Cloud to Ground Podcast Episode 8 – Justin Slaten of Netflix


Cloud to Ground Podcast Episode 8: An Interview with Justin Slaten

On this episode of the podcast, we talked to Justin Slaten of Netflix about going all in on the cloud, Netflix’s “work anywhere” mentality, and how to move to the cloud while maintaining high quality security and ensuring that all of your data is protected – even in SaaS. It’s a terrific discussion from someone who knows the cloud like the back of his hand, and we hope you enjoy!

Andrea Bridges-Smith: Hi everyone, and welcome to another scintillating episode of the Cloud to Ground Podcast presented by Spanning. If your Google Apps and/or Salesforce data is out there in the cloud unprotected, visit spanning.com to find out how you can get your files back in case something were ever to happen to them. I’m your host, Andrea Bridges-Smith, and with me today – this is very exciting – is Mr. Justin Slaten, manager of Enterprise Technology at a little company you may have heard of called Netflix. Justin, welcome to the show.

Justin Slaten: Thank you, Andrea. It’s great to be here.

ABS: Justin, I’m very excited to talk to you because you work with an entire department devoted to data protection and data security. And I think our listeners and viewers will be really interested to hear what steps you guys have taken to make sure that all of your data is safe. So, thanks very much for giving us your time today.

JS: Yeah, we’re excited to talk to you. Or I am [laughter].

ABS: So first of all, let’s start out by getting to know you a little bit. How long have you been with Netflix?

JS: I’ve been here about a year and three months, year and four months.

ABS: Okay. And can you describe your role there?

JS: Sure. I’m the manager of the Enterprise Technology Team, and while it’s pretty vague, this name, it’s because we deal with a lot of technologies. We deal with corporate technology, a lot of SaaS products, lot of innovations of the SaaS products and enabling our users to use the SaaS products even more than they are out of the box.

ABS: Okay, great. So, I think probably you sound kind of like an expert. We like to make sure that our guests are experts. I’m going to go ahead and call you an expert if that’s okay with you.

JS: I like to hear it, thanks.

ABS: Okay, great. So I think everyone out there who is not currently living in a cave has probably heard of Netflix and knows what they do. I’ve been a subscriber for a long time now, and I love it, but is there anything special about the company that the world might not know?

JS: Well, I think the biggest thing that impresses me about the company and seeing it from the other side is just the amount of innovation and how we started off as a very… really non-technical DVD delivery business. It was obviously revolutionizing that business, but to see how far along streaming has come in the last seven years, and you hear numbers like 33% of internet bandwidth being used during prime time devoted to Netflix usage, that’s pretty amazing. It’s exciting to work in a company that’s so fast-moving and forward-thinking.

ABS: Yeah, absolutely. Also, one of the things that I think makes you guys really fascinating is you seem to have the cloud kind of built into your DNA. So what kind of internal applications are you guys running in the cloud today?

JS: Pretty much everything, Andrea. We’re known as a cloud-first company. And we really revolutionized what was being done in AWS and open-sourcing tools to help other companies to use AWS better. And on the IT inside, we’re mostly SaaS. And there are some homegrown things as well running in the cloud. But you really have very little left that has to still be moved to the cloud.

ABS: Yeah. It’s a really interesting approach to not only be cloud-first, but also to just go all in on SaaS. We also, kind of, have the same philosophy that you guys do, so I certainly understand the benefits of it more and where you guys are coming from. What made you guys decide to go cloud and switch to things like, you know, for example– I know you guys are using Google Apps?

JS: Yeah. It’s a lot easier for a startup to get there. I mean you’re starting from a clean slate in this day and  age. To just go cloud first, cloud-ready environment. But for us, the decisions were pretty simple. There’s– our culture is freedom and responsibility. People use whatever apps, whatever platform or operating systems they want to use that make them more successful on their jobs. And something like Google for instance gives accessibility anywhere. Doesn’t really care or matter about what platform you’re using. So I know how to use specific browsers, specific operating system or having real different experience no matter where we’re going. And then obviously mobile is a really big factor as well. So people are accessing from all types of devices, from shared devices, from whatever and we need to make sure that we’re enabling those employees no matter where they are.

ABS: And would you say that that kind of ‘access anywhere’ mentality has been the biggest benefit of moving to SaaS applications like Google Apps, or are you guys getting a lot more out of it in terms of collaboration?

JS: Sure, collaboration is obviously a big benefit as well, but accessibility anywhere is a huge thing, and having a really unified experience across those, no matter where you’re sitting, to have the same experience, is really something that we like. 

