Is Information Technology departments going the way of Netflix?

I recently read an interesting article on the way Netflix transitioned to an all AWS infrastructure over the past 6 years.  (read the article yourself here: ( http://www.informationweek.com/cloud/infrastructure-as-a-service/netflix-cloud-architect-how-to-succeed-as-disruptor/d/d-id/1204327?page_number=2 )  As I was reading this article I was thinking about how simple the Netflix solution really is, and how durable the Netflix customer is to the failures of the product from time to time.

As an avid Netflix viewer I am reminded of all the times I am not able to view my desired selection, or my selection is halted in mid-stream. Yes, Netflix is like watching TV. If you don’t like what’s on – turn the channel, or come back at a later time.

I don’t know that this paradigm applies to business applications. Perhaps mission-critical business applications are more like the traditional telephone service (think 911 services). Can reliable mission-critical services be built on inherently non-reliable, non-mission critical infrastructure?

We’ve all talked about IT as a Utility – like the electric company. Just plug into the wall and begin consuming all you want. In my mind there is a difference here, too.

Remember all the times that the circuit blew and you had to reset the breaker because you used the microwave and the hairdryer at the same time? Or remember the storm knocking down trees that fell on the power lines that took down service for hours, or perhaps even days? Or what about the brown-outs that have been rolling through entire regional electric grids?

We have developed ways of coping with these problems. Like the Netflix problem we’ve learned to use different circuits for the microwave and the hairdryer. We’ve learned to buy and operate a portable generator if the threat and repercussions of being without power are too high, and there are many that are buying full home generators and solar generators to reduce the impact of regional power grids going down. We have home DSL and Cable Internet. We have wireless internet and some of us even have satellite internet. We have developed strategies for coping with outages.

I guess the real questions to ask our customers and our business leaders would be: Is our business more like Netflix, or is it more like the Telephone company? Will our customers endure Netflix style disruptions in service, or do they demand Telephone company levels of service availability?

Another key question to ask: If our customers demand Telephone company levels of service availability – Can we create applications that transcend inherent limitations of the lesser-reliable infrastructure providers while still delivering the highest levels of availability?

If we can – then we should – because that would be a powerful and valuable opportunity to build our business. If we can’t – then we shouldn’t – because that would make us look incompetent and irresponsible.

Can applications developers take commodity infrastructure that is outside of traditional IT controls, and turn it into mission-critical applications reliably delivered to our customers?

This is the same $64,000.00 question that is shaking up IT departments and executive offices all over the world. …  

Bottom Line: don’t jump into the water until you know what’s in there, and how deep it goes.  After you know those two things you can jump in and have fun if you choose.  

Reader comments and questions are always welcome and responded to.

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About randyloeschner

Technology Professional since 1988. SQL Server DBA since Windows NT 3.0 Beta and SQL Server 4.21a Beta. Yes, I really did install Windows 2.11 from floppy disks. With a work history too long to include here I'm currently working with Teradata Applications - Cloud Services - A Teradata company as the Principal Systems Architect since 2011. I'm married to my wonderful wife - Mel, and we recently moved to Middle Tennessee.
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