Why Netflix Spends Big on Original Content

Netflix-Orignals

Astronomical Numbers:

Why Netflix spends an incredible amount on Content

There’s been a lot of talk and even more speculation over the last year about how much money content streaming service Netflix is spending creating and acquiring shows for it’s Netflix Originals banner. The following is a quote from a Variety article published March 10th (found here)

Tony Wible, an analyst with Janney Montgomery Scott, estimates that Netflix will spend $5 billion in programming next year, more than anyone save ESPN. It also eclipses the $4.5 billion that rivals Amazon, HBO, Starz and Showtime are estimated to have shelled out in combined spending in 2014.

Netflix is going both deep and long on original content. Unlike traditional content creation companies (Studios) and content distribution companies (Cable and Free to Air Networks) Netflix doesn’t have the baggage that comes with operating a traditional Free to Air or Cable TV network and this has given them some big advantages.

Netflix are incredibly smart and they know the markets in which they operate. Netflix is willing to  pay a premium for their original content titles because they’re cutting deals that allow them to use that content worldwide. As the launch of Netflix Australia showed this week, not all content deals around the world are equal. While Netflix Australia isn’t the poor little brother by any stretch of the imagination, it is missing some glaring content when compared to its US parent.

What isn’t missing however are the highly anticipated titles from the growing catalog of its original content productions. Much of this content was originally licensed to the cable giant Foxtel – co-owned by Newscorp and Telstra. Foxtel now operates the Netflix competitor Presto! in partnership with Seven West Media.

The current rumour (mostly unsubstantiated but likely true) is that Netflix not only bought back the rights to their own content from Foxtel, but paid a premium to do it. It begs the question  – why on earth would Netflix buy back their own content at a premium in preparation for their launch in Australia? The answer is simple.

Know your enemies like you know your friends

Netflix knows their consumer. Netflix knows they have an instant audience because they’ve been keeping tabs on something interesting. Over the last few years they’ve seen an uptick in the number of their American subscribers paying with Australian credit cards.

It’s been estimated that around 200,000 Australians have been bypassing geo-fencing and subscribing to their US service. If this number is accurate it means a number of subscribers that will instantly switch over once the service launches in their local area expecting access to the same Netflix Originals available from the US service.

They also understand competition. Netflix have been operating in the North American market for years – a cutthroat market dominated by hostile and (lately increasingly desperate) Cable giants. It’s through this competition that Netflix have tested and proven the worth of their investments in original content – investments that have translated into a large (and growing) audience of cable cutters.

These “cable cutters” are typically 18-35 year old consumers that desire premium content and the ability to consume it in an entirely different way to anything offered by cable. They’ve also proven that they are willing to pay for that privilege.

Artificial Scarcity No Longer Makes Sense

Much like Free To Air television networks, cable networks have always relied on rigidly enforced artificial scarcity to inflate the value of their content. Their tactics resulted in them stringing out content week after week, with seasons for some shows taking up 6 months to unfold. They bet that your favourite shows would keep you watching and subscribed. It wasn’t a stretch though, because there was no other way to gain access to the content. It wasn’t much of a choice.

Networks also used the same tactics to limit access to their content worldwide. Even recently it wasn’t unusual for international broadcasters to be asked to pay a premium for the rights to a Networks “flagship” shows – even when it was several years it had first aired in the US. This worldwide syndication tactic guaranteed easy profits, especially once the global reach of the US entertainment industry peaked in the 80’s and 90’s.

The problem with this artificial scarcity is that it has proven over the last 10 years to be a serious mistake by the Networks. Consumers aren’t stupid – they know when they’re being bent over the barrel and taken for a ride. These days it’s simple, and in some cases far more convenient, for domestic and international consumers to bypass restrictions designed to cause artificial scarcity.

Netflix has eschewed this antiquated model in favour of releasing its Netflix Originals the way that the majority of its consumers want to access it – all at once, regardless of where they live. This bulk release of content simplifies matters for Netflix, but it’s the worldwide release that makes the most difference.

With the instantaneous release of episodic content like House of Cards and Marco Polo, Netflix has proven that instant access to content worldwide actually works to not only bump subscriber numbers, but also reduce piracy.

It’s not a perfect system though. There will always be those who seek to get something for nothing. Piracy has existed for decades and there will always be some for whom legal options that cost money will not satisfy. That isn’t the case with all consumers though. There are places where the only reason Piracy exists in high volumes is because consumers feel they have no other reasonable choice.

When consumers feels your content inaccessible at a reasonable cost or too difficult to gain access to by conventional means, they’ve proven willing to bypass the artificial scarcity restrictions being enforced on them and acquire that content by other means.

Playing the long game

I mentioned early in this piece that Netflix has been playing the long game and that’s absolutely true. They’ve stated on a number of occasions that their current goal is for 100 million subscribers worldwide. This would make them the largest subscription content service in the world bar none and give them unprecedented buying power.

