We’ve been talking about hybrid cloud approaches this week, and how customers can benefit from the “scale on demand” model of cloud. While every business experiences peaks in demand for IT resources, some businesses are feeling the stress on their current datacenters more than others. And when cloud is the solution, it’s usually pretty clear. A great example is UK-based movie and TV streaming service blinkbox. Without the right platform to support their services, the company wouldn’t be able to meet consumer demand fast enough.
blinkbox is building success on the impatience of the movie-hungry public. The company knows exactly how much consumers hate to wait for their favorite TV shows and the latest movies. Consumers want new releases right away, on their favorite consumer devices, with impeccable video and audio quality and reliability. But delivering that level of service requires a lot of infrastructure.
blinkbox has been breathtakingly successful at giving the UK viewing public exactly what it wants and consequently enjoyed 245 percent revenue growth in 2013. However, management worried that the company’s growth could hit a brick wall inside its London datacenter. There, the IT organization worked constantly to deploy servers and storage devices fast enough to meet both video encoding and streaming demands. Video encoding is the process of translating original film and TV content into formats and resolutions suitable for consumption on multiple devices from different vendors.
Because of piracy concerns, content providers often provide a movie just one day before blinkbox will make it available. This leaves blinkbox less than 24 hours to perform quality checks, encode the film in multiple formats, and prepare it for streaming. While blinkbox shuffled high-priority films to the front of the encoding queue, its total encoding backlog was often weeks long. And when a new viewing device—TV, PC, tablet, or game console—or a new generation of mobile communications technology was introduced, blinkbox had to reencode its entire library for the new device or technology.
blinkbox needed to find a way to rapidly add capacity without incurring high costs. For blinkbox, the answer was cloud.
In August 2013, blinkbox started migrating its video encoding and streaming application to Microsoft Azure using Azure Infrastructure as a Service. “We’re taking an application that’s been built up for five or six years and migrating it largely unchanged from on-premises to the cloud,” says Jon Robinson, Group Head of IT, blinkbox.
By unplugging its datacenter, blinkbox will save millions of dollars by eliminating racks of high-performance servers and storage. Those resources are available on demand in Microsoft Azure datacenters, more cost-effectively than blinkbox can deploy them. What’s better, blinkbox can turn off Microsoft Azure video encoding servers when it’s finished with an encoding job.
The blinkbox encoding queue used to be weeks long, it’s now days or hours long. “If we need to encode a whole stack of new movies at once or convert our entire movies and TV library to a new format, we just have Microsoft Azure do the work for us,” Robinson says.
Today, blinkbox is using approximately 700 terabytes of storage in Microsoft Azure. With new file formats coming out, blinkbox expects that figure to soon rise to a petabyte. When high-definition streaming becomes commonplace, storage volumes will double. “Video content is getting ever richer, being stored in ever larger formats, and needs to be streamed ever faster,” Robinson says. “Plus, the number of devices and formats that we need to support is growing. All this leads to the need for lots and lots of storage, which we now have in Microsoft Azure.”
Before moving to Microsoft Azure, when blinkbox added support for a new tablet or game console, it had to scale up its datacenter infrastructure months in advance. “The last thing we want is for a customer to buy a movie on his PC, then try and watch it on his tablet and get a ‘this device is not supported’ message,” Robinson says. “New devices are coming out all the time; some manufacturers give us lead time, others don’t. We no longer worry about how much lead time we have. We have encoding resources available on demand, and Microsoft deals with adding new streaming protocols when needed.”
With scalability just a mouse-click away, blinkbox is free to market its service aggressively. In the past, marketing campaigns were sometimes so successful that they flooded the company’s infrastructure with more viewers than the company could comfortably handle. With Microsoft Azure, blinkbox can scale up its infrastructure the day before a promotion launches to “soak up” the extra traffic, then scale it back when traffic slows.
The speed, scale, and economics of cloud are exactly the right formula for blinkbox. And any company experiencing spikes in demand for services should consider whether the “scale on demand” cloud model could make a difference in their IT strategy.
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Read the case study: Movie Streaming Business Uses Cloud Service to Save Millions of Dollars, Scale Quickly.