Hurricane Irene mattered not to NYSE Euronext's large data centre, which is built on land high enough to avoid 100-year floods and just about everything else.

This 400,000-square foot data centre, completed a year ago, is located in Mahwah, New Jersey, and is a fortress designed to look ordinary. In a photo, shown on a screen at VMware's large annual user conference, it appeared like a corporate campus office building. Inside are 100,000 square feet of raised floor space.

The data centre is surrounded by water, a river on one side and a moat around the rest of it, to prevent cars from coming in, and where cars are allowed, there are car traps.

There are bomb-sniffing dogs in use, and the building has an exoskeleton, or a building within a building, for additional protection. It has access to multiple networks and two power grids and back-up generation.

Data centre used by financial markets

The data centre plays a major role in the US economy. Feargal O'Sullivan, vice president of platform development for NYSE Technologies, said the New York Stock Exchange uses this data centre as well as some other markets, representing about 40% of equities and options trading in North America.

"The internet does not go into that building," said O'Sullivan. It uses a private network instead. O'Sullivan won't talk about the security, other than to say it is hardware based.

This data centre is also being used to operate the recently-launched Capital Markets Community Platform, a "community cloud" limited to financial services firms and designed to meet their specific needs.

One need is speed. Financial services invest heavily in technology, in part, so they can act as fast as possible to market data.

Network creates 'level playing field for trading'

The NYSE's community cloud platform is designed to ensure that its customers are treated fairly, and it ensures them that the maximum latency that any user will experience in this data centre is a 70-microsecond (one millionth of a second) round-trip for any message, O'Sullivan said.

"We guarantee that nobody will have an advantage on the network," said O'Sullivan. "It's designed to be a level playing field for trading."

He said that with planned network improvements, the aim is to soon get that response time down to single-digit microseconds.

The cloud platform was announced in June with two customers, and now has four. O'Sullivan believes the cloud platform offers significant cost savings for users now running their own high-performance trading systems.

In this cloud model, the user brings an application that can either run on Windows or Red Hat. The entire operation uses VMware tools.

Michael Versace, global risk director at IDC Financial Insights, doesn't see any major downside risks to the cloud approach being used by the NYSE. "I would trust that the NYSE gets it right; they have a better chance of getting right than anyone else," he said.

He believes the demand for this type of service will be there, particularly from hedge funds which may see a service that they can buy as a tremendous option.