The mathematics of 100 million subscribers are staggering. Assuming that the average subscriber spend is US$10, the monthly income for Netflix at that point reaches US$1 billion dollars.

$1billion in revenue per month from their subscription streaming service alone changes everything. It would open up a lead between Netflix and their competitors that would be extremely difficult to bridge. No other streaming service comes even remotely close to that number. No other streaming service has doubled down and spent as much on original content on a regular basis as Netflix has either.

100 million worldwide subscribers would also give Netflix unprecedented leverage when negotiating with content owners too. After all wouldn’t you prefer that your [Episodic Content / Documentary / Movie / Insert new content type here] be available on the service with a global reach of 100 million subscribers?

Conclusion

Netflix has charted a course for themselves and they are charging ahead. While nothing is ever certain, it certainly looks right now like they’re moving in the right direction. After all, no other streaming service is pushing the broadcast and cable industries to transform the way they make their content available like Netflix is.

The used to say content is King. If that remains true today then Netflix is clearly positioning themselves to be the power behind the throne for years to come.

A Quick Word About Equality.

To My Colleagues, Friends & Family

I’d like to take the time to make my views on equality crystal clear.

I don’t care if you’re black, brown, yellow, purple, gay, bi, trans, gender-queer or a furry – you are a person and a citizen of this nation. You should be treated as equal in the eyes of the law.

You should have the same rights, protections and privileges under law that other members of our society already enjoy. Right, protections and privileges that those who would call themselves “Christians” are trying to prevent you from obtaining or retaining.

Rights, protections and privileges that they would riot if someone tried to take away from them.

I’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with you and fight every step of the way. Love first, acceptance always. It doesn’t matter if you share my batshit crazy beliefs in Cthulu, Zombie Jesus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or if you believe in the spiritual connection that comes from taking care of the land you live on. What matters is that you share in the inalienable right to equality under the law that I already enjoy.

You deserve family visitation access to your partner when they’re sick in hospital. You deserve access to their super if the worst happens. You deserve to be able to live on your land in a community of your people without fear of interference or intervention.

You live, laugh, cry and love as deeply as the rest of us. You’re people – human – and you bleed red just like the rest of us. You aren’t something unwelcome, fit only to be scraped off the bottom or our shoes. You should be treasured for who you are, not punished for it.

I understand as an adult that people are free to choose to disagree with this point of view. I choose to be friends with a diverse range of people with a diverse range of viewpoints.

If you don’t agree with my views on equality you have two choices:

1. Shut the hell up with your hate speech. Post hate speech on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Other Social Media? I’ll report it and then I’ll block you for life. You get to have an opinion, you get to voice your opinion, you even get to do it in public. You DON’T have a right to post hatespeech. Not ever.

2. Go be friends with someone who shares only your opinion. There are plenty of people who share your opinion. You’re (thankfully) a minority. but by God (mine, not yours) you’re a vocal, bitching, whingeing minority. I will never share your beliefs. It would be better for everyone involved if you just unfriended me and moved on.

If you choose to stick around, I’m not going to try to force you to agree with me. I’m not going to try and force you to believe what I believe even though you don’t seem to think you should give me the same courtesy. I am going to stand in solidarity with the contributing members of our society who are currently treated little better than cattle.

I am going to aid them in fighting every step of the way until they’ve gained the rights, protections and privileges afforded to the rest of us. 

So may the continuing fight for equality (marriage and otherwise) be a short one. To my friends and family who are in the trenches fighting this everyday, I have only one thing to say to you:

I love and support you unconditionally.

Now lets go win this fight.

Review: Netflix goes live in Oz

Netflix-Logo-Red

A first look at the streaming service

Netflix Australia went live in Oz at midnight Eastern Daylight Savings Time on the 24th of March. There’s been a lot of buzz leading up to the launch of Netflix Down Under. How does it stack up? Can it provide the same value to customers that it provides in the USA? Lets have a look and see.

Legally Obtained Content is King

Full disclosure: I’ve been a very happy, very fulfilled subscriber to the US version of Netflix since somewhere in 2009. I’ve said for years if content is available legally, at a price that is competitive, then it is obligation to take advantage of that service.

While it might not have been entirely legal in America for me to circumvent the geo-fencing forced on Netflix by its agreement with US copyright holders it hasn’t been illegal here in Australia for me to go about taking advantage of those circumvention measures.

And take advantage of them I most definitely have. I love Netflix in the US not because it has the latest movies (it often doesn’t) or because it has game changing new shows like House of Cards or Hemlock Grove. My attraction and love affair with Netflix has long been about having access to the catalog of TV shows and quirky oddball movies that it offers.

Take for example Supernatural. This is a fantastic show now in its 10th season. I haven’t watched it past the 6th though. Netflix in the US gives me access to the entirety its back catalog. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the Australian version. A quick search shows that they clearly don’t have it.

