ponzeka.
This comes back to the same inherent problem most alternative fund managers have: they don’t necessarily have the technology expertise or horsepower to deliver something that is secure and scalable enough to consume. The last thing they want to do is spend time building solutions and deploying them in AWS, and worrying about security or data leakage.
As Ponzeka concludes: “We can say to a client, ‘Here’s our connectivity to the public cloud, which we manage over private lines, and here’s the infrastructure we are building at the back-end to allow you to consume the public cloud’.
“We make sure the technology meets with their business policy. You still need to configure the public cloud in a way that an organisation can consume and that’s where we add our value.”