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Escape From Amazon: Tips/Techniques for Reducing AWS Dependencies

Slides from my talk at CloudTech III in early October 2012:

Escape From Amazon: Tips/Techniques for Reducing AWS Dependencies from Soam Acharya

 

Talk abstract:

As more startups use Amazon Web Services, the following scenario becomes increasingly frequent – the startup is acquired but required by the parent company to move away from AWS and into their own data centers. Given the all encompassing nature of AWS, this is not a trivial task and requires careful planning at both the application and systems level. In this presentation, I recount my experiences at Delve, a video publishing SaaS platform, with our post acquisition migration to Limelight Networks, a global CDN, during a period of tremendous growth in traffic. In particular, I share some of the tips/techniques we employed during this process to reduce AWS dependence and evolve to a hybrid private/AWS global architecture that allowed us to compete effectively with other digital video leaders.

Flattering Streaming Media Coverage for Our Video Platform

Streaming Media writes that OVP (Online Video Platform) is a pretty crowded space with more than a hundred vendors. They then list the top ten platforms and yes, we’re in there. Here’s what they say:

The OVP formerly known as Delve (until Limelight bought it) stands out for its user experience and workflow. The user interface was designed to be friendly and to make it easy to accomplish tasks. When a user uploads a video, he or she can update its metadata and set the channel even before the video is fully uploaded. That’s a timesaver few can match. It also offers strong analytics and APIs.

The platform’s Video Clipper tool makes it easy to shorten videos and works well in combination with Limelight’s real-time analytics. If users see that viewers are routinely quitting a video at a certain point, they have the option of ending the video there.

The OVP was acquired by Limelight in August 2010. Rather than focusing on just the mobile experience or just analytics, the Limelight Video Platform focuses on offering the best end-to-end user experience. Since it’s now under the same roof as a top CDN, it’s able to offer tie-ins that others can’t. Users gain from functionality such as player edge scaling, which the video platform is able to offer through low-level access to the CDN. Users also get to use developer APIs that aren’t open to the public.

Given that we started relatively late in this space (the company had started to pivot away from semantic video search to the platform SaaS approach just prior to my coming on board), this recognition is particularly heartening. It has been a monumental amount of work and accumulation of many battle scars for all of us. Full credit to Alex, Edgardo and the rest of the team!

Being committed to a startup means you have to be prepared to do anything and everything. That and my own role(s) at Delve/Limelight mean involvement with pretty much all system aspects, especially the backend. I am particularly chuffed at the repeated mentions of analytics since a lot of my own blood, sweat and tears go into it.

Okay, better stop now before this starts reading like an acceptance speech 🙂

Entrepreneurship

Recently, courtesy house repairwork gone amok, I had occasion to spend time with Felix Ejeckam, a friend from my grad school days. Felix was recently voted Innovator of the Year by Black Enterprise magazine for his work with Group4Labs. His field, semiconductors and such, is somewhat different from mine. Yet, as long as I’ve known him, Felix has always been fiercely entrepreneurial and anyway, if you move up enough, it’s all hi-tech. I value his insights and, during my stay, I asked him about his thoughts on what qualities separated good entrepreneurs from bad. I was a little surprised to see determination, a topic recently in vogue courtesy the Paul Graham essay, not make the list, so I thought I’d share. Here goes:

  1. Unwavering self confidence in one’s own abilities. I liked how Felix phrased this – would you enter a situation where your life depended on your work? Do you have that much trust in yourself?
  2. Zoom in, zoom out – the best entrepreneurs have the ability to see the forest for the trees. However, they can also quickly become close and personal with a specific problem if necessary. While running small startups, you don’t have the luxury of sticking exclusively to either big picture or small picture.
  3. Neuroses free zone – there’s no question startups are physically demanding. However, mentally, they can be even more grueling. There’s no question it takes a certain level of obsession, recklessness and risktaking several levels beyond the norm to launch a career of this sort. However, self doubt, insecurities and all of that can easily be exacerbated in the day to day grind, sometimes with tragic results. Keeping mentally healthy is important. This is not to say there aren’t crazy chair throwing CEOs out there, just that you probably won’t have that luxury!