Our next example is The Vampire Diaries. Ok so this one clearly for my wife and not for me. Personally I think they should have called it soft-core vampire romance for teens and been done with it. Again on Netflix US we have access to all the seasons in its back catalog. Unfortunately, the same can be said for Netflix Australia with 5 jaw droppingly craptastic seasons available to stream from the word go.

Lets go for an indie movie next. I’m a big fan of the off beat quirky comedy Safety Not Guaranteed. Lo and behold, you can find it on Netflix Australia as well as Netflix US.

Something for the kids?

One of the things I really liked about Netflix US was the dedicated Kids mode. In Kids mode, all content not specifically aimed at Tweens and below is locked out leaving a safe environment for your kids to be able to watch what they want without you having to be worried they’ll accidentally click something they shouldn’t.

There’s a decent amount of content in the Netflix Australia kids mode, though the Disney TV shows are noticeably absent. We can only hope they manage to bring them on board soon.

Comparing Apples with Watermelons

Juxtaposing Netflix US and Netflix Australia is actually quite a bit harder then you might imagine. The playing field in Australia was clearly stacked against Netflix and not just because it had sold the broadcast rights for some of its hit shows to Foxtel.

In Australia, its not unusual for broadcast networks to have exclusive content distribution deals in place and this has clearly affected the availability of certain content.

If you take the time to look at what content is on offer as a whole that you really start to get the picture of what Netflix Australia is. You also start to realise that maybe this whole US/Australia comparison business isn’t the right way to go about this.

For example – I’ve been hanging out to watch the new TV show 12 Monkeys, but before I do I’d like to go back and watch the movie. I can do that now because although it’s not available for streaming on Netflix US, Twelve Monkeys is available to stream here.

It’s not the only title available for streaming right now either. International juggernauts like 22 Jump Street, Robocop (2014, though the 1987 original is on there too), 300: Rise of an Empire, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Need For Speed and other all grace Netflix Australia ready to stream right now. Though the list isn’t endless, and there are a lot of the indie movies I adore missing from the catalog, there’s enough to justify the price.

Where Netflix Australia really starts to shine though is when you click through to British TV shows. My jaw dropped when I saw the sheer volume of BBC and indeed British content available as a whole.

Top Gear, Broadchurch, The Tunnel, Wallander, The Fall, The Killing, Downton Abbey, Call The Midwife, Doctor Who (2005 onwards), Orphan Black, SILK and many, many more are all right there for you to watch.

Netflix Australia – The Verdict

If you’re looking to watch TV shows such as Pretty Little Liars, American Horror Story and The Originals, you’ll find your content appetite sated. Even if you aren’t into Vampire and Horror shows aimed at Teens and those in there early 20’s, Netflix has launched with a decent mix of new and old shows as well as its original content such as Marco Polo and Orange is the New Black to tempt you into signing up.

It’s clearly early days for Netflix Australia. The service has now been live for a little over 2 hours as the writing of this review and as its US counterpart did, it will clearly continue to evolve over the coming months and years. While there might be gaps in both the TV and Movie catalog’s, there’s more than enough content for adults and kids to justify the subscription price.

An Epitaph to Sir Terry Pratchett

Noli Timere Messorem

I’ve been stuggling to come to terms with the death of fantasy author Terry Pratchett. It’s difficult for me to express in words what Terry’s work has meant to me over the last 10 years but by nevertheless I’m going to try.

I came to walk with Terry Pratchett late in life. I had met him in passing in my late teens having been involved in an amateur theater production of his fourth Discworld novel Mort. It wasn’t until around 2005 as I plumbed the depths of how bad my battle with alcoholism could really get that I came upon him properly.

In late 2005 I discovered that I had in my possession a book called Reaper Man. After several failed attempts to read it I nearly wrote Terry off completely. It wasn’t until I was shopping one day and happened across a sale on fantasy novels that I decided to try something different by Mr Pratchett.

That discovery was a story of a junior witch by the name of Tiffany Aching. Her interactions with the Wee Free Men, her fearless wielding of a fry pan and her steadfast refusal to break in the face of seemingly impossible odds broke through my cloud of depression and alcoholism and piqued my interest.

I’ve always been a a voracious reader, and Tiffany led me to Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. Drawn into this world where strange characters abounded and where wicked humor intermixed effortlessly with biting satire and social commentary I eventually came across the man who changed my life.

When I first met Samuel Vimes I didn’t like him. He was, at the time, more than likely too close a reflection of myself than I was comfortable with confronting. I met him as most did – first through Guards! Guards! when he’s little more than a badly formed caricature, then subsequently through Men At Arms.

At first I honestly didn’t think Pratchett understood Vimes. My opinion didn’t change very much in Men at Arms. I was reasonably impressed with him in The 5th Elephant, but it wasn’t until a friend loaned me Thud! that I saw to my astonishment, how wrong my assumption had been. It was only after I’d read Thud! though, that I encountered Night Watch and was shown the entirety of the man that Vimes had become.

