“But even the longest day wears to sunset.”
– Marion Zimmer Bradley
Over the next year or so, we will officially begin sunsetting the X_TRADER® platform. In case you haven’t heard this term before in relation to software, it means a gradual phasing out of a platform, with specific milestones where development, services, and support end. In the case of X_TRADER, the first of these milestones will be as soon as Q4 of this year, and the last will be in early 2020, when support will end across all aspects of the platform.
I personally have always been amused by the term “sunset” in this context. In my mind, it tends to conjure up dramatic images of heroes riding off on a horse while a violin plays a melancholy song. And in truth, it’s pretty rare that sunsetting a piece of software deserves that kind of finale—but in our case, the sunsetting of X_TRADER is a pretty rare event.
Indeed, it’s rare in the software world for (what amounts to) a single software framework to survive 25 years. And X_TRADER did more than just survive. It continues to define an industry that has seen countless technology providers come and go, an industry in which the unrelenting rate of change has indiscriminately laid waste to firms across the spectrum.
The reality is that most client-facing software companies that began a quarter of a century ago have shown time and again that it’s nearly impossible to transform into something that can thrive in today’s world. What the absolute best of these companies do is get better and better at wringing out as much as they can from the aging components they’re left with. But this approach inevitably reaches an inescapable conclusion: the same technology that helped them thrive for decades becomes their greatest liability when it’s no longer capable of competing in a fundamentally different era, despite herculean efforts (and often real innovation!) to keep it relevant.
The only option these companies have if they want to stay in business is to go back to the drawing board. But few companies are capable of that, even fewer have the audacity to try, and fewer still manage to pull it off.
On the other hand, successful software companies (and platforms) that have launched in the last five or ten years generally have done so on technologies that were designed to scale globally and encourage modularity. Leveraging cloud technologies for elastic (on-demand) resources has rid companies of the challenges of building and maintaining physical infrastructure. Adopting the web and HTML5 as a client-facing delivery vehicle has reduced the cost of reaching potential end-user desktops to essentially zero.
Of course it’s possible (maybe even common) to build rigid, inflexible platforms on top of these newer technologies; just because these foundational building blocks exist doesn’t mean they are easy to assemble. But the companies who have built robust, successful businesses on them have had a tool in their toolbelt that their predecessors from previous decades—including TT—did not: the ability to continuously change.
Six years ago, we set out to fix that problem. We went back to the drawing board.
“Know what you want to do, hold the thought firmly, and do every day what should be done, and every sunset will see you that much nearer your goal.”
– Elbert Hubbard
There have been many sunsets since the day we asked ourselves what it would take to start over from scratch (2,283 of them, in fact). We were incredibly fortunate to have leadership who shared the vision, had the patience, and were willing to invest in this project. Little did we know back then just how daunting of a project it would be.
Of course, we knew any piece of software that survived for over 20 years like X_TRADER was going to have deep roots. We knew the sheer cost of replicating features would be significant. We knew 20 years brings with it a certain level of inertia: objects in motion tend to stay in motion, and we knew that change would be resisted at every step of the way for a mission-critical system like X_TRADER. We also knew that, six years ago, the technologies on which we were planning on building its successor were still considered four-letter words never to be spoken in tier-one banks. In other words, we weren’t completely oblivious to the many headwinds we were going to face.
But we underestimated just how worthy of a competitor X_TRADER would be. Maybe it was hubris, or maybe it was simply the fact that we were the same company that built X_TRADER, but the platform we were looking to replace—the platform we knew we had to replace—was, along with its thousands of passionate users, ready to put up a fight for which we weren’t entirely prepared.
While we were understandably excited about what a new foundation would mean for a next-generation trading platform, in some cases, we had to re-learn what it was that made X_TRADER the market leader it is, and we had to make sure we were imbuing these aspects in its successor. This meant we were marching toward more than just feature and market parity: our most important march was the one toward trust parity.
“The horizon changes but the sun does not.”
– Joyce Rachelle
Despite the dramatic changes our industry has seen over the lifetime of X_TRADER, the one constant thread that kept the platform at the front of the pack was trust. Trust that the platform would be there when you most needed it; trust that a world-class support and operations team was always ready at the helm; trust that product details and decisions were being made with the most scrutinizing, sophisticated needs in mind.
Building trust takes time. We knew we couldn’t realistically discuss sunsetting X_TRADER until we could all agree internally that its successor was in every way an objectively superior platform. But we knew what mattered far more was our end users’ trust in the same. This doesn’t happen overnight.
The X_TRADER successor we set out to build six years ago looks dramatically different than what we have today. Six years is a long time, and as the industry continued to change and we were forced to navigate changing dynamics, industry contraction, increased regulatory burdens, etc., the platform understandably evolved along the way. Throughout this period of time, feature parity and user migrations were often deprioritized in favor of stability, expansion into new lines of business like options, surveillance, FIX as a Service, etc. In other words, we often had to put the future on hold to ensure we were laying the groundwork to get us there.
Perhaps the new platform’s ability to “roll with the punches” during these last six years is the greatest testament to the power and flexibility that a technology foundation such as this means to TT. And with a significant and growing portion of our users migrated off of X_TRADER with a pipeline throughout the next two quarters that promises to consume the lion’s share of our time and attention, we realized market acceptance and platform readiness were converging once and for all. Put another way, we knew we were earning the trust we needed to begin discussing the future.
“Your choice between sunrise or sunset depends on your attitude.”
– Ibn Jeem
But to the extent sunsets have a negative connotation, we look at this milestone with great positivity—as a celebration of what X_TRADER has meant to the industry and as an opportunity to honor and extend that legacy as we help our end users and technology partners continue to navigate an industry that gives no indication of slowing down. We’re incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to reinvent ourselves (and even more fortunate to have the team capable of pulling it off), we’re humbled by the fight X_TRADER put up over the last few years, and we’re committed to ensuring its most important attributes—those that have allowed an entire industry to put their trust in TT—are what underscore everything we do going forward.
If you have questions about your (or your FCM’s) timelines as it pertains to migration off of X_TRADER, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your broker or your TT Customer Success representative.