A Look Under the Hood of the Most Successful Streaming Service on the Planet

A service's guts, the engineering behind the app itself, are the foundation of any streamer's success, and Netflix has spent the last 10 years building out an expansive server network called Open Connect in order to avoid many modern streaming headaches. From a report: It's the thing that's allowed Netflix to serve up a far more reliable experience than its competitors and not falter when some 111 million users tuned in to Squid Game during its earliest weeks on the service. "One of the reasons why Netflix is the leader in this market and has the number of subs they do [...] is something that pretty much everybody outside of the technical part of this industry underestimates, and that is Open Connect," Dan Rayburn, a media streaming expert and principal analyst with Frost & Sullivan, tells The Verge. "How many times has Netflix had a problem with their streaming service over the last 10 years?" Certainly not as many as HBO Max, that's for sure. Open Connect was created because Netflix "knew that we needed to build some level of infrastructure technology that would sustain the anticipated traffic that we knew success would look like," Gina Haspilaire, Netflix's vice president of Open Connect, tells me. "We felt we were going to be successful, and we knew that the internet at the time was not built to sustain the level of traffic that would be required globally." Nobody wants to sit down to watch a movie only to have their app crash or buffer for an eternity. What Netflix had the foresight to understand was that if it was going to maintain a certain level of quality, it would have to build a distribution system itself. Open Connect is Netflix's in-house content distribution network specifically built to deliver its TV shows and movies. Started in 2012, the program involves Netflix giving internet service providers physical appliances that allow them to localize traffic. These appliances store copies of Netflix content to create less strain on networks by eliminating the number of channels that content has to pass through to reach the user trying to play it. Most major streaming services rely on third-party content delivery networks (CDNs) to pass along their videos, which is why Netflix's server network is so unique. Without a system like Open Connect or a third-party CDN in place, a request for content by an ISP has to "go through a peering point and maybe transit four or five other networks until it gets to the origin, or the place that holds the content," Will Law, chief architect of media engineering at Akamai, a major content delivery network, tells The Verge. Not only does that slow down delivery, but it's expensive since ISPs may have to pay to access that content. To avoid the traffic and fees, Netflix ships copies of its content to its own servers ahead of time. That also helps to prevent Netflix traffic from choking network demand during peak hours of streaming.

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