It was with Night Watch – the novel that I firmly believe was, and now is always destined to remain his best novel – where Terry finally achieved critical mass with both Vimes and the Discworld.

Night Watch is a stunningly book. It is at once a time travel book, a novel about a revolution, a tale of an assassination, and a look into the mania one experiences when their mind, body and the world around them conspire to betray them in ways they are unable to control.

Like he does in all Discworld tales, Pratchett takes a scalpel to every trope and cliche imaginable – reversing some, turning others on their heads and blowing the ever-loving shit out of the rest.

As far as I am concerned it stands as the culmination of Terry’s work. It holds a special place in my heart though. For me, Night Watch (and to a certain extent Thud!) remains the novel that drives me to keep fighting even when my long-term struggle to keep my sobriety might seem a losing battle.

I’m nowhere near as capable as Vimes is at clinging to the memories he knows to be trues or at holding onto the hope necessary to keep the darkness at bay. Sometimes my demons find the weakness and unlike Vimes, I don’t have a cigarette case, or the sheer strength of will to stop myself from self-destructing.

I’ll keep trying though because I owe Pratchett a debt I will never ever be able to repay. I had honestly hoped one day I would have the courage to write to him, explaining what these works of art he produced truly meant to me and thanking him for the life his books have helped me reclaim.

A letter I will now never have the opportunity to write.

It helps me, at this time and in this place, to believe that he knew in life and knows now in death how I and many others were saved by his words. These novels touched many many people in ways both similar and far, far different than mine.

I choose to think that part of Terry’s trip to heaven (if such a place exists) involved a montage of all the people who’s lives he touched with a scoreboard ticking over infinite karma points.

Sir Samuel Vimes, Commander of the City Watch, Tiffany Aching, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Rincewind and Corporal Nobby Nobbs (probably human) – as well as a host of characters – will forever stand as cornerstones in my daily battle with the demons in my head.

So while you’ll never read this Terry, I can assure you of one thing:

You saved my life.

Burning Out: A Requiem to My Former Self.

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Earlier in the week the inscrutable @GirlGerms (aka #JessIsAwesome) tweet a link to a post on burning out by Dylan Wilbanks called “On Burnout and The Year Of Hell“. This post has stuck with me, but not for any of the reasons it should have.

To explain why this piece has stuck with me I have to do something I’m not actually comfortable with – discuss my private life. I’m already experiencing anxiety even just typing those words so this promises to be an experience that I don’t really enjoy.

In The Beginning

I’d like to say that my own experiences with burnout started last year, but that wouldn’t be true. My first taste of what burnout felt like came in 2005 when I was 23.

I had been bouncing around between projects in early 2003, when I came across an opportunity to to have a steady contract. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted but I took the work anyway because it would put food on the table and I was excited by the possibility of what it could lead to down the track.

Fast forward two years and I was in the same position, doing the same work, with no reprieve, no managerial support and no sign of any way out. I’d become very very good at what I did, but the lack of satisfaction had led to me drinking heavily and… and it’s at this point that we come to the disclosure that makes me the most uncomfortable.

Hi. My name’s Aaron and I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’ve been a recovering alcoholic since 2005. I’m not perfect. I struggle with it some times more than others. I still drink, but most of the time I can easily limit myself to a single drink. It’s when I have more than 1 drink that it doesn’t lead anywhere good. Sometimes its OK and I merely get photographed molesting a statue of a bull.

Mostly it ends up costing me things that I hold dear. Usually the things it costs me are relationships with friends. Sometimes they’re opportunities – personal and/or professional. Regardless of the outcome, the fact remains that alcohol isn’t my friend.

To make things extra unfortunate, when I’m burning out alcohol is what I turn to as a coping mechanism. I was fairly drunk when I told the Managing Director he could shove his job up his arse in 2005.

4 years later in early 2009 after burning myself out again I was fairly drunk when I had a severe disagreement with the Managing Director of another company and ended that working relationship as well.

I wasn’t drunk in August last year when I left Oracle Enterprises though I was probably about 80% burnt out. Anyone that had been playing the home game with me at the time knows that I had been working fortnights that were the other side of 180hours. I was once again racing towards burnout with gleeful and reckless abandon.

I was drunk in December when the incident that led to the ending of my contract with eGeek Consulting occurred.

When I took the contract with eGeek I was filled with a deep and righteous fire. Here was the opportunity that I had been waiting for. Here was everything that I had worked my whole career for. Played right and with the correct amount of dedication this would be the opportunity that launched my career into new (international) stratospheres.

Except that it wasn’t ever going to be.

That’s not to say that the opportunity didn’t exist. It absolutely did. The reason it wasn’t ever going to be is that I hadn’t derailed the sick cycle carousel by quitting working at Oracle Enterprises – I’d merely postponed the final saga. It didn’t take long for that other 20% to disappear.

