Binge watching: How Netflix content is stored and streamed

This month Netflix reported that it had 74 million subscribers. As the media streaming service grows with no signs of slowing down we asked ourselves, how exactly does Netflix collect and transport all of that HD goodness to our computers, phones, and televisions everyday?

Where is it all stored? Recent estimates have showed that at peak times Netflix accounts for a third of all consumer internet traffic in North America, so how is all of that glorious HD content getting accumulated and transmitted? We wanted to know, so we looked into it…

Netflix used to host their content on third-party providers, but a couple of years ago they began to build their own content delivery network (CDN). Now, all of the binge watching you do is cached and delivered through the customized network that Netflix created. The cache can then be streamed to almost anywhere in the world. The global network of servers allows the media you stream to be sourced close by, cutting down on bandwidth and increasing speed.

What do the storage servers that store and stream the Netflix content look like?

They’re essentially made up a combination of hard drives crammed together in a server. They use 36 drives that can hold about 100 TB of data. These servers are capable of storing and streaming between 10,000 and 20,000 movies simultaneously. Netflix has about a thousand of these spread across the globe. Each one collects content to then be transmitted to various devices.

The petabyte worth of content that Netflix has needs to be sifted through and organized, sort of like a library. So during the off hours (usually between midnight and lunch time) Netflix will prepopulate the servers with the most popular shows and movies, reducing bandwidth during the peak hours. The content is collected overtime and then streamed when called upon by a user.

The media still needs to get from the content delivery network to the user, however, so the internet service providers connect to the network at the large data centers around the world to keep everything connected. The providers can also choose to have Netflix install a CDN on site, reducing bandwidth costs.

So where is the content I’m watching coming from specifically?

Netflix’s software is also capable of thinking. When you log into your account and select a movie to watch, Netflix then decides which location in relation to you that particular movie should be streamed from. It quickly decides and within a moment that content has traveled from the source, through the data centers, across the internet, and into your home. The movies are stored and then transported thousands of miles every moment to get to the user. It does this millions and millions of times per day as the 74 million customers binge watch the latest episodes of Jessica Jones orDaredevil, or earn their honorary law degrees with Making a Murderer.

With investments in original content, deals with Marvel and Disney, and a business plan that has been working for over a decade, it looks like Netflix isn’t going away anytime soon. And for those of us that are addicted to watching episode after episode with no commercial interruptions, we thank you.

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