AWS Case Study: PBS
PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) is a private, non-profit corporation that offers all Americans a wide variety of educational and entertainment programming through television and online content. PBS programming is delivered to individual communities through its nearly 360 member stations throughout the United States. In addition to television programs, PBS also provides content through mobile applications and several websites, including PBS.org, PBSKIDS.org and PBS Video. Founded in 1969, PBS has transformed itself from a solely broadcast organization to a multi-platform leader that serves Americans through television, mobile TV, the Web, interactive whiteboards in the classroom and more.
Drew Engelson is Chief Architect and Senior Director of Platform Development for PBS Interactive, the department responsible for PBS’ Internet and mobile presence. Initially, Engelson and his team employed a content delivery network that did not fully meet their needs for delivering streamed media files. This led to the periodic failure of streamed videos to start playing, as well as the chance that some video streams would freeze and not restart.
Because there was no method of measuring performance degradation through PBS’ existing content delivery network, Engelson and his team had difficulty identifying the source of these video streaming issues. To improve the system and prevent these types of issues, PBS Interactive implemented a monitoring tool that could also be used to test other content delivery networks, including Amazon Web Services (AWS). Already familiar with AWS, the PBS Interactive team was already using Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3).
Why Amazon Web Services
After monitoring multiple CDNs for a few weeks, PBS Interactive found that CloudFront had a significantly lower error rate than the incumbent CDN. As a result, they migrated the majority of PBS videos to Amazon S3 storage and delivered them via Amazon CloudFront. PBS Interactive completed the migration of its content into Amazon S3 within a matter of weeks and subsequently began delivering that content via Amazon CloudFront.
Since the migration, PBS Interactive says it has experienced fifty percent fewer errors in its video streaming performance. The department also conducts testing more quickly with the help of Amazon CloudFront’s invalidation request feature and by analyzing CloudFront logfiles. This feature improves PBS Interactive’s testing by rapidly removing bad files and quickly refreshing its cache.
Engelson believes that “Amazon CloudFront fits well with the other AWS services used by PBS. The team members have enjoyed their conversations with the AWS team as they have migrated to Amazon CloudFront, and they were pleased when the Amazon CloudFront invalidation feature was released shortly after they needed that feature.”
Today, PBS Interactive is delivering nearly all of its streaming video through Amazon CloudFront. This equates to more than one petabyte of video content delivered every month. In addition, PBS Interactive uses multiple third-party providers to transcode and segment mobile video assets, which are then delivered through Amazon CloudFront to PBS’ mobile apps for the Apple iPhone and iPad. Engelson says, “As with all the AWS services we leverage, using Amazon CloudFront is so simple and reliable that the team doesn’t have to think about it. It all just works, freeing us to focus on building cool applications.” He concludes, “We are extremely pleased with the performance and ease of use that CloudFront offers for streaming videos to different devices. With fewer errors, CloudFront delivers a great experience to our viewers, and that’s very important for the success of our business.”
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