When I was approached to take on the role that ended up derailing a close friendship and destroying those prospects I’d dreamed of, I should have said no. I should have explained that I couldn’t do it. I should have told my friend that I’d begun (for the first time in my life) experiencing severe crippling panic attacks.

I should have done a lot of things that I didn’t. In the end, it cost me a dear friend and mentor. It cost him even more.

Reflections and New Directions

I’ve had a lot of time to think over the last 3 months and one of the things that I’ve been wondering is why I keep burning out. Why do I keep getting back on the carousel and throwing myself at projects that will inevitably consume me? The only answer that I’ve been able to come up with is this:

I really have no fucking idea.

I do know one thing though – I’m currently a wreck, physically and mentally. Over the last 10 years I’ve repeatedly destroyed everything that I’ve ever held dear. I’ve sacrificed friendships chasing pipedreams based on promises from others that were never going to eventuate.

I’ve continually sacrificed my health too. While this time I didn’t start smoking again, I did find something to replace it with that’s potentially even more destructive – compulsive eating. Over the last 2 years I’ve put on 40 kilograms and I can feel the devastation this excess weight is wreaking on my body.

This brings us full circle to why the piece by Dylan has stayed with me. I thinks its because I was finally able to recognise and put a name to what I’ve suffered through intermittently for the last 10 years.

The relief accompanied with knowing that I’m not the only who this has ever happened to has been palpable.

Unlike Dylan I didn’t stumble across the cure to burnout accidentally, though his piece has allowed me to start charting a course towards recovery. While I knew that I needed to get back to my healthy weight of 95 kilograms and that that task requires me to shed 50 kilograms I now know that this will be one of the things I need to do to truly recover.

Late last month I finally started writing again. Like Dylan I’ve found something of a personal solace in it. Though I’m still beset by panic attacks when I post something technical anything at all, they’re starting to subside.

Most of all though, I think I keep coming back to Dylan’s article because it’s given me something that I haven’t had for some time. It’s given me hope that there’s not only a way out of the darkness, but that I can break the cycle I’ve found myself in.

One day I will find the balance point and live there. One day I’ll be able to prove to myself that I have enough worth without destroying my life. That day isn’t today though. Right now I’m learning to crawl all over again.

It’ll be a long winding road back to healthy, but I finally think I’m heading in the right direction.

Linked: Interesting links I found today

So I thought I’d try something a bit different and put together a list of the interesting posts I’ve come across on the web today.

First up an article by Dylan Wilbanks on recovering from burnout:
As someone who’s been through all of the stages of burnout (and is still recovering from some of them) I found this an interesting take on what burnout means for those of us fighting to keep up in an industry hell bent on moving the goalposts as fast as hourly.

https://the-pastry-box-project.net/dylan-wilbanks/2015-March-17

On the political spectrum we have an ABC fact check:
The Australian Government has continually claimed that it inherited the worst books in the history of government. Spoiler Alert: Not even close.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-18/fact-check–australia27s-economic-inheritance/6162670

Next up is a glimpse at what could have been:
Its been about 12 years since the release of Defiance – the last game in the seminal “Legacy of Kain” series. Late last month details of what could have been the most epic episode in the series yet came to light. YouTube footage was released and User Mama Robotnik posted details on the NEOGAF forum of what could have been. If you’re a fan of The Legacy of Kain series this is something you should definitely take a look at both links.

Youtube Footage – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBN8N2NXfi4
Forum Thread – http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=997613

Continuing on the gaming front :
The current Wolfenstein series started way back in 2009 with the somewhat flawed, though still enjoyable Wolfenstein (terribly original I know). It was followed up last year by the stunning Wolfenstein: The New Order. Now we have a first glimpse at the next standalone game in the series Wolfenstein: The Old Blood. It looks very much like Raven has learnt from the success of W:TNO and made improvements where necessary. Check out the 20 minutes of gameplay footage from PAX East. This really does look set to be another cracker.

http://games.on.net/2015/03/wolfenstein-the-old-blood-shows-off-20-minutes-of-gameplay-footage-in-new-pax-east-video/

Finally, we finish on a lighter note with a link to a comic:
Who has the sickest beats? Yeah, its clearly not you.

http://www.qwantz.com/index.php?comic=2799

Take it easy folks. Its a wild wild world out there.
-A

Thoughts: TPG Moving To Acquire iiNet

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The big news story floating around the web in Australia concerns Friday mornings announcement that iiNet, one of Australia’s top 5 Telcos (and ISP’s) board has recommended that its shareholders accept the offer tabled by TPG.

iiNet has made quite a name for itself over the last 7 years by refusing to roll over when a coalition of international and local media companies demanded that they disconnect users that were accused of copyright infringement without the due process of the courts.

When iiNet refused to comply with these demands, the coalition decided to take action and “make an example” of them. iiNet mounted a stirring defense (and one it was later learned that was helped by its largest competitor Telstra) and prevailed against the bully boys. Repeatedly.

