Building vs. buying: How Netflix streams 114,000 years of video every month

Streaming a petabyte of video content to millions of users around the world requires some specialized hardware. Netflix(s nflx) has been building its own boxes to handle that kind of load, David Fullagar, the company’s director of content delivery architecture, told attendees at Gigaom’s Structure:Europe conference in London on Wednesday. But even as it is doing so, the company is also working with vendors like Western Digital to try and push storage and computing technology forward to deal with the huge amounts of capacity it requires, Fullagar said.

Netflix started building its own custom content-delivery network or CDN because providers that run multi-tenant CDNs often have to make compromises when it comes to hardware or software. By building its own boxes, the video company can make sure that everything is optimized for video specifically. Since there isn’t a lot of encoding that occurs inside the servers, for example, Netflix primarily needs massive amounts of fast storage and fast networking for streaming — and so its current boxes have 100 to 150 terabytes per server.

Although it is currently building its own, Fullagar said that the company would rather not have to do so because it increases costs. Therefore Netflix is looking to companies like HGST, a Western Digital company whose VP of product marketing, Brendan Collins, was also on the Structure panel.

Collins said that in addition to just supplying hardware to some of the massive players like Netflix, HGST is also being asked to help these companies reduce their power and cooling costs in the football-field sized data centers they operate, and so the company is working on some innovative designs to help do that in a cost-efficient way. For example, Collins said that it is developing drives that are filled with helium, which reduces the impact of friction on the drive and can lower both power and cooling needs.

Check out the rest of our Structure:Europe 2013 coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:
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A transcription of the video follows on the next page