Their team, consisting of TV producers, computer scientists and journalists, offers WebTV solutions for professional broadcasters.
Their current project is a platform for German documentaries for the Development Company for Television program www.dctp.tv in cooperation with SPIEGEL Online.
I virtually met Nikolai, and asked him a few questions.
Nikolai, how do you use IT infrastructure?
Schnee Von Morgen's products are web and cloud based. Our core components include transcoding, streaming and asset management clouds.
The clouds grow and shrink automatically according to the load status, controlled by smart algorithms.
We also offer a nice "prezintation" on "Reinventing TV every day" (you should click the play button).
Why did you decide to move your infrastructure to AWS?
We developed our first proof of concept using EC2 and S3 back in 2006.
From the financial point of view, AWS made prototyping in early states and real world scenarios really affordable. From the technical point of view, AWS took care of the "hardware" part for us, thus allowing the developers to focus on development. We saved a lot of time, and efforts, and the "time to market" of our solution was considerably shorter.
From the experience of working for and communicating with established TV broadcasting companies, we knew that upscaling is and always has been a main issue. At the same time, we think that downscaling is also to be considered due to financial constraints. This is why we have developed a video load balancing solution which is able to decide how many streaming instances are needed. This also allows our customers to benefit from the AWS "pay as you go" payment model.
Can you give us some more technical details?
Using high-CPU EC2 instances, the encoding cloud receives jobs from SQS, the Amazon Simple Queue Service; it then transcodes them into various formats and stores the results on S3. The videos are delivered by our playout cloud using Wowza Flash Streaming technology, which is also powered by Amazon EC2. Asset management is done using our IVMS (Incredible Video Management System) written in Django, persisting its data on a MySQL on EBS (where regular snapshots on S3 save us backup trouble). To prevent spikes in server load and reduce latency, we deploy SvM-Video-Workflow static files and rendered JSON on S3 and use the content delivery service Cloudfront where possible.
What significant benefits have you experienced?
In comparison to the main market solutions for film distribution on the web, we were able to save about 80% of the usual running costs. Using AWS has enabled us to develop our projects in small core teams and still deliver on time, with the advantage of saving a great deal of headaches for the admins.
I remember you told me about the day when you were featured on SPIEGEL online. How was it?
On May 8, 2009, just thirty minutes before launch, dctp.tv got featured on SPIEGEL online. Our phone rang, ordering us to change the entire imprint. With shaky hands, we found ourselves deploying a new version in a matter of minutes and praying the cloudfront edge-servers updated on time. And yet, watching the server stats handling 50 hits per second and realizing that the load balancing module and the streaming cloud were working as they should was so enjoyable it made it all worthwhile.
All in all we had been working on our load balancing algorithms for many months without the opportunity of real world testing. The launch turned out to be our breakthrough, as everything worked as expected. And it has kept on doing just this ever since.
(comment from Simone: next time you need to load test your app, you should try Soasta.com)
Nikolai, do you have any suggestion for other AWS users?
Our experience is that the AWS team genuinely listens to the users' needs and requirements.
A lot of the AWS features that we use today came to tackle problems that had been reported by users when we first started. So good work, and keep in touch :)
I believe our readers will find this story inspiring. Thanks Nikolai.
- Simone (@simon)