‘Arrested Development’ Season 4 premiere: Netflix goes mainstream

Diehard fans of Arrested Development are on the edge of their seats in anticipation of the upcoming Season 4 premiere, to be released exclusively on Netflix. All episodes will be delivered simultaneously this Sunday, May 26, at 12:01 a.m.

Image credit: arresteddevelopment.wikia.com

The excitement of devoted AD fans is matched only by the nonchalance of Netflix itself—from a technological perspective, that is. Online service providers that rely on traditional data centers would suffer understandable anxiety about the potential crashes involved with massive surges in traffic. But Netflix views its cloud-based architecture—which has been in the works since it started streaming videos online in 2007—as more than up to the task.

“We use the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud to deliver our interface, and we use Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) for the video,” said Joris Evers, Director of Global Corporate Communications at Netflix. “So everything you see when you’re firing up your Netflix app gets delivered through the Amazon Cloud.”

But, he added, “at the moment you hit Play, it gets delivered through a Content Delivery Network, not through the Amazon cloud.”

“The cloud and CDN are both designed to scale,” said Evers. “We know how many members we have and we’re ready for them to watch things all the time. Whether they watch Arrested Development, How I Met Your Mother, Vampire Diaries or Walking Dead, it really doesn’t matter.”

Part of Netflix’s confidence in managing releases comes from experience. It has a tested plan in place to ensure that users receive great video quality and reliable streaming. During events like the AD Season 4 premier, a team of Netflix employees from various groups within the company meets in what they call the War Room.

“People from a number of different groups are present to make sure everything goes well,” said Evers. “They make sure the title is up when it’s supposed to be, that it looks good on the service and that people are able to stream it. That’s basically it.”

Of course, it’s the unanticipated problems that can undermine even the most-robust system. Last Christmas Eve, for instance, a human error at AWS temporarily disrupted holiday viewing plans for thousands of Netflix users.

“Someone at Amazon had incorrectly programmed a load balancer that basically sent traffic into a black hole, which is not a good thing,” said Evers. “But generally we are very proud of the up time. We are mostly available all the time and streaming quality is very good. That’s one of the things that we’ve worked very hard to perfect over the last several years.”

Attribute that outage to the unreliability of the cloud if you want. But the same error could have taken place at an in-house data center. And if it had, all of Netflix’s customers in the US, Canada, and Latin America might have been locked out, rather than just users in a limited number of areas. Several factors prevented the outage from going hemisphere-wide: The distributed nature of AWS data centers and CDN hosts, the technology Amazon has developed to enable the restoration and replacement of servers, as well as Netflix’s own impressive array of cloud management tools.

No matter how masterfully Netflix controls its internal structure, some outages will likely remain beyond its power to prevent. But there are benefits that come with the Amazon cloud, as demonstrated on Christmas Eve. Only some—not all—Netflix members in the US, Canada, and Latin America experienced problems with the online service.

So what is Netflix doing to ensure stability of a show that by mainstream TV standards was a ratings disaster, but was a beloved of its avid fans? Read the second part of our story tomorrow on Arrested Development Season 4 premier on Netflix.

Madison Andrews
Madison Andrews is a writer, editor, and designer living in Austin, Texas. She is founder and editor of madskillsvocabulary.com.
Madison Andrews
Madison Andrews
Tags: Cloud Computing,Tech Culture,Technology