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22 April 2009, 07:33 - Gold with an open source soul

by Dj Walker-Morgan

Gold and open source do not normally go together, but at BullionVault, the combination of both has created an innovative way of trading in the precious metal

BullionVault Front Page
Zoom The BullionVault Front Page
Back in 2003, Paul Tustain, founder of BullionVault, wanted to buy some gold and went to Switzerland to do so. It turned out that what was being sold wasn't actually the gold though, but a "promise of a promise" of some gold. This is what is called "unallocated gold" where there are various financial instruments between the buyer and the actual gold. Tustain thought that this wasn't what people wanted to do and inspired by the idea of online betting exchanges, brought together a team to create an online gold exchange which became Users can sign up and buy gold, which is physically held in secure vaults in London, Switzerland and New York, hold on to it for a storage fee or sell it, all through an online front end. This is called "allocated gold"; outright ownership of the physical metal. The vaults themselves are managed by another company and are so secure that it is almost impossible to get access, even for BullionVault. Users of the BullionVault systems, once they have bought gold, can offer to buy or sell at the price they select and the system matches up buyers and sellers. Now, with 100,000 registered users and 13,000 funded clients using the English, French, German or Italian translations of the site, the service is international and well established.

BullionVault's "tame" Gold Bar
Zoom BullionVault's "tame" Gold Bar
Despite the large amounts of gold and money involved, at the heart of BullionVault is an open source soul. The systems behind BullionVault were created by Kris Jenkins, CTO and Alex Edwards COO and they say they couldn't have done it without open source. In late 2003, Tustain, Jenkins and Edwards started development on the software for the back office system for BullionVault. Some decisions were already made for them though; they had inherited a real time accounting and settlement system which used Oracle as the database. The real time nature of the accounting system was essential to the plan as they would need to be able to create financial reporting by the day and by the minute. But around this accounting system, open source would be used to develop the exchange.

Next: Developing the exchange

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