Netflix’s new show “The Get Down” may be all about New York in the 1970s, but getting it ready to stream for all of its 83 million subscribers around the world involved a whole lot of 21st century technology. The company detailed some of that work in a post on its tech blog Thursday. Netflix regularly uses these types of posts as a way to attract new talent, which is why they’re full of highly technical buzzwords that mean little if anything to most of us mere mortals.
That’s a shame.
A closer look at Netflix’s streaming technology not only reveals how obsessed with details the streaming service has become, but also how this has helped it to become as successful as it is today. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what actually happens in the days and hours before you start to binge-watch “The Get Down.”
At the center of Netflix’s streaming efforts is the company’s own content delivery network, dubbed Open Connect. Netflix has spent years placing thousands of its own, custom-build caching servers in data centers of major internet services providers and internet exchanges around the world. That way, consumers in Rio won’t stream “The Get Down” from servers in the U.S., but from a copy hosted on a local server.
|One of Netflix’s Open Connect caching servers.Janko Roettgers / Variety|
These kinds of caching severs are nothing new. Commercial content delivery networks (CDNs) have been using them for years. However, traditionally, CDNs decide what to cache based on what’s popular. A file gets streamed a lot in a certain region? Let’s make sure we have a local copy there.
Netflix on the other hand tries to anticipate what its customers will watch in the future, and cache proactively. That way, when a show like “The Get Down” launches, copies are already in place, and consumers won’t have to deal with buffering. Netflix uses special algorithms to determine what will be popular where, similar to how it recommends new titles to watch to its members.
Netflix also knows when consumers are most and least likely to binge. The company uses this information to figure out during which times of the day those caching servers have the least amount of work to do, and then uses this window to fill them up with new content to avoid slow-downs. “The Get Down” will most likely arrive on Netflix’s caching servers in the early morning, when everyone is still fast asleep.
But the company’s attention to detail doesn’t stop there. Instead of sending these updates directly to each caching server, it has developed a complex distribution technology that works a little bit like a peer-to-peer file sharing network, minus the copyright violations.
Open Connect caching servers can get their copy of “The Get Down” either from another caching server that may reside in the same network or serving the same region, from a cache further away, or directly from servers Netflix is renting from Amazon’s cloud service. The goal is always to minimize long-distance network traffic, and distribute files as fast as possible during that short window of time when Netflix’s subscribers are getting their beauty rest.
In other words: Netflix’s servers are insomniacs, thanks to algorithms that make sure that come Friday, you’ll be able to stream “The Get Down” as soon as you get up.