back to article Netflix reveals massive migration to new mix of microservices, asynchronous workflows and serverless functions

Netflix has revealed it’s built a new media ingestion and distribution platform and expects to spend much of 2021 on a migration from what it describes as a “large and complicated legacy system”. As detailed in the streaming firm’s tech blog, the new platform is called “Cosmos” and is the fourth generation of a tool that is …

  1. ecarlseen

    Huh. I wonder if they had ever just considered producing and licensing less crappy content. Could have saved money all over the place.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The problem

      They could have reduced the workload and problems with operating at scale by... attracting more use of their platform?

  2. Korev Silver badge

    At the scale of Netflix, I always wonder if it'd be cheaper to do it all on prem like Dropbox decided to do a few years ago. For this kind of bursty workload having a $CLOUD autoscale is nice, but for other workloads it's probably cheaper to run your own hardware. Also, most Clouds clobber you on data egress which is bag news for a media streaming platform.

    I'd love to see their figures!

    1. lostinspace

      The actual media streaming is their own platform - they have boxes that cache content and peer direct to ISP - it's the control and backplane that runs on AWS.

      1. TheMeerkat

        So they are running on a platform provided by their competitor?

        Is it wise?

        One day Amazon might just decide that it is not in their interest if Netflix runs. There is already a precedent when Amazon denied service to a company.

        1. EricB123 Bronze badge

          Tech develops strange bedfellows. When I was with hp, we brought critical drive parts from suppliers to Western digital. Just wasn't cost effective to design our own disk drive heads as the technologies became more and more advanced. AWS was the most advanced cloud service when I was using it 10 years ago. I think amazon makes more profit from AWS than selling stuff.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sounds like you have a thing against the Cloud. Worried about it for some reason?

  3. Warm Braw

    Stateless and computational-intensive

    You'd hope that you'd persist the state of a computationally-intensive process somehwere or you've just wasted a lot of CPU cycles. Putting the state somewhere else and refusing to look at it doesn't mean it's disappeared. I periodically tidy up my wardrobe and move things around inside - and instances of clothing items might periodically be replaced - but the contents remains basically the same and on the outside it's still a wardrobe.

    The adoption of any new technology is an opportunity to spring clean, but I'm always wary of claims that a specific change of design approach has transformed an existing application.

    1. dgeb

      Re: Stateless and computational-intensive

      Output is very much not the same thing as state - of course you want to capture the output.

      Stateless just means that the output you get depends only on the input you supplied, and not on any /state/ that the service maintained internally (which in turn means that using more instances is much easier, since there is no separate setup to do for each one, and no need to route requests consistently to the same one).

  4. karlkarl Silver badge

    They have invested a lot of resources into FreeBSD which uses Jails rather than Docker (I know not a direct comparison).

    I wonder if anyone knows if this recent infrastructure is for a different part of the system or if they have been phasing out FreeBSD?

    I think it would have been very cool if they went with Jails rather than Docker, it would have been great to see any presentations they often show to the FreeBSD community on quite how the orchestrated a number of Jails.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      I think the article is about the stuff they need to offload to AWS to crunch through, so compartmentalising for commodity processing on hardware you don't have to worry about is key.

      But I do agree it would be interesting to see what they're doing with BSD, presumably for less ephemeral stuff on their own hardware. And isn't FreeBSD pushing for its own version of Docker?

      1. NeilPost Silver badge

        Shirley you’d ask the Production House to deliver in the format(s) you require ??

        Finished product as opposed to raw output??

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          You're still going to want to transcode to different formats and resolutions: h264, h265, AV1, HD-I, HD-P, etc. Basically what Google does every time someone uploads.

          But I suspect they have other workloads they want handling. It easy to imagine them wanting to do some near-realtime crunching of the logs because the Netflix client generates oodles of data,

    2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

      My take on this article (and I have no inside knowledge, this is just my guess) is that this is related to the organisation and processing of media.

      FreeBSD is used for the distribution, and from the FreeBSD commit logs, the netflix guys are still working on tcp and other networking tweaks.

      Besides, they use their own FreeBSD cdn for distribution - the article is referring to their cloud stuff.

  5. nxnwest

    Additional Features Services and Innovations

    The usual excuses for higher fees.

    Paying more for 4K vs HD? Shit is still brown in HD. Shit that is is upscaled is still shit, though one might argue it has smoother motion.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Additional Features Services and Innovations

      Maybe some day soon they'll fix the "notify me when this is released" thing in the coming soon list. Because, for me, many of them until themselves, and if I go into the list and come out and go back in again, a fair few that did get ticked no longer are...

      Secondly, it would be nice to have a watch list that is sorted by some sensible means (alphabetical, date added, etc) rather than what seems to be essentially random placement.

      Finally, the ability to flag something as "seen it" so the service doesn't keep suggesting stuff you watched just last month/week/yesterday.

      1. claimed Bronze badge

        Re: Additional Features Services and Innovations

        Flag it, like watching it... stop showing me things I've watched, you know I've watched it because it's in the "watch it again" section!!

      2. EricB123 Bronze badge

        Re: Additional Features Services and Innovations

        I agree hat netflix needs to vastly improve the presentation part of their software. Quite frustrating. But far worse is Amazon video. Amazon video is so very bad, i guess all the good programmers go to the retail division.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: Additional Features Services and Innovations

          Upvote, because Prime Video is possibly the most frustrating video service interface I've ever encountered. It's almost as if they don't want you to watch anything. Or maybe the same twenty things over and over?

