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Netflix cracks wallet to spur open source cloud development

$200,000 of prize money for devs building 'the missing piece of AWS'

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Netflix wants its open source software to become the preferred platform for massive cloud-based applications, so it has launched a cash-conferring contest to generate developer enthusiasm for its technology.

The Netflix OSS Cloud Prize was announced by the company at an event in Los Gatos, California, on Wednesday evening. The procrastination king has set aside $200,000 across ten prizes to reward developers for pushing the limits of its massive cloud platform.

The goal of the competition is to spur development of a set of open source software tools that developers can use to build "the missing piece between AWS and running your software in the cloud," Netflix cloud architect Adrian Cockcroft wrote in a Github post.

Budding devs can submit a patch of one of Netflix's 24 existing open source projects, or a standalone program.

There will be 10 winners across 10 categories such as best datastore integration, best contribution to code quality, best example application mash-up, and best new feature.

A complete list and FAQ is available on the prize's Github site.

Submissions opened on Wednesday and will close on September 15.

Winners will get $10,000 in cash, $5,000 AWS credits, two airline tickets to Las Vegas at the time of AWS Re:invent (plus accommodations), and a single ticket to the conference – a prize Netflix says totals around $20,000.

Winners will also get job opportunities "fame and notoriety" within Netflix's engineering department.

Netflix wants its own darn cloud operating system

The prize sees Netflix try to take control of cutting-edge cloud software development and, tugboat-like, pull the developer community in the direction it wants to go.

"If you're developing a platform and it's really leading edge and you get out ahead of everyone else, there's a danger you end up in a cul-de-sac," Cockcroft told The Register. The prize "lowers the risk that at some point in the future we'd have to decide we were in a dead end. We'll have a community to live in."

The company thinks its cloud recipe makes sense for sites that can expect to have millions of users, even if they don't specialize in streaming video and complex, dynamic pages, he says.

"The thing that we've cracked that a lot of the other platforms haven't done is the problems of solving large-scale deployments," Cockcroft told us.

If "you think you're going to have to deploy to millions of customers, you'll run into many of the problems we've solved," he says. But "if you're doing your first 10,000 customers it's probably overkill."

Though many absurdly optimistic technophiles like to talk about a multi-cloud future in which companies run across many separate infrastructure-as-a-service providers, this is still a tall order for Netflix.

"We're still in that state that Amazon has a lot more features than anyone else," Cockcroft says.

Implementing a multi-cloud feature on the Netflix platform would require substantial code rewrites, he indicated, because many of the open source modules rely on features in AWS that are not available anywhere else.

He hopes the Netflix platform can set an example to other cloud providers. His theory is that because Netflix is a huge AWS spender, what is important for it is likely to matter a lot to other cloud customers as well.

"I think there's definitely interest from OpenStack and CloudStack and people like Google Compute in trying to figure out the APIs and features that matter, and what we're doing is [demonstrating] those features," he says.

Netflix's software is already being used outside the company and even outside clouds – eBay uses some of its technology within its own private data centers, Cockcroft says – but the company hopes the prize will give it more sway over the developer community, and a pool of people to recruit from in the future.

Any farmer dreams of being a landowner, but here on El Reg's cloud platform desk we wonder what will happen if Netflix decides after that to move away from Amazon – just where could it go? ®

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