Virtually all systems have some requirements for latency, defined here as the time required for a system to respond to input. (Non-halting computations exist, but they have few practical applications). Latency requirements appear in problem domains as diverse as aircraft flight controls,a voice communications,b multiplayer gaming,c online advertising,d and scientific experiments.e
Distributed systems—in which computation occurs on multiple networked computers that communicate and coordinate their actions by passing messages—present special latency considerations. In recent years the automation of financial trading has driven requirements for distributed systems with challenging latency requirements (often measured in microseconds or even nanoseconds; see Table 1) and global geographic distribution. Automated trading provides a window into the engineering challenges of ever-shrinking latency requirements and therefore may be useful to software engineers in other fields.
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