That’s not all they’ve done though. iiNet have long been a vocal part of the Australian Telecommunications landscape, advocating for and against various versions of the NBN. They’ve also been a vocal critic of government oversight and stupidity in the shape of things like the mandatory Internet Filter and metadata retention.

The legal conflicts have continued though. iiNet announced in a blog post dated October 22 2014, last year that it is again embroiled in legal action initiated by a copyright rights-holder. This time the Telco is being sued for refusing to reveal the confidential details of subscribers accused by a Dallas Buyers Club LLC of illegally downloading the movie of the same name.

In the post, iiNet also revealed that a preliminary court date had been set, and that it had the refused requests for the information based on its belief that any subscribers it named would not be pursued by the company through the courts. iiNet instead stated that they believed their customers would instead be subject to “speculative invoices” demanding punitive sums while threatening that the alternative would involve costly legal action.

TPG on the other hand has a long history of simply rolling over to the demands made of it. While there has been no official comment from the company it’s highly likely that when it was approached it simply gave over any and all details requested by the rights-holder.

I’ve been a subscriber of both TPG and iiNet and I have for the most part been happy with the service I received. My experiences with iiNet customer service, though limited, have definitely been better than those with TPG. This stands to reason as iiNet have built their reputation on providing a reliable product and pairing it with the best customer service you can get. TPG on the other hand has staked their reputation on being a low cost provider.

TPG are just that – a low cost provider – and nothing more. When you sign up with iiNet you know that if something isn’t right help is as simple as a phone call. With TPG, what you get instead is a crapshoot. To be perfectly blunt, TPG doesn’t do customer service.

Though they’ve certainly improved somewhat in recent years, the fact still remains that getting someone on the phone to get customer service from TPG has for some customers proven to be an unwinnable battle. TPG consistently rates poorly in metrics of customer service satisfaction which is in stunning contrast to iiNet who consistently rate the highest.

If TPG is to buy iiNet, their best bet would be to keep the brand (and all of its associated structures) intact, letting them operate effectively as nothing more than a wholly owned subsidiary. This is unlikely to happen though. Not only does TPG not have a great track record with acquisitions, they’re unlikely to understand the customer first culture that iiNet has spent many, many years cultivating.

There are hurdles ahead to be sure. The first and biggest one is a public inquiry into the merger to be conducted by the ACCC (Australia’s competition regulator). Given that this merger will make TPG the second largest Telco in Australia, you can be certain that it will be thorough and grueling. After that comes the task of integration.

There has been talk in the media in recent days that this move by TPG could spark a feeding frenzy of consolidation in the Australian Telco industry as the current number 2 telco Optus moves to sure itself up against the TPG/iiNet behemoth. There aren’t a lot of other players in the Telco market and those that there are tend to be far smaller fish or niche companies with far less valuable customers than iiNet.

Nothing is certain right now. The iiNet takeover bid could be stopped at the regulatory level. It could go ahead though and as a worst case scenario it could mean less competition which is always bad for the consumer. Best case scenario, the guys running TPG know what they’re buying and leave it be.

Whatever the outcome you can be sure it will include lots of media speculation and a whole bucket load of interesting times.

SSD Health Part 2: When Good SSDs Go Bad

Welcome to Part 2 of our series on SSD Health. Today we’re going to take a look at how an SSD can go bad and what symptoms you’ll normally encounter. If you haven’t read part one you should and can do that here.

Part 2: When Good SSDs Go Bad.

SSDs, as we’ve seen in part one, have achieved the feat of being amazingly simple while remaining deceptively complex.

I would be incredibly surprised if, at some point in your career as an IT Professional,  you’d never come across a failed mechanical drive. Personally I’ve come across somewhere in the order of about a thousand failed drives in my time though these numbers are slightly skewed as I’ve contracted to repair agents from time to time.

As we noted in part 1, there are some fundamental differences in how SSDs operate as opposed to the mechanical drives we’re used to. Those differences are why it can be difficult for a frontline technician to diagnose a failing or faulty SSD as easily as one would a mechanical hard drive.

Storing Data in (Prison) Cells

The SSD equivalent of a mechanical drives “block” is a cell. Cells are the building blocks that form arrays which make up the NAND memory chips found on an SSDs Silicon Wafer. This, in effect makes, a raid array of SSDs a redundant array composed entirely of an array of arrays. (Cue the canned laughter…)

The arrays making up an SSDs NAND chips usually consist of 4000 cells. The cells in a NAND chip normally have an individual capacity of 8K per bit of data they are able to store. This means then that the base chip size for the three types of NAND currently in use are:

  • 8GB for SLC – 1 bit per cell;
  • 16GB for MLC – 2 bits per cell; and
  • 24GB for TLC – 3 bits per cell.

