Zenga Reaps Rewards by Embracing the Cloud
Remember when people in Bangalore felt the tremors of the earthquake that happened off Indonesian the coast around April? That was quite an unexpected and rather jolting experience. No matter where you were - at home or the office - people wanted to know the extent of the problem and what further problems, if any, were to be expected in the coming hours. People were accessing the internet either through a PC or through their mobiles and were checking up on the relevant information and updates.
Having the ability to access content, especially video streaming, on your mobiles is a real boon for the end consumer. However if you are the service provider, there are the issues that go together with providing such services which can either financially make or break a video streaming company. How much storage are you going to allocate for the video streaming; how are you going to deal with sudden surges in traffic; These are some of the infrastructure related issues that companies in the video streaming spectrum have to come up with a workable solution for.
Consider the earthquake tremor scenario mentioned in the beginning. The number of viewers trying to access a particular news channel might suddenly increase in a matter of hours if not mere minutes. How will a company deal with such a rapid increase in video demand without stretching it's infrastructure to the limits?
Being able to provide a good experience to your customer and making sure that your operations are running in a successful and financially viable way is what all companies aim for. As Shabir Momin, CEO Zenga Media, points out, many companies in the media streaming business are currently running on losses. So how did Zenga manage to reduce their operational costs and not compromise on the user experience?
Having initially set up Zenga Media in 2008, all the services -- including a push mail service called Zenga Mail -- were run from the local datacenter. They were going to experience first-hand the variety of problems that accompany having to manage a local datacentre. As Momin put it, managing a datacenter was "a very tough, expensive and cumbersome job ... (you have) to deal with the smallest to the largest of issues."
I gained a lot because of the bandwidth costs in India are extremely high.
In additional to being an expensive proposition, Zenga also found that acquiring "equipment" was easier than getting "good resources" to manage that equipment. Getting the right resources to manage the datacenter was a significant problem that Zenga faced during its initial founding days.
So while Zenga in 2008 had a much smaller setup than it has today -- 1/100th of its current size – it still had a team of 35 people managing and looking after the datacentre and its associated activities.
Zenga media has recorded 421 million video views for 2011, a massive jump from 150 million figure reached for the year 2010. As Zenga CEO Shabir Momin puts it, on an overage Zenga is currently seeing close to 60-70 million video views per month - and by the end of the year they "expect to see close to 600-700 million views".
These statistics are quite staggering. And if handling 100 channels wasn’t enough, Zenga had previously been streaming IPL matches in 2009 over the mobile. Having to provide video streaming services for such a popular seasonal event can put a heavy strain on your infrastructure for the duration of that event.
The Need for Change
In mid 2008, Zenga TV was started as a pilot service from the datacentre, and the resultant higher loads on the network along with the occasional spikes in traffic was when Zenga realised that they needed a new system to accommodate these changes. So in early 2009, Zenga moved to cloud solution provided by Rackspace.
The real impetus for moving to the cloud however came when Zenga got the rights to stream the IPL matches for 2009. The decision was taken to move to Amazon to solely accommodate the IPL match streaming – while all the other services were kept on Rackspace.
Given that the 2009 IPL stream went smoothly, Zenga decided to shift all its other services on to Amazon as well. One of the major reasons for this move was that Rackspace provided dedicated servers that were to be committed to on a monthly/yearly basis – a model which was rather restrictive to what Zenga needed and financially quite burdensome. Amazon, on the other hand, provided for a rental commitment on an hourly basis which perfectly fit into Zenga's model of needing varying capacities throughout a year/month/day.
One of the biggest benefits that Zenga reaped out of moving to the cloud was that its IT department was reduced from a strength of 35 to a mere 5 members. Not only has the move to cloud helped reduce the IT investment, it has allowed for the unused team members to be allocated to "other more interesting work in R&D," as Momin puts it, thereby adding value to the company.
On the financial savings of the move to the cloud, Momin mentions that he has been able to save up to 80% on the "resources front" and as far as the "infrastructure side of things go," he has been able to achieve savings of anywhere around 50-60 percent.
The benefits of moving to the cloud can be seen in how managing seasonal broadcast events like the IPL, became much easier. As Momin elaborates, "If I were to do IPL, for that small instance of IPL, I had to buy 50 servers. Those 50 servers that I buy for that spike, I won't be able to use them after IPL, so they will lie idle for no reason. It is a heavy CapEx investment; a business model that would allow for (such) an investment and use it only for 2 months in a year was not viable. Now I am not worried about all this as I can scale to 500 servers when I need and even come down to 5 servers as needed."
Moreover, Momin went on to elaborate on a further plus point of having moved on to the cloud. "I gained a lot because of the bandwidth costs in India are extremely high. At the level which we are working with right now, number of users, number of video views we are doing per month, to have that in India would have been very expensive, at least 10 times more expensive than what I am paying today. Because bandwidth internationally is cheaper than it is in India. So that is a big benefit we drew out of moving to cloud," he explains.
This has been a win-win situation for all involved, as the customers also benefited from this move as they were able to avail better connectivity when streaming content online.