ABS: Yeah, down here in Texas, we’ve had four snow and ice days over the past few weeks and it’s been really important for us here to be able to work anywhere, because sometimes the schools are shut down and so you have to work from home because you can’t leave your kids there or you have to come in late and you’re waiting for the ice to melt on the roads. Sometimes they just close down the school for no reason and then you’re stuck, but at least you can– you’re not frozen or anything-

JS: You can basically do your job at home.

ABS: Yeah. Yeah. So that’s really helped us to keep going as well.

JS: We don’t have many snow days here in Southern California, but the people do– people work all kinds of crazy hours, they want to work in the middle of the night, they want to work from the coffee shops, they want the same experience no matter where they are, so that’s huge for us.

ABS: Yeah. I would definitely agree with you. So a lot of people that we talk to think that once you move everything to the cloud – your operations, your data, all of that stuff – that it’s all automatically taken care of, and nothing bad will ever happen to it ever again. You guys, obviously, are a little bit smarter than that. You’ve taken steps to protect your data, even in the cloud. You have a whole department devoted to security. So why was it important for you guys to make sure that all of that data and operations and everything in the cloud is protected? Was there a particular data loss event, or was it just a best practice that you guys knew that you had to take care of?

JS: Definitely not one event. As an IT professional, you always have to think about backup. But I would say there’s a few things. Number one, it’s all about enabling the user for us. So when you talk about something being deleted, it might not have been something deleted that was due to the provider. It might have been something that the user deleted on their own, and now they have the self-service to restore it. But to think that a provider is– just because they have your data. And they have a massive data centers and infrastructure and backup plans and whatever. And now, your data is safe. I think that would be– you’ve been missing something if you thought that that’s it. That you’re safe there. You just– It’s good to take extra precautions. And by having your data backed up somewhere else, you’re covering your bases a little.

ABS: Well I of course agree with you there. I know that you guys have your data backed up with us. Which thank you very much for doing that. But besides implementing that backup and recovery for your cloud data, what are other steps have you taken towards data security and data loss prevention just as a whole?

JS: Yeah. We do pretty thorough evaluations of our vendors or partners we’d like to call them. Most of them not only to make sure first that they’re a cultural fit with our company – our culture is very important to us – but then we sort of put them through the wringer when it comes to security practices and making sure that they’re doing everything correctly. And ultimately, there’s a certain amount of risks that business is willing to take for certain things. And you have to– you have to evaluate those and see where you’re going to take risks. And what– something like backing up your data is obviously a risk that’s avoidable. Or more avoidable when your backing it up. But security-wise, we’re really doing a good job. Not only evaluating the vendor or partner when they come in but continuing that. Continuing other relationships. Meeting with them often. Keeping that really good chain of communication open so that if there was something that was suspicious that we’d be one of the first people that they called to maybe even help provide some sort of help in remediation or investigation with.

ABS: Yeah. I think one thing that people kind of take for granted when they move to the cloud is that they sign this contract with a vendor and then they– it’s like they don’t talk to that vendor ever again. It’s like, you really do have to stay in touch with them and that vendor should be transparent with you and they should tell you what the new features are that are coming out and if there’s any problems they need to notify you quickly and in a very transparent way and let you know what they’re doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

JS: Right. And that’s one of the things I was talking about with us picking the right partner to work with in the first place because a lot of it, if you look at the technical landscape these days, there’s a lot of people doing everything. So it’s not like you have one choice when you go out to pick someone. You have a bunch of choices, and you’re doing the right job by looking at all of them, but ultimately you have to find the best fit for someone that you’re going to continue working with. You don’t just sign up and deploy the service and then forget about it. It’s not “set it and forget it,” like an infomercial, right? But, you have to keep up that partnership.

ABS: Yeah. Absolutely. So how do you guys feel – you know, being so concerned with security – how do you guys feel about two-factor authentication and password management and things like that?

JS: That’s a good question. If you’ve heard me speak at all, or anybody on the IT office, we usually have some pretty crazy opinions on that. But number one is, I think, passwords are going to go away. It’s just not natural to remember really complex passwords and it’s the worst when you see someone have to write something down and save it somewhere because that defeats all security. So we’re thinking of other ways to think about how to authenticate or identify that someone is who they say they are. So we’re really thinking out of the box there, and we like to think a lot of years in the future when we’re trying to think about archetyping something. We’re trying to think way out in the future how