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3 Lessons Learned From Netflix on the Future of Video Storage

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Netflix has disrupted the video rental, cable television, and movie theater industries to the tune of around $30B in annual revenue. Their journey was filled with many challenges they had to overcome in order to earn the top spot for video streaming platforms. Arguably one of their biggest technical challenges was the limitations of cloud storage.

This article explains the lessons learned from evaluating how Netflix overcame their challenges with cloud video storage and how today’s video streaming platforms can take that knowledge and replicate it with technology currently available.

Lesson 1: Traditional cloud storage falls short for video streaming needs

Netflix early on recognized significant limitations with today’s cloud storage. Specifically, customers were having difficulty streaming Netflix video content in regions that were located far away from the source. Fundamentally, the traditional centralized cloud storage model, which is the hub and spoke model of AWS, was not able to transfer large media files fast enough for streaming to all locations.

Netflix even self-published a list of limitations confronting today’s cloud storage for video streaming:

  • Single source - When a user requested video content, it was served from a single location.
  • Congested delivery - The server may be located far away from the user, increasing content delivery time. A “long distance” content delivery could encounter:
  • Huge expense - Internet Service Providers (ISPs) didn’t have secure global connectivity, requiring them to invest significant money to build these connections.

As Netflix gained subscribers, their technology team knew they needed to find  an alternative way to deliver content streaming to match growth. And offering Netflix in regions that did not have datacenters nearby, basically anywhere outside of a major city, would be untenable.

Lesson 2: Decentralization is Netflix’s solution

To keep viewers happy all over the world, Netflix designed and built its own decentralized cloud storage network they call Open Connect. 

Investing in a more globally distributed architecture for cloud storage has allowed Netflix to successfully transfer large media files via point-to-port throughout the world. It’s clear that Netflix’s ability to provide high quality and highly available access to their service at scale would not have been possible going through today’s centralized cloud storage providers. 

Lesson 3: Video distributors can now access the same technology as Netflix

While the Netflix decentralized cloud storage network has been critical to their success, it isn’t a viable model for every company. The deals brokered with the ISPs, let alone the server costs, are impressive, but far beyond what most companies can achieve 

So what can a startup video streaming platform do to replicate this model? 

Ditch the traditional cloud for alternative cloud storage providers.

While Netflix was building Open Connect, decentralized cloud storage platforms were busy building their own globally distributed networks of cloud storage.

In a decentralized cloud storage model, data is stored across a large network of thousands of storage nodes run by unique entities that have no visibility into what is stored on their hardware. It’s a distributed model that has only become possible at a global scale in the last decade thanks to improvements in bandwidth speed and availability. 

The biggest difference from the centralized model is the way privacy and security are handled. You are trusting the storage provider to protect your data, but giving them full access to it. A decentralized storage model is zero trust, meaning you assume that you can’t trust anyone in the network. So the system is built with end-to-end encryption, erasure coding, and sophisticated access management to ensure that no one has access to your data other than you. 

The secret spice in that description relative to video streaming is ‘erasure coding’. What that means is that video files are broken up into around 80 segments and distributed to storage nodes globally. Only a third of those segments are needed to reconstitute the video file so the network takes them from the storage nodes located closest to the end user making the request. That means that file replication isn’t needed, significantly reducing storage costs. Decentralized storage platforms are also optimized for large file sizes with parallelism and reduction of long-tail latency, and many providers are enterprise-grade with S3 compatibility. 

Companies looking to grow quickly with video streaming can build their platforms using decentralized cloud storage, allowing newcomers to achieve the same benefits as Netflix without the exorbitant costs.

The future of video streaming will be built on decentralized storage (and greener because of it)

Beyond the high cost, performance, and security issues of centralized cloud storage limiting video streaming growth, there is another looming concern with sustainability. The datacenter model carries a large carbon footprint. In comparison, decentralized cloud storage is the greenest storage model for the environment since it is using existing available capacity  globally without the high energy costs of a datacenter.

Decentralized storage can sustainably handle the growth of video, while delivering highly secure, high performance experiences with incredible consistency in the pricing model. With huge amounts of unused storage capacity worldwide, adding more video does not equate to more datacenters and the fact that decentralized storage is around 80%-90% less expensive doesn’t hurt either. 

Netflix has done amazing things, but perhaps it's time for some challengers to disrupt them. Any takers?

[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from Storj. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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