Why tech giants turn to Netflix for IT help

Most people think of Netflix(s nflx) as a video streaming service. That’s understandable — video delivery is its core business. But tech companies increasingly view Netflix as a very savvy IT partner.

Take IBM(s ibm) for example. As Gigaom reported this summer, an IBM Software team worked with an array of Netflix open source software tools to build a sample airline booking application to run natively on Amazon(s amzn) Web Services and ported it to IBM SmartCloud Enterprise and its SoftLayer successor. IBM bought Softlayer earlier this year for $2 billion and has made it the focal point of its cloud strategy.

Netflix brought something to the table that IBM needed — expertise in harnessing the distributed power of a massive public cloud infrastructure, spotting gaps in that infrastructure and then filling them so that the resulting applications can withstand failures or glitches in some components of that infrastructure. (Although, to be fair, even Netflix has suffered some high-profile glitches running on AWS.)

“What many people don’t realize is that Netflix is a very good technology company,” said Jerry Cuomo, IBM Fellow and CTO of Websphere. “The intriguing thing is Netflix built a business on the cloud. They saw a delta and filled that delta. They run an always-on service on a public cloud.” That’s clearly something to be desired; by IBM, by everyone.

But IBM’s game plan goes beyond that — it wants to apply what it learned in the Acme Air sample app both to public cloud and on-premises deployments, Cuomo, shown above on left with Andrew Spyker, said in an interview.

“We’re unleashing hell fire bringing our middleware capabilities to Softlayer and we want to do it with eyes wide open. Netflix is working within standards and we like that. We know we have to bring our capabilities to the cloud in our software and middleware group and we know we want to do it in a cross-platform, standards-based way,” he said. Netflix OSS helped in that.

IBM — unlike, say, Amazon — has decades worth of legacy applications and customers it must accommodate. Some of these accounts may want rewrite entire applications to run on public cloud, many others most definitely do not. They want a more incremental migration path. That dual challenge is the cross IBM and other legacy IT players have to bear, but Cuomo is bullish on that opportunity.

Indeed Netflix OSS software — from the Chaos Monkey cloud-testing tool to Asgard deployment software — do things for the Amazon cloud that the Amazon cloud itself does not do (at least yet) and Netflix execs have made no bones about expressing their desire for other, massive clouds to emerge. No one, not even Netflix, wants to be dependent to one provider.

IBM isn’t the only IT vendor to embrace Netflix OSS for its own purposes. Paypal(s ebay) took the bull by the horns and ported Asgard to run on OpenStack, for example.

Here’s how Adrian Cockcroft, Netflix chief cloud architect, summarized IBM’s Acme Air work in his summary for the Netflix OSS Cloud awards. (IBM, along with Eucalyptus, Mortar and a handful of others won Cloud Monkey trophies awarded at AWS re:Invent last week.)

Andrew Spyker (North Carolina) is a cloud performance architect at IBM. He built an example application called Acme Air that simulates an airline booking system and ported it to us the NetflixOSS toolset as a cloud native application running on AWS. The example code itself is a great starting point for new NetflixOSS applications, and we also learned a lot from the process of helping Andrew and his team figure out how to put all the components of NetflixOSS together. In addition the IBM team ported Acme Air and NetflixOSS to run on IBM Softlayer.

What’s refreshing about all this is the lack of not-invented-here arrogance. It will be interesting to see where else Netflix OSS crops up.

Netflix OSS Cloud Prize winners at AWS re:Invent.

Netflix OSS Cloud Prize winners at AWS re:Invent.