In the Clouds: How Netflix Is An Unlikely Ally to Developers


I’m not what you would call “cloud savvy”. Cloud storage? Yes! Cloud anything else? You’re talking about those floating puffs of precipitation in the sky, right?

This could be considered a problem, seeing as I live and work in Silicon Valley where the Cloud Age is in full swing. Avaya itself has just recently unveiled its own cloud platform services. Our cloud is integrated into our other collaboration services, allowing you to take advantage of the full potential unified communications and the BYOD trend have to offer.

So with my limited knowledge of cloud, and a desire to learn more, I attended Episode 3 of Netflix’s OSS Cloud Prize. Full immersion! The event itself is developer targeted and originally launched in March as a contest. The challenge? Improve the features, usability, quality, reliability and security of Netflix’s cloud computing services that allow them to stream all the media we so love to watch. Ending in September, 10 winners will be chosen for 10 different categories and will each be awarded at $10,000 cash prize. Certainly not as high stakes as Netflix’s last contest, but certainly an impressive incentive to take up the challenge.

Everything teams need to compete for an OSS Cloud Prize can be found on the company’s GitHub, where they keep all of their tools accessible and up-to-date. For a company that takes up a third of peak internet traffic as well as runs all of its cloud off of one of their competitor’s servers (Amazon), Netflix prefers to keep their inner workings transparent to the developer community. Its reasoning? Netflix takes up so much of the cloud and has spent so much time on these tools, they figured they should share so others could beef their own cloud infrastructure. In turn, others keep their own developments open sourced, and so on. Free tools benefit all.

For Episode 3 we were led into the impressive Netflix HQ theatre were we were given an update on the contest. Trophies will be handed out to winning developer teams along with the money; workshops, hangouts and boot camps are available, and Citrix and Unbuntu have started creating contests with their own objectives for tool creation and $10,000 prizes to go along with them. All impressive, and all that magic word to enter: free.


After a brief rundown of tools that would be demo’d by both Netflix and guest companies Riot Games, IBM, Paypal, and Eucalyptus (all companies that have created their own tools for the Netflix platform), we were led to the next building. Like so many big tech company events it was a catered, open bar affair. Developers, Netflix staff and guest companies mingled, talked business, watched tool demos, and put up with a mildly apologetic writer asking for “non-technical, high level” explanations of all of the tools. Cleverly named and easy to access, the tools did everything from show a graphical depiction of Pig workflow (Lipstick) to provide multiple edge services (Zuul). But beyond their software use, the tools were doing something else; getting the Netflix name out to the developing world. Which was what made the event itself a great example of how a company could reach out to an audience that isn’t necessarily its customer yet build up its brand name with them. Netflix isn’t in the software business, but because of events like this it draws in developers and forges new friendships in Silicon Valley. Creating for itself an impressive network of likely and unlikely allies as well as potential hires in a town where companies collaborating is often done during company hours in conference rooms. So while Netflix may have stumbled with their their quarterly report, their quest to reach out to the tech world certainly hasn’t faltered.

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