Dropbox and Netflix: A Tale of Two Cloud Services

One of the most important decisions that a business must resolve is the type of infrastructure to use: public or private. Depending on business needs, most require a blend of public and private infrastructure. The problem is that some businesses don’t even know what they need. When businesses are stuck between the harrowing choice of public and private cloud, we like to refer them to a story of other businesses who went through the same problem: Netflix and Dropbox. Although familiar faces in the tech industry, not many know their stories of choosing an infrastructure and moving to a new one. 

Dropbox is a service that provides cloud storage to businesses and consumers. Initially, they used Amazon Web Services  (AWS) to obtain public cloud for their business. More recently, Dropbox has transferred production to their own private data centers. On the flip side, Netflix began on private infrastructure and decided to move its services to AWS. When looking at each of these decisions, it may be easy to question why they made the switch. You may be thinking, “Why didn’t they choose the right infrastructure from the very beginning? That would’ve saved them a ton of time and energy to move everything over!”. If you were not thinking that, then I’ll be the first to say that I definitely was!

To answer that question in simple terms, it all has to deal with the unpredictability of the business. Both businesses have become massive over the years. They also both use IT in a different way. The various ways that each business has grown and evolved have resulted in the decision to move infrastructures. For each business, they were decisions that had to be made for the good of the company. 

For example, Netflix pivoted their use of private cloud infrastructure due to the nature of their business. Netflix is consistently catering to what is most in demand. Anytime a new movie or series is released, the demand for services rapidly increase. In private cloud, Netflix would have to have a network that matches their highest demand. Their highest demand would probably be nearly three times as high as their usual demand. Fostering a cloud that has the capacity to fulfill such high demands would require one hell of an investment. But, unfortunately, the return wouldn’t be worth it. That extra space and capacity would be just sitting there until the next spike in demand, which would be costing the company tons of money for nothing.

Moving to public cloud was one of the best choices Netflix ever made. They now have more flexibility, scalability, and a bigger bang for their buck. Public cloud was just the better option for a business like Netflix. Their biggest upside is now only paying for high usage when demand is actually high, instead of paying for capacity sitting idle. Dropbox is a different story. 

Dropbox users access their personal files and content as needed. Unlike Netflix, Dropbox does not release TV shows or movies on a schedule. They know exactly how many users join their service per month, as well as the data they use. Because of this, Dropbox is able to control and predict spikes in demand. This consistent predictability has allowed Dropbox to invest in an infrastructure that allows for flexibility and management: private cloud. The cost of this space is much less than using a public cloud provider. 

The decision to use public or private cloud is ultimately up to the business and their needs. As you can see above, Netflix and Dropbox each had to think about their business needs and make a decision based on cost-effectiveness, manageability, scalability, flexibility, security, and personal workload patterns. The type of cloud you choose will impact your business in a major way. It could be the reason your business grows or the reason your business plateaus. With your own business, think about the pros and cons of each infrastructure and decide how your business would benefit most.