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How Netflix Makes 3.14 Petabytes of Video Feel Like It's All for You

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There's a great Netflix feature in Bloomberg Businessweek today, which details how the company delivers its enormous catalog to 36 million customers without a hitch. It's more than impressive math—it's almost a miracle.

Wrestling with movie studios over rights to the hottest content is only step one of Netflix's struggle. You see, Netflix's customers don't just have fickle taste in movies—they all want to watch movies on different devices. That means Netflix has to do a lot of data crunching to make sure everyone has a satisfying experience.


Here's how that looks: The master Neflix catalog takes up about 3.14 petabytes of cloud storage space, which is converted and compressed down to about 2.75 petabytes, consisting of 100 different versions suitable for watching on more than 1000 different devices. Sheesh.

It gets more intense. Netflix employs a bunch of nerds whose job it is to make sure your Netflix homescreen is as amazing as possible, so that you're just totally elated every time you fire up the service. That's a tricky task—even if you don't take into account that Netflix needs to do this for people using the service on all of those different devices. As the Bloomberg Businessweek story notes:

One of Netflix’s mathematicians is known as 10-Foot User Interface Guy because the average person watching the service via TV sits 10 feet away. His job is to arrange the box art of videos in the most appealing way on a big screen. There’s also Two-Foot Guy, who deals with laptops, and 18-Inch Guy for tablets.


We love to complain about the little idiosyncracies of services like Netflix, but every now and then, it's good to take a step back and reflect on how refreshingly consistent that service can be no matter how you choose to access it. [Bloomberg Businessweek]