Hackers v Engineers: Managing Digital Content Cloud Outages

The more we hear “Cloud” the more it is associated with “outage.” Go ahead – do a Google search for Cloud Outage and you’ll see a number of big brands (Amazon, Microsoft) apologizing for their cloud outages. We see articles like this one from Streaming Media which gloss over the gory details and pump Cloud’s benefits…again. Folks in the Digital Content world don’t tend to be quite as technical as our Bell-head friends. They might be inclined to buy the Cloud’s supposed benefits without understanding its risks. The same folks might read a great, engineering-oriented piece like this informative article from Network World, but they won’t necessarily understand what it means or what to do about it. These details, however simple to gloss over, are likely to dictate who wins and loses in the digital content market over the long term.

Digital Content is all about having one’s impulses satisfied immediately; entertain me now – no excuses. So when something like Netflix goes down because its public Amazon cloud service has an outage, it’s a major problem for Netflix. Worse, its a big disappointment for its subscribers (and especially for its subscriber’s overtired three year old who will meltdown if Elmo doesn’t appear RIGHT NOW).

Digital Content sits at the fascinating crossroads between engineering-heavy telecom and bling-heavy entertainment. If you’re going to bring the bling on-demand every time, you need some serious nerds in the background to prevent cloud-outages. A cloud-based digital content delivery and/or monetization solution can’t just sit in some public cloud without an architecture that accounts for inevitable outages. And we’re not just talking about failures to stream immediately. As we get into more sophisticated direct-to-consumer ownership and subscription models, we need constant uptime on all of the transactions in the background. We’re talking here about payments; user authentication; digital rights token delivery and related authorizations; digital locker access and policy controls; fast and fail-proof downloads; and more. If any of those transactional processes isn’t fulfilled, the whole customer experience can break down.

This is something that digital content providers – in many cases Telcos and Cable operators – need to nail right out of the gate. They’re making a first impression that not only has to be good, it has to be knock-your-socks-off awesome in order to overcome the market power Apple maintains and the leadership position Netflix has seized.

There are two opportunities for CSPs – Telcos and Cable operators – here. First, CSPs should be able to nail the uptime/reliability/accessibility aspects of this equation. Rock solid connectivity and access is what CSPs do best. A Telco can own the whole path from the data center to the device and back, including mobile access. That end-to-end view becomes more important as digital content offerings grow more complex. Further, however, CSPs have the expertise to solve the complex challenges sophisticated cloud and multi-cloud applications introduce. Doing that for, for example, Hollywood Studios, brings increasing value to the table.

But here’s one more missing piece to consider; the cloud-based applications that digital content providers may choose are not always designed for redundant, multi-cloud environments. Basically, the application has to be smart enough to solve its own problems and jump over to healthy resources when an outage occurs. If an application isn’t designed to do that, it won’t. So, as we see folks from the “hacker” world building sexy applications to serve the digital content market, we always need to determine whether they will pass muster with engineers. Functionality is important, but essentially useless without the ability to scale massively, adapt intelligently in the face of an outage or slowdown, and maintain a healthy customer experience without exposing any complexity or difficulties that might occur in back-end processes.

This is an extremely tough nut to crack. We’ve seen Netflix succeed, and yet suffer major outages, with a pretty simple, subscription-based offering. Now that we are seeing more direct-to-consumer digital content business models (ownership, customized subscription packages, ecosystems like UltraViolet) emerging, we’ll find out who has designed well engineered infrastructure and who has hacked together a cloudy solution that can’t keep up.

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About Edward Finegold 122 Articles
Ed is now Director, Strategy for NetCracker. Previously, for 15 years he was a reporter, analyst and consultant focused on the OSS/BSS industry and a regular contributor to BillingViews.

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