Netflix May Boost Cloud-based Application Performance

There are many potential throttles on application performance. A single user transaction can take many hops across multiple servers and networks. This is particularly true in the Cloud. That is why enterprise APM is so important. So, consider this. At peak television viewing hours, 30% of Internet traffic in the US is consumed by NetFlix. NetFlix has a plan to reduce the burden their streaming video service places on ISPs. That should boost performance for everyone, including your critical applications. It’s called the Open Connect appliance. (That’s not the same as the Cisco Open Connect peer-to-peer VPN-like device.)

Netflix’s idea is to get ISPs to use their Open Connect appliance idea to cache content, based upon what content is most popular with its viewers at any given time. If video is cached, there is no need to download it again from Netflix. The device is under the control of the ISP, meaning they can determine what traffic to route through the device. Engineers at Netflix will work with the ISP to determine the optimal configuration to offload traffic. The device can be installed at the ISP’s data center or at peering locations provided by Netflix.

Netflix offers this graphic, which shows Cablevision’s average ISP speed (They use Open Connect) and Time Warner (which does not.). As you can see, there is a boost in performance. Is that entirely due to the appliance? Probably to some degree, since Netflix has signed up some heavyweight customers.


Netflix says these ISPs have signed up so far: Frontier, British Telecom, TDC, Clearwire, GVT, Telus, Bell Canada, Virgin, Cablevision, Google Fiber, and Telmex. Time Warner and Comcast have not. Those two companies are seeking regulatory approval to merge. They are not likely to participate with Netflix, as their cable services are competitors with Netflix.

One reason Netflix might be offering this new device is the increased bandwidth requirements of their Super HD (7 mbps) streaming transmission rate. 3D and future Netflix plans will increase transmission rates to 12 and 15 mpbs, respectively. Netflix is giving away the source code for free and proving details on the hardware, so that other companies that stream video can build that into their design.

The software is based on BSD version 9.0, because “This was selected for its balance of stability and features, a strong development community and staff expertise.” Netflix is delivered over HTTP, so it uses a web server. They use the nginx web server, “…for its proven scalability and performance.”

The Open Connect appliance uses the BIRD Internet routing daemon, “to enable the transfer of network topology from ISP networks to the Netflix control system that directs clients to sources of content.” This supports the BGP protocol, which Netflix uses to obtain topology information from the ISP. BGP is what most backbone ISP service providers use.

Here is a photo of the Netflix device. You could encourage your ISP to adopt it, if you want them to boost performance, which would of course help you and your customers. To lobby effectively for this change, you would have to be a big enough company or have a small enough ISP to have any sway over that decision.