      3. Twilight

        Re: Additional Features Services and Innovations

        Netflix used to support manual watchlist ordering. They still have an option for it but, as far as I can tell, it doesn't do anything. Mine is still set for manual (and I've tried turning off and on) but I just get the crappy random ordering they seem to like so much.

        The watchlist ordering and invisible limit on watchlist length are the two things that drive me nuts about their service. The "invisible limit" is when I can add a show to my watchlist and, per the show, it is in my watchlist but it does not show up when I go to "my watchlist" - I'm assuming this happens after you reach a certain length to your watchlist (and, with the random ordering, it can push shows near the end off into invisibility).

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Additional Features Services and Innovations

      "Paying more for 4K vs HD?"

      I agree that the service should try to send "best quality" like Prime Video does, but you aren't exactly comparing like with like here. The bump in quality also comes with a bump in how many concurrent users can be streaming stuff, so there is a difference other than "better looking shit".

    3. deive

      Re: Additional Features Services and Innovations

      Why would Netflix upscale? A 4K sub allows you to watch films that are output in 4K.

      Otherwise they would quadruple their bandwidth needs for no reason...

    4. ChrisBedford

      Re: Additional Features Services and Innovations

      You sound like every old person with *shit* eyesight that has ever compared HD to SD. If you can't see the difference the extra £2 a month costs you, don't pay it. Or buy a better TV set. But stop whining about it, the rest of the world can't all be wrong.

      1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

        Re: Additional Features Services and Innovations

        To be fair, this site covered this issue ten years ago (long before 4K in living rooms was sensible), and the data are quite interesting. From personal experience, I like having 4K, but at my normal viewing distance I genuinely can't tell the difference from 1080p (and according to my optician my eyesight is above average [+0.2 dioptre], though my colour vision is crap). Sometimes it's nice to get really close and marvel at it though.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    English-only Option Please

    Hopefully Netflix will stop forcing non-English language titles down our throats. Sick of spending so much time looking for a decent title to only find that it's poorly dubbed or in another language. If I want to read a move/show, I'd buy the damned book!

    1. sgp

      Re: English-only Option Please

      Ignorance is bliss.

      1. TheMeerkat

        Re: English-only Option Please

        Should not it be a choice, instead of them all mixed up together unfiltered?

        If someone not in the mood to read subtitles at the moment, they should be able to filter out videos in a language not in the list of preferred languages.

      2. zuckzuckgo Silver badge


        Netflix needs to adapt deepfake technologies to make the lip movement match the dubbed language - then I could actually watch it.

        My brain must use a combination of hearing and lip reading to understand speech as I can't watch a dubbed program without getting a headache. Loud background sounds don't help the situation. Unfortunately, subtitles don't work out any better for me.

    2. a pressbutton

      Re: English-only Option Please

      but the south korean soaps are awesome - especially the ones with ghosts in

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: English-only Option Please

        One word - Alice.

    3. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

      Re: English-only Option Please

      I also hate the dubbing – but you can switch back to the native language with subtitles quite easily. In my opinion, it much improves the experience, but I guess that still depends on the content. In any case, I find I quickly get used to subtitles, although maybe you don't like them because you want to scroll through your insta at the same time as "watching" something... </youthOfTodaySnark>

  7. Steve Channell

    Load Balancing and TSB

    One of the reasons for the disastrous separation from Lloyds Bank was the late decision to use the load-balancing software that Netflix had open-sourced. It turned out that a routing service that worked well for routing requests to a CDN was not that good for stateful banking services.

    They might call the deployment 'Strangler fig', but others will call it 'Canary testing': Just because they are "web scale" does not mean it is any good.

  8. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    As big as the Cosmos?

    I'm a bit confused by why this is such a big deal. I did a video service prototype and it wasn't that much code. FFmpeg supports intermediate stream formats so one input can feed a large tree of filters, codecs, and containers that run concurrently. A big machine could run this entire processing tree so it was very simple to scale horizontally. The only actual hard part was fixing FFmpeg bugs.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    I'm sure it's unrelated ...

    But yesterday and today Netflix (only) has turned from being usable to ... not, for me. Which has all the symptoms of 'shiny new infrastructure'. But probably it's just whichever bit of their CDN I get to talk to.

  10. hoola Silver badge


    Just because you use containers or some other fangled technology does not mean that this is serverless. Underneath everything will be servers and storage, in Netflix case, huge numbers all busily burning electricity and generating heat. You may not manage any of it but if the servers were not there, Netflix would not exist.

    "Serverless" appears to be yet another marketing buzzword to make something old appear cool. It is irrelevant where you run a service, on your own servers or someone else's, there are still CPUs, memory and disks in boxes doing stuff.

    1. Twilight

      Re: Serverless?

      With talking about "serverless" on AWS, I presume they are running Docker on ECS/Fargate which AWS calls serverless. Yes, there are still servers - what it really means is that Netflix doesn't have to worry about the servers at all (only their containers).

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Anti-Singularity

    “A Cosmos service retains the strong contracts and segregated data/dependencies of a microservice, but adds multi-step workflows and computationally intensive asynchronous serverless functions.” San Miguel wrote.

    The anti-singularity approaches!

    (The anti-singularity is my take on the future of computing. One by one, every piece of technology will become more complex than is possible to maintain. And there, we will be stuck, unable to go backwards or forwards, forwever doomed to use half-functional garbage. For evidence, see any example of modern techonology).

  12. JeanLowe

    I agree hat netflix needs to vastly improve the presentation part of their software. Quite frustrating. But far worse is Amazon video. Amazon video is so very bad, i guess all the good programmers go to the retail division.

  13. JeanLowe

    Sounds like you have a thing against the Cloud. Worried about it for some reason?

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