Netflix's Newest Contest

Everyone loves a good contest, especially when there's a lucrative cash prize up for grabs. The Netflix Cloud Prize Challenge is no different, calling on developers to bring the very best improvements to its open source tools that rely on the cloud to function for the chance to win up to $100,000. There are 10 categories, each with a $10,000 prize.

Leave it to the self-proclaimed “cloud pioneers” at Netflix to come up with this brilliant idea!

netflixAs Netflix's CPO, Neil Hunt, said in a press release: “cloud computing has become a hot topic recently, but the technology is still emerging. No doubt many of the key ideas that will take it to the next level have yet to be conceived, explored, and developed. The ‘Netflix Cloud Prize' is designed to attract and focus the attention of the most innovative minds to create the advances that will take cloud to the next level.”

Seems like a fantastic idea, doesn't it? Not so fast. There are some who feel this contest isn't all for the good of the cloud.

Netflix's Newest Contest: Naysayers

Because Netflix relies on Amazon Web Services (AWS) as their cloud hosting provider, there are those that feel this contest is very AWS-centric. In their minds, this leads to a hinderance of new infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) vendors to rise from the shadows. If developers are working to enhance these AWS-based tools, it will delay work on new IaaS options, which will offer competitive prices and wider availability. Joe Emison of ‘Information Week' compares AWS-specific architecture to choosing to develop an app exclusively for iPhone, even when there are iPad and Android users screaming for their own version.

Another downfall of the contest is the fact the tools Netflix wants to update aren't necessarily written well. Yes, the code used right now works fine, but what about the future? Opponents of the contest feel Netflix's efforts to improve the tools they offer won't help them in the future as the cloud architecture itself develops.

What If…

But what if these naysayers are wrong? What if this contest itself brings cloud computing to the next level? UC Berkeley professor Henry Chesbrough calls this type of contest “open innovation.” Basically, nothing is stopping anyone from doing what they feel needs to be done. They aren't answering to a board of directors, and there is no set of rules that need to be adhered to.

Basically, Netflix's research and development team is anyone who enters the contest — and they don't have to pay big bucks to hire an expert with a wealth of knowledge.

With the number of people that could possibly enter this contest, it increases the chance someone will develop the “next big cloud idea,” and that could be game changing.

Unveiling Genius

The contest could also introduce us to the next big name in cloud computing. Sometimes, the innovators are unknowns. Without this contest, would they be given the opportunity to show their stuff? Maybe not.

Netflix: No Stranger To Prize Offerings

Netflix has offered a prize in the past: the company offered a million dollars to the person or group of people that improved the algorithm the service relies on for recommending movies by 10%.

That contest also had its detractors. People complained that they offered far too much money (really?!). Others said the algorithm was never put into place. Others still were up in arms that the company was moving from DVDs to streaming (not necessarily the best idea).


It doesn't matter if you support the contest or not. The fact remains this contest could change the cloud as we know it, and likely for the better. Open source approaches bring fresh ideas to the table. That's the bottom line.

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