Quest for a better investment platform leads to Google Containers, BigQuery and Sheets

Canaccord Genuity, a leading independent full-services financial firm, uses Google Cloud Platform to manage an information platform for professional investors and business analysts. The platform, called Quest®, uses Google BigQuery to pull up and cross-reference over 9,000 companies, using a Google Sheets-based decision tree that defines more than 10,000 rules. With over 1,000 regular users, Quest® is a key competitive advantage to Canaccord Genuity and its investor clients.

Rewriting an obsolete server application

Since the mid-1990s, Canaccord Genuity has offered its investor clients and on-staff financial analysts access to a platform to analyze and value 3,000 companies, each with as many as 400 specific metrics updated daily, and historical data going back 20 years. The Quest® platform was last rebuilt in 2003 — that implementation, though still functional, was falling behind today’s requirements.

The previous version of Quest® was hosted and maintained in-house on a now obsolete Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and Microsoft ASP.NET infrastructure. The old client-server platform simply couldn’t scale in functionality, capacity or performance to meet today’s needs. The platform needed to increase its capacity by a factor of 25 to analyze triple the number of companies, triple the number of geographical regions, and triple the number of industrial sectors to 275. The old architecture simply couldn’t handle the load, nor perform at the speed required. Moreover, it had become too costly to maintain.

Behind the scenes, Canaccord Genuity’s IT management needed Quest® to be more flexible and cost-effective than the decade-old version running within an in-house data centre in the U.K. And that meant a totally fresh start, rewriting everything. Nothing from the legacy system has survived. The old Windows applications could not be improved and had to be reverse engineered.

In terms of maintenance and evolution, Google Cloud Platform provides all the scalability required, whether storage, computational, or memory, answering the exact requirements needed for the new Canaccord Quest® platform.

Higher performance and faster

Working in partnership with SenTai, a consultancy specializing in open source software, Canaccord Genuity created a completely new Quest® platform that leverages both Google Cloud Platform and Google Apps for Work.

Instead of a classical three-tiered architecture, the new Quest® system has no application server, which simplifies the design and improves performance. Everything is packaged as Linux containers and orchestrated using Google Kubernetes Engine within managed virtual machines.

Google BigQuery drives the data analysis, grinding through over 100 million rows in only a few minutes, at speeds at least 100 times faster than the previous system. Quest® also uses Google Cloud Storage, since a typical analysis run generates more than 200GB of data detailing all the cross-references, trend tables and other information comparing companies against each other and against relevant industrial sectors.

Quest® uses Google Sheets, the spreadsheet component of Google Apps for Work, for business intelligence. Apart from a subset of complex calculations and procedures, all parameters required to accurately model a specific company’s financials are coded into Sheets by financial analysts — not programmers — using a tree-based data structure with over 10,000 business rules. Those spreadsheets are passed to a Java engine by the Google REST APIs; the Java engine parses the spreadsheet and dynamically compiles those rules into bytecode for fast execution, making the new Quest® not only quick, but also flexible.

More complex analyses lead to greater insights

The new Quest®, rewritten from scratch to leverage Cloud Platform, runs several orders of magnitude faster: a typical complex query against 9,000 companies is completed in less than 30 minutes, compared to over 10 hours to analyze far fewer companies, sectors and regions, in the client-server era.

The new platform also empowers Quest® analysts to create sophisticated rule-based business models using the familiar syntax of the collaborative Google Sheets, part of the Google Apps for Work suite. Being able to have many analysts work simultaneously on the same spreadsheet, and for each analyst to be able to comment on relevant data in a way that assisted other analysts right within the spreadsheet, made it possible for them to respond to client requests not only very quickly, but also with greater insight.

This is how Canaccord Genuity systematically analyses 9,000 companies, or 95 percent of global market capitalization. With Google BigQuery, Google Kubernetes Engine and Google Sheets, customers can make more informed investment decisions.

In terms of cost, frequent price drops and competitive offerings are driving the whole industry. Commoditization is driven by Google’s know-how, and benefits customers such as Canaccord Genuity, which was able to start small, and scale up only when ready. The benefits compared with previous hosting providers are substantial.

“We were amazed at the speed at which they could create, delete and update instances to meet new requirements,” says Nigel Sedgley, Quest® Manager at Canaccord Genuity. The affordability of Cloud Platform and Google Apps for Work made these tools the right combination for the software development team, as well as the business team.