Extrapolating this example we can see that a 128GB SLC SSD requires 16 NAND chips consisting of arrays of 4000 cells per chip for a total of 64,000 cells. A 128GB MLC SSD will require merely 8 NAND chips (totaling about 32,000 cells) and you can’t make a 128GB NAND chip with TLC – the math doesn’t work evenly. You can however make a 120GB SSD with TLC using only 5 NAND chips and totalling a mere 20,000 cells.

So what does the number of cells have to do with SSDs going bad? Writing data to and erasing data from the cells found in your NAND chips requires a surprisingly high voltage current. Every-time you need to write to or erase a cell you create heat. The same goes with moving data through your drives cache, in and out of its memory channels and through the controller. Read and write to a lot of cells at the same time (it is an array after all) and you can create a lot of heat which can lead directly into the first of the 2 major things that can (and do) go wrong with SSDs.

1. Controller failure

Controller failure is an insidious beast and it affects boths HDDs and SSDs though not in equal measure. Controllers, as I mentioned in the previous part, are a complex microprocessor and act as a traffic controller for your SSD. Any time your drive is active, your Controller has its hands in the mix. Whether your SSD is reading, writing, erasing or performing garbage collection, your controller is constantly monitoring and handling all of the operations involved.

This can put a lot of pressure on a microprocessor – especially during high volume periods – and if theres one thing we all know that microprocessors are extremely susceptible to its thermal failure. Heat will also exacerbate and minor manufacturing flaws in any of the components in your SSD and when this happens you can quickly end up with a completely unusable drive.

In my experience when a drive suddenly becomes unusable it’s because the internal SRAM has corrupted, the external DRAM has failed, or my personal favourite – the Microprocessor has suffered a thermal event and burn out.

Symptoms of a Controller failure include:
1. A drive that shows up only intermittently in the BIOS (or even not at all);
2. A drive that correctly identifies itself, shows capacity but won’t allow any data to be read or written; and/or
3. A drive that correctly identifies itself but shows zero capacity.

So what can you do about it? If you’re drive suffers from a Controller failure then your only real choice is to make a warranty claim and hope your backups are OK.

2. Cell Burnout

Cell burnout is probably the single most well known and certainly the most common type of failure an SSD can sustain. It might come as a surprise to you then to discover that flash endurance is one of the most poorly understood issues facing SSDs today.

In the early days of SSDs if you weren’t careful you could easily burn out cells on your SSDs in hours under heavy load. These days, TRIM aware operating systems and wear-leveling algorithms aid in prolonging the lifetime of an SSD.

The cycle of writing to and erasing a cell in an SSD is known as a P/E (program and erase) cycle. Manufacturers of consumer SSDs used to publish estimates of how many P/E cycles their cells could handle. These numbers were usually found to be somewhere around 3000 for an entry level drive and around 10,000 for a prosumer drives.

Using our 128GB example from above, this means that theoretically a 128GB entry level SSD could write a total of 384TB during its lifetime and a prosumer drive should be able to write a total of 1,280TB ( or 1.28 Petabytes) during its lifetime. There was a rather large problem with these numbers though:

At best they were completely optimistic. In some cases they were outright fabrications.

While business grade drives were certainly capable of writing this much data during their lifetimes, consumer drives were often built to hit a price-point and used older or cheaper manufacturing processes as a result. These drives rarely came anywhere near the suggested lifetime write limit and still suffered significantly higher failure rates. This led to manufacturers coming up with new ways to express drive lifetime – Drive Writes Per Day (DWPD) and Terabytes Written (TBW).

DWPD is currently the SLC SSD descriptor of choice and therefore normally only found in enterprise level drives. If your DWPD is 1 and you are a 128GB drive then you can theoretically write 128GB to the drive everyday for the drive lifetime. This also means that if you’re a 1TB drive and you have a DWPD of, say 10, you could theoretically write 10TB per day, every day of your drives lifetime. Over a 5 year lifetime this is a total of approximately 233TB and 18.25PB (Petabytes) respectively.

Where TBW differs from DWPD is that you get an overall number of the how much data you should be able to write to the drive over its lifetime. This is much more commonly employed for MLC SSDs where the cells aren’t as robust as those found in an SLC SSD (nor as expensive). For example – a 128GB drive with a TBW of 65TB could theoretically write a total of 65TB (or about 35GB per day) over a 5 year lifespan.

Manufacturers are now building SSD drives in a fundamentally different way to their mechanical predecessors. In a mechanical drive, because platter space is a finite resource, (and you can’t just wack in another platter) you’ll normally only have about 8MB or spare space available for the drive to remap bad sectors. In modern SSDs though, it’s much easier (and more cost effective) to simply include additional NAND capacity. These addition chips are known as over-provisioning.

There’s no simple answer as to how much over-provisioning your drive has available to deploy because it varies between manufacturers and is included in the long list of numbers they don’t publish. It’s generally safe to assume that most manufacturers will include approximately 5-10% of drive capacity as overprovisioning, though there are rumors of a particular manufacturer including 30-50% over-provisioning in some of their consumer drives.

