Netflix: Hardware flaw caused shipping mess

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A hardware component caused the problem that seriously disrupted Netflix’s ability to mail out DVDs for several days this month.

After initially suspecting a corrupted database, Netflix eventually discovered that the real culprit had been “a key faulty hardware component,” the company said Monday in its official Netflix Community Blog.

“It definitively caused the problem yet reported no detectable errors. We’ve taken steps to fortify our shipping system with the acquisition of additional equipment and worked with our vendors to verify we’re in good shape elsewhere,” wrote Mike Osier, Netflix’s head of IT operations.

The Netflix official didn’t provide any specifics regarding the offending hardware component, but said the company finally identified the root of the problem after getting “great forensic help” from its vendors.

Netflix, which has been much praised for its clever use of technology to disrupt the video rental business, struggled with the shipping problem between Aug. 11 and Aug. 15.

During that time, its distribution operations were crippled, affecting the company’s core business: mailing DVDs to the millions of subscribers to its rental services.

For CIOs and IT managers, what happened to Netflix is a nightmare scenario: a stealthy, hard-to-identify technology problem significantly disrupts the company’s core business operations in an extremely public manner.

Netflix didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment and it’s not clear whether Netflix plans to discuss the issue any further.

It’s hard to draw conclusions about lessons learned and best practices from the Netflix problem without additional details, but it’s safe to say the incident is on the minds of IT professionals responsible for keeping essential systems running.

Netflix hasn’t said if what type of hardware went haywire, nor who makes it. It hasn’t explained whether the problem arose after being recently installed or upgraded due to a Netflix error, or if it simply broke out of the blue due to an inherent flaw or vulnerability.

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