Born digital companies need to re-imagine the rules of the game and challenge all conventional notions, including traditional infrastructure norms, in order to stay nimble and ahead of competition. Therefore, for Nikunj Karia being AVP – IT for a fast growing and rapidly expanding subscription based video-on-demand OTT platform like ALTBalaji doesn’t come easy.
Within eight months of its launch, ALTBalaji, which is India’s first and only subscription based video-on-demand service offering original and exclusive content across various Indian languages, not only makes it to the list of most popular apps of 2017 on Google Playstore but also ranks among the top 3 revenue grossing video streaming apps in India, only after Netflix and Hotstar. Since its launch in April, ALTBalaji has had more than 10 million (1 crore) mobile downloads with over 10 lakh web viewers.
According to Karia, “Its uniquely challenging for IT to be able to power the tremendous growth that the company is undergoing and yet be cost conscious being a startup. Being nimble is the key.” Karia, who has been associated with ALTBalaji since a little after its inception in 2015, has done a fine job of enabling a truly nimble organization by balancing out on both growth and cost, even if it has meant taking decisions that traditional companies might not have considered as a safe bet.
One such area is storage. With a plethora of original shows and other content, ALTBalaji is currently sitting on data volumes touching 400 TB. With the company aggressively creating more content, the data volumes are expected to double to over 800 TB within a year’s time and will continue to grow further as more content gets created.
Considering the rapidly growing data volumes, storage is a key concern for Karia. While all the master files of the shows were being pushed and stored on AWS cloud, an effective storage solution was required for archival of the raw original files, including the master mixed and unmixed files, audio files, rushes and promo files, etc. These files need to be archived so that they can be retrieved whenever required in the future for creation of promos, syndication, etc.
According to Karia, the key requirement from the archival solution was scalability. “Being into OTT, our projection of data scaling up is very high. Based on the number of shows we have and our future growth and expansion plans, we needed storage which is scalable enough to meet both our current and future archival needs,” he explains. Needless to say, being a startup, cost was also a decisive factor.
Looking for scalable and cost effective storage for the rapidly growing content archive, Karia opted to go the cloud way instead of the traditional on-premise option after thorough cost-benefit analysis of CAPEX vs. OPEX. Building the storage in-house would have entailed huge capital investments, including real estate, power and people to manage it. Scaling up would also have been a big challenge with the company being required to invest high into buying bulk storage capacities in one go rather than adding capacity and paying ‘as you go’. The cloud model allowed to scale up storage incrementally in a cost effective manner with no equipment provisioning lead time and costs involved.
After trialing different cloud providers, ALTBalaji zeroed in on Tata Communications because of the price competitiveness and high bandwidth connectivity it offered. The Tata Communications solution features IZO Cloud Storage linked to the ALTBalaji data center and content distribution platform over a dedicated point-to-point optical fiber link at 300Mbps. The solution also provides a back of the data being archived.
The primary Tata Communications IZO Cloud Storage environment is located near the ALTBalaji headquarters in Mumbai. “To speed content transfer, Tata Communications allowed us physical access to its data center, so we could directly upload fifty terabytes. This saved a month and got us off to a great start,” says Karia.
While Karia is yet to calculate the exact cost savings, he is of the opinion that the investment that the company would have made had it gone for an in-house storage archival solution will be able to sustain the cloud solution along with the incremental capacity additions for the next four years owing to much lower per GB cost. Besides, investing in the in-house setup would been capital intensive and made in one go. Also, it would have supported upto 400 TB of data volumes only and any incremental capacities being added would have cost extra.
Add to this the cost of managing the entire storage archival setup internally as well as the cost of investing in a separate backup solution for the archived content. Technically, because of back up the investment would have been almost double.
According to Karia, one of the reasons he has been able to achieve significant cost optimization with Tata cloud despite rapid growth in data volumes is because there is fixed pricing and no incremental charges for content upload and download. This is an important in limiting the operating costs with the company seeing prospects of massive business growth as the online content market in India really takes off.
Besides cost benefit, the move to cloud has also benefitted ALTBalaji in terms of scalability and flexibility. “The cloud storage can be scaled-up or scaled-down virtually instantly as demand changes. This flexibility has a huge advantage over an in-house solution, where equipment provisioning lead times and costs can impose a huge burden,” explains Karia.
Business continuity is also guaranteed with the backup provision, thereby managing business risk. Tata Communications ensures that all data is backed-up all the time in its private cloud locations. Automatic failover assures continued data access in the event of a serious issue.
Ease of use ensures that the entire operation is managed by the content team and there is no dependency on the IT team for uploading, restoring and managing the content. Thus, freeing up the IT team to focus on more pertinent issues.