Symptoms of Cell Burnout include:

  1. Your OS/BIOS/Monitoring software reports that SMART readings indicate a drive failure is imminent;
  2. Chunks of data become unreadable from the drive (ie document X crashes the system when you try to access it;
  3. A check disk reveals that there are bad blocks on the drive.

So what can you do about it? Much like a mechanical HDD the solution to this problem is to backup whatever data you can get off the drive and if warranty is applicable lodge a claim.

Recap

Today in Part 2 we’ve taken a look at 2 of the reasons SSDs can go bad and what their symptoms normally are when this happens. Join us soon for Part 3 where we will discuss how you can monitor your SSDs and why you should bother.

SSD Health Part 1: An Introduction to SSDs

As SSDs become more prevalent in business and consumer environments those working in front line support roles are faced with a predicament. How do we monitor SSD drive health and is SSD failure predictable? On the surface it might seem like an easy question to answer but a little investigation soon reveals that the answer is a lot more complex that you first thought.

In this multi part series we’ll take a look at how SSDs work and why they’re a whole new kettle of fish when it comes to diagnostics and monitoring.

Part 1: An Introduction to SSDs

Electronic storage mediums, by their very nature, tend toward complexity. You might be surprised to find though that the not so humble SSD actually consists of very few parts. Let’s take a quick look at how each one plays with the other.

  • The Interface: Some will argue that the interface isn’t specifically a component of the SSD, but no-one can argue that the interface is a key part of the drive. The three main SSD interfaces in use today are Serial attached SCSI (SAS), Serial ATA (SATA) and PCI-E (nominally M-SATA / SATA M.2).
  • The Controller: Next up on our whirlwind tour of SSDs is the controller. This is actually the most complex part of an SSD and it really does need to be. The controller usually consists of two parts – an embedded processor and firmware level code that the processor executes to perform its functions. Sounds pretty straight forward right?
    On top of acting as a traffic controller for incoming and outgoing data, and monitoring storage medium integrity like it would in a regular platter based drive an SSD Controller also performs functions such as:

    • Monitoring data integrity and implementing error correcting code
    • Monitoring and implementing wear levelling through algorithms
    • Issuing Read and Write Caching requests
    • Garbage Collection (issuing clean-up and delete commands)
    • Encryption

In combination with the storage medium employed in the drive the Controller plays quite a large part in determining the speed of an SSD.

  • The Cache: Also known in HDD terminology as buffer, SSDs typically employ a small amount (normally 32 – 128MB) of DRAM as a volatile cache. The cache is typically a wholly separate part of the drive to the controller however some manufacturers have successfully integrated the cache into the controller without affecting performance.
  • The NAND: There are two main types of NAND – Single Level Cell (SLC) and Multi-Level Cell (MLC). SLC NAND has several advantages over MLC NAND – up to 3x faster write speeds, lower power consumption and up to 10x higher cell endurance. While SLC NAND is clearly the superior product it is rarely seen outside of high-performance memory cards and high end enterprise level SSDs due to its lower storage density and a 30% increased cost per gigabyte over MLC NAND.

So now we know all about the various parts that make up your average SSD. Why then are they a more complex beast than they first appear? Join us soon for Part 2 of this series: “When Good SSDs Go Bad”.

Authors Note: There are other types of SSDs most notably those built from DRAM though these are nominally only employed where persistence is less important than raw unbridled speed. There are also SSDs that connect through other interfaces such as Fibre Channel and Diablo’s Memory Channel Storage products. These fall outside the bounds of this series and so must inevitably be ignored.

Unpopular posts.

So today I posted my first post in a while. It was a post on the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro that Lenovo has kindly provided me to use for review and basically whatever I like.

It was without a doubt the single most unpopular post I have ever produced.

Ever.

Seriously though, its not even close. In the last 9hrs since the post went live it has received a single pageview. Just one measly pageview and I’m not even sure that wasn’t an accident.

I’m not surprised that it’s only had a single view because Lenovo isn’t the worlds most popular company at the moment. My timing for posting probably couldn’t have been any worse what with the Superfish fiasco not even remotely close to being played out yet.

I expected that people would skip it, though clearly I completely underestimated the backlash against Lenovo right now. It’s a shame too because over the last 6 years that I’ve been working with and recommending Lenovo products to my clients I’ve never had anything except phenomenal experiences with Lenovo goods.

I can understand how they managed to make the mistake they did. I can also understand how they fell into the same trap that many other companies have that when they first discovered that they were doing something wrong they tried to hide it.

Their response since this came to light though has been one of unexpected openness and honesty. They’ve worked with Anti-virus vendors to effect quick and easy removal and they’ve done their level best to keep their end users informed.

They’ve also taken responsibility for their actions publicly in the press and on social media. They’ve taken a pounding yes, but overall I’ve been happy with how they’ve handled the response.

Still wasn’t expecting my initial review to only get a single pageview though.