Netflix Ramps Up Encrypted Streaming Using Intel Software

By Jonathan Stern, Software Applications Engineer, Intel

As the world’s leading Internet television network, Netflix is in a league of its own. The network has more than 83 million members in over 190 countries[1] and accounts for approximately one third of the aggregate traffic on North American fixed networks.[2]

Doing business on this scale, Netflix must move an enormous amount of data every second of every day, and it must move that data in a manner that protects the privacy of its users and the privacy of its own operations. With that objective in mind, Netflix partnered with Intel with the goal of encrypting 100 percent of its video streams, from end-to-end in their Content Delivery Network (CDN).

This, of course, is a challenging proposition from many angles. For starters, encryption increases the work that processors must do in the streaming process, which can lead to steep performance penalties. To get around that barrier, and to maintain fast video streaming, solution builders can add a lot of additional processors and associated hardware, but that is inefficient and uneconomical for a company that does business on the scale of Netflix.

This is where Intel technologies and Intel engineers enter the story. Intel extends the capabilities of its processing platforms with a wide range of technologies that solve specific customer problems. One of these technologies is the Intel® Intelligent Storage Acceleration Library (Intel® ISA-L). Intel ISA-L is an open source library providing highly optimized algorithmic building blocks to maximize storage throughput, security, and resilience, and to minimize disk space usage.

While storage OEMs put Intel ISA-L to work to obtain better performance from Intel CPUs and to reduce the need to develop their own optimizations, Netflix looked beyond the standard storage use cases. It deployed Intel ISA-L to accelerate throughput on video streams encrypted with the HTTPS protocol. Hats off to the engineers at Netflix who did the heavy lifting necessary run the encryption in kernel mode vs application mode and to integrate ISA-L into their streaming flow. This work brought big payoffs.

Here’s where the story gets even better. Intel ISA-L maximizes the benefit of the latest Intel® Xeon processors, but it can also accelerates performance on previous generations of Intel-based servers. It is designed to work transparently on all past, current, and future generations of Intel hardware. This broad compatibility allows Netflix to leverage ISA-L on its legacy Intel platforms as well as its newer platforms based on the Intel® Xeon® processor E5-2697Av4.

Do you have a use case for Intel ISA-L? It is provided as free, open source software under the BSD license. And it is easy to adopt—it is OS-independent and natively designed for software-defined use cases.

If you’re at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco this week, you will have a chance to hear Netflix presenters talk about their use of ISA-L and other Intel technologies, as well as the work they did to enable their own optimizations. For more information on how Netflix protects viewer privacy at scale, see The Netflix Tech Blog. For a closer look at the capabilities of the Intel® Intelligent Storage Acceleration Library, visit our ISA-L site.

Don't miss our Chip Chat podcast with Netflix discussing encryption to their content delivery network using Intel® Intelligent Storage Acceleration Library.

[1] Netflix Company Profile.
[2] Sandvine Global Internet Phenomena Report, 2016.