Deeper Dive—How Sling TV is using hybrid cloud to build a better vMVPD

It’s relatively early days in the virtual MVPD market, but Sling TV has established itself as frontrunner in the space. In terms of subscribers, it’s the biggest and it hopes to continue growing.

Brad Linder, director of cloud native engineering at Sling TV, is tasked with ensuring the platform can stand up to increasing demand. His responsibility at Sling TV is to build a next-generation web-scale platform. He’s been working on it for about 18 months now and what Linder and his team are trying to do is enable optionality that can handle the workloads necessary to keep pace with the service’s customer growth and usage.

With that in mind, Linder and Sling TV have deployed a hybrid cloud strategy. With Sling TV operations running across both public and private cloud, the company has turned to solutions like DataStax to provide abstraction of the data layer.

Right now, Sling TV runs internal data centers on the east and west coasts. In addition, Sling TV is using DataStax Enterprise - based on open-source database Apache Cassandra—to put customer-specific data into a common store that can be shared across sites.

FierceVideo spoke with Linder to get more details on how Sling TV is using hybrid cloud to make its platform more resilient and to improve the overall customer experience.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

FierceVideo: When and why did Sling TV decide that a hybrid cloud model would best suit its needs?

Brad Linder: I came into the business when we were at a hyper-growth stage. We’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way and this has really allowed us to enable the sort of scale and customer experience we’re trying to do. You can go to our website today, sign up in five minutes and pretty much be watching video right after that. For that very short window from signup to initiation of content, it was important for us to have the sort of infrastructure we needed to keep up with the pace of our customers.

FierceVideo: Can you give a recent example of Sling TV needing to turn up compute power with a public or third-party cloud to handle a burst in demand?

Linder: I think that’s every day. We have some components out in the public cloud but most of our burst ability is internal. By the end of this quarter, we’ll be in that hybrid model across a few of our applications. It’s really about bursting to support the customer usage.

We’ve had some really big streaming events. State of the Union last night was pretty high volume for us and our systems held up very nicely to support the load. Given the internet as a delivery mechanism for what our customers consume, we have to be very reactive to whatever could go wrong. Handling those sorts of hiccups is something we have to do and we’ve gotten quite good as it honestly.

FierceVideo: How is Sling TV using the hybrid cloud model to advance its products and services?

Linder: The one that we’re targeting right now, which will be our first truly hybrid cloud application, will be our push notification app. What we want to make sure our customers get changes in their accounts. We try to get information back out to the client to let them know that their recording has started or completed, or that it’s available for them to watch, for example. That sort of web-scale solution allows us to get backend changes out to the customer more quickly and seamlessly. They don’t have to call to check in; the application will push it out to them as events happen.

The hybrid cloud model plays there well because if you have a million connected devices, then we have to maintain a million concurrent WebSockets, and that’s no trivial task.

FierceVideo: That’s the priority right now. A little further down the road does it shift toward something else?

Linder: I think it will evolve. As usage increases we want to be able to shift workloads based on customer demand. So, if one part of the service is running hot one night we want to be able to scale it up instantaneously to allow the customers to just get what they need. We’re really beating the drum of that customer-centric approach to both the architectures and the new applications we’re building.

To accommodate that, obviously we need the right sort of infrastructure underneath it.

FierceVideo: What does a hybrid cloud database do for Sling TV in terms of being able to offer personalization and other data-driven features?

Linder: From a personalization perspective, we want to give the platform the ability to sustain itself and make sure the customer is able to interact with systems effectively and that it gives them the sorts of content that’s most interesting to them, based on how they’re using the application.