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Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Geek post: Bloatware

Software bloat is a term used to describe the tendency of newer computer programs to have a larger installation footprint, or just generally use more system resources than necessary, while offering little or no benefit to its users, and the latest example comes from the criminal case involving Sergey Aleynikov, formnerly a VP at Goldman Sachs. He left Goldman on June 5. In the days before he left, he transferred code to a server in Germany that offers free data hosting.

At Aleynikov’s bail hearing, Joseph Facciponti, the assistant United States attorney prosecuting the case, said that Goldman discovered the transfer in late June. On July 1, the company told the government about the suspected theft. Two days later, agents arrested Mr. Aleynikov at Newark.

In his defence, Aleynikov said that he had inadvertently downloaded a portion of Goldman’s proprietary code while trying to take files of open source software — programs that are not proprietary and can be used freely by anyone. He said he had not used the Goldman code at his new job or distributed it to anyone else, and the criminal complaint offers no evidence that he has.

Aleynikov has not explained why he downloaded the open source software from Goldman, rather than getting it elsewhere, and how he could at the same time have inadvertently downloaded some of the firm’s most confidential software. Sabrina Shroff, a public defender representing Aleynikov, says he had transferred less than 32 megabytes of Goldman proprietary code, a small fraction of the overall program, which is at least 1,224 megabytes.

1.224 Gigabytes!? What the hell are Goldman doing? The whole point of high frequency trading is that it is supposed to be fast and nimble, receiving data, processing it and reacting in milliseconds, or better still microseconds. That should equate to a software path running to thousands of instructions, perhaps millions at the most. How does that require 1,224,000,000 bytes of code? Must have been written by Microsoft.


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