Skifta is a free service that allows consumers to shift media from the network it is stored on and access it in other locations. For example, you can access your music stored on your home PC, then play it on your TV, Playstation3, mobile device, or wireless radio. The idea for the service came out of the team’s own frustration and desire to listen to their music while away from home.

Skifta is a great example of a product that may not have been possible without cloud computing. Skifta has a six-person development team and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Qualcomm. Ed Smith, Director, Product Development, explains, “The alternative solution would have been to build out large development and test environments to evaluate the cost of deploying Skifta globally. Then, assuming the investment could be justified, petition for a large budget to build a global infrastructure to support a solution yet to prove its viability. It is doubtful the service would exist today were it not for Amazon Web Services (AWS).”

The maturity of the AWS solution was the primary factor in Skifta choosing it as their hosting provider. “With six people on the team, it was imperative that the development tools allowed one primary and one secondary person to run all our environments (development, integration, test, stage and production) and manage all aspects of those environments (deployment, elasticity, scaling, monitoring and disaster recovery)," Smith says. "All of this needed to be achieved without impacting the rest of the team’s activities. AWS was the clear choice." 

The AWS Cloud allows Skifta to run in multiple regions in a redundant, disaster recovery architecture, and scale according to usage needs by geography. Skifta was built around the AWS philosophy, architecture, and feature set. Smith breaks down their architecture by AWS service:

  • Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) – Used for development, testing stage and production environments (particularly useful for stress testing the solution for 24-hour periods). "These environments include our web and mobile web sites, the super peers that assist in streaming media from one location to the other, the distribution centers that distribute the client downloads, and finally the backend logic," Smith says. "We also use Amazon Regions in conjunction with geographic DNS to allow customers to contact the server nearest them."
  • Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) – Used iacross Skifta's systems for serving binary files, from images and user-defined avatars to installation files. "Using Amazon S3 means we don’t need to worry about load and gives us a convenient location for storage of permanent data outside the application servers," Smith says. "With this architecture, we can create multiple instances on demand of the application servers without worrying about synchronizing our data at create-time."
  • Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) – Used to synchronize cache and runtime data between regions.
  • Amazon SimpleDB – Used for event data from production systems. SKifta finds Amazon SimpleDB useful in terms of unstructured storage where the exact definition varies from event type to event type. "It gives us an efficient event dump area that can be analyzed at a later stage," Smith says.

"AWS stands head and shoulders above its competitors in terms of the quality and range of AWS services and the international reach," Smith says. "We have been impressed with the quality of the implementations and tools, and we derive confidence in the knowledge that AWS is innovating as quickly as we are.”

The Skifta team has been able to deploy a full solution for a fraction of the cost of traditional hosting models. “A capex approach to this project would have meant an expenditure of over $1 M on hardware and data centers. But in the last twelve months, we have developed, deployed and launched a media shifting solution that can scale to support millions of subscribers, performing millions of transactions, with a total hardware and software spend of less than $70,000,” Smith says.

Not only has Skifta been able to save money and go to market quickly, Smith also believes there are underlying development advantages. “The ability to design and code a software service that can take advantage of elastic computing has produced better code, better deployment and scaling tools and a better approach to iterative code development. It makes a huge difference that the code development and test cycle does not need to be project managed to ensure the appropriate resources are available and configured in time for the right testing cycles. Testing can take place on an as-needed basis.”

Using the AWS Cloud has prompted Skifta to adopt a different mindset when it comes to the lifespan of machines. "In our case, all machines are created dynamically," Smith says. "This has cut the risk of operator error on installations and upgrades to virtually zero, since everything including automated testing can be tested in the replica environments ensuring no fat finger trouble on eventual launch into production.”

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