How Netflix Distributes Their Content via Cloud Management - Part 1

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Cloud management is a grey area even for some expert IT administrators. To help break it down, we're going to look in detail at how top digital streaming and entertainment portal Netflix uses cloud management to distribute its services. What goes on behind the scenes? You'll emerge the other side with a much richer understanding of what great cloud management entails.

Outsourcing vs. In-House Management

In general, I would explain to businesspeople that businesses are better to seek an outsourced cloud management solution in place of the open-source framework deployed by Netflix, especially if their business is not centered wholly around the web. Though it may be tempting to move all functionality in-house, there are always little things that get in the way and can cause unnecessary headaches. Outsource, and observe. You may be able to introduce some internal aspects, but it’s best to leave overall management to the pros.

Asgard Web-Based Cloud Management

Netflix manages a huge quantity of data across the web, and stores it in multiple locations around the world. The technology they use to manage and apportion this content is Asgard, an in-house IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) administration package that is designed to make cloud management flexible and approachable. They use the Tango fee icon set, which is shared among programs such as GIMP and operating systems like Ubuntu.

The nuts and bolts are as follows. First up, we’ve got a group of servers called the ‘Auto-Scale Group’ (ASG - we’ll see why they’re called this later on). These servers each have some finite computational capacity - some limited brain - that can be put to many tasks, and it presented as a virtualised environment. On top of the virtualised servers, Netflix (Asgard) infers Cluster, which treats ASGs as grouped virtualisation instances. This clustering allows for very specific management of ASG behaviour.

For example, let’s imagine you need to change the ASG involved in creating a virtualised Cluster instance. Using Asgard, you can progressively roll out the new version while gradually moving users across. At the first sign of trouble - you can run progressive diagnostics as you go - you can halt the versioning and roll back to the previous Cluster instance. This way, downtime is kept to a minimum, and Netflix can easily update or expand their film collection as they go.

Stay Tuned for Part Two!

Next up, we’ll see what the Netflix Asgard system does to allow for expanding or contracting ASGs, and what the open-source nature of Asgard means for the open source virtualisation community.


I studied mechanical engineering in London, and currently work for an energy research and consulting firm. I enjoy writing tech and business articles in my free time. I aspire to be an intrepid tech and gaming enthusiast with the exploratory spirit and witty prose of my favourite author of Robert Louis Stevenson.

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