The New Buttonwood Tree – Literally

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The only thing in the entire 17-acre facility with the letters N-Y-S-E is a small plaque surrounded by buttonwood trees in front of the main entrance.  Even after passing through several security checkpoints, some with good old-fashioned guards and the rest with ID scanners, only employees or the best fintech geeks would be able to see where they were.  As NYSE Euronext’s new Mahwah data center goes hot on August 9th, it is clearly ripe to be the new center of the US equity markets.

The level of security takes you aback even before you approach the non-descript entrance.  From the road it looks more like a prison than the future hub of US capital markets – and I mean that in a good way. It could just as well have been Area 51 or CIA headquarters. Fences, cameras, guards and ID scanners are everywhere, yet the buttonwood trees and picnic tables out front made it feel like a nice place to spend an afternoon.

Only a small portion of the 400,000 square feet is built out yet, but the amount of fiber optic cable we saw once inside the pod that will house nearly all of NYSE Euronext’s US matching engines was mind boggling.  Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to go near the customer cages that already had equipment and into the room where the 100G fiber optic cables sit that will ultimately transmit every single NYSE Euronext order coming in from the outside world.  But clearly this is a facility designed to move around a LOT of data.

Another cool feature was the living room-sized touch screen TVs surrounding the servers that let technicians see everything from literal hot spots to a map of server cabinets.  If a power outlet was to go out or a single server was to overheat, someone could be on it in seconds.  Some of this data will be made available to customers in real time, too.  It was clear that no expense was too great in their quest to create the most sophisticated data center on the planet.

My visit to Mahwah is my fifth trip to NJ in recent months to see a financial services data center, and all were worth the trip.  No matter how strong your technical background, it doesn’t all come together until you see it live and in living color.  In the end, business models will ultimately drive the success of exchanges and data center providers, not the type of trees planted out front.  However, perception is reality and this certainly points NYSE Euronext in the right direction.

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