How OTT platforms provide seamless content – A Data Center Walkthrough

Data Center

With the number of options and choices available, it almost seems like there’s no end to what you can and can’t watch on these platforms. It shouldn’t be difficult for a company like Netflix to store such a huge library of shows and movies at HD quality. But the question remains as to how they provide this content to so many people, at the same time, at such a large scale?


The India CTV Report 2021 says around 70% users in the country spend up to four hours watching OTT content. As India is fast gearing up to be one of the largest consumers of OTT content, players like Netflix, PrimeVideo, Zee5 et al are competing to provide relevant and user-centric content using Machine Learning algorithms to suggest what content you may like to watch.

With the number of options and choices available, it almost seems like there’s no end to what you can and can’t watch on these platforms. It shouldn’t be difficult for a company like Netflix to store such a huge library of shows and movies at HD quality. But the question remains as to how they provide this content to so many people, at the same time, at such a large scale?

Here, we attempt to provide an insight into the architecture that goes behind providing such a smooth experience of watching your favourite movie on your phone, tablet, laptop, etc.

Until not too long ago, buffering YouTube videos were a common household problem. Now, bingeing on Netflix shows has become a common household habit. With Data-heavy and media-rich content now being able to be streamed at fast speed speeds at high quality and around the world, forget about buffering, let alone downtime due to server crashes (Ask an IRCTC ticket booker). Let’s see how this has become possible:

Initially, to gain access to an online website, the data from the origin server (which may be in another country) needs to flow through the internet through an incredulously long path to reach your device interface where you can see the website and its content. Due to the extremely long distance and the origin server having to cater to several requests for its content, it would be near impossible to provide content streaming service for consumers around the world from a single server farm location. And server farms are not easy to maintain with the enormous power and cooling requirements for processing and storage of vast amounts of data.

This is where Data Centers around the world have helped OTT players like Netflix provide seamless content to users around the world. Data Centers are secure spaces with controlled environments to host servers that help to store and deliver content to users in and around that region. These media players rent that space on the server rather than going to other countries and building their own and running it, and counter the complexities involved in colocation services


How Edge Data Centers act as a catalyst

Hosting multiple servers in Data Centers can sometimes be highly expensive and resource-consuming due to multiple server-setups across locations. Moreover, delivering HD quality film content requires a lot of processing and storage. A solution to tackle this problem are Edge Data Centers which are essentially smaller data centers (which could virtually also be a just a regional point of presence [POP] in a network hub maintained by network/internet service providers).

As long as there is a POP to enable smaller storage and compute requirements and interconnected to the data center, the edge data center helps to cache (copy) the content at its location which is closer to the end consumer than a normal Data Center. This results in lesser latency (or time taken to deliver data) and makes the streaming experience fast and effortless.

Role of Content Delivery Networks (CDN) 

The edge data center therefore acts as a catalyst to content delivery networks to support streaming without buffering. Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) are specialized networks that support high bandwidth requirements for high-speed data-transfer and processing. Edge Data Centers are an important element of CDNs to ensure you can binge on your favorite OTT series at high speed and high quality.

Although many OTT players like Sony/ Zee opt for a captive Data Center approach due to security reasons, a better alternative would be to colocate (outsource) servers with a service provider and even opt for a cloud service that is agile and scalable for sudden storage and compute requirements. Another reason for colocating with Service providers is the interconnected Data Center network they bring with them. This makes it easier to reach other Edge locations and Data Centers and leverage on an existing network without incurring costs for building a dedicated network.

Demand for OTT services has seen a steady rise and the pandemic, in a way, acted as a catalyst in this drive.

However, OTT platform business models must be mindful of the pitfalls.

Target audience has to be top of the list to build a loyal user base. New content and better UX (User Experience) could keep subscribers, who usually opt out after the free trial, interested.

The infrastructure and development of integral elements of Edge Data Centers are certain to take centerstage to enable content flow more seamlessly in the future that would open the job market to more technical resources, engineers and other professionals.

 About the author:
Srikrishnan Murali is a product executive in the Data Center business. Apart from being a tech enthusiast, when not working, he can be found playing games and vibing to all sorts of music. Can be reached out to have a fun conversation or just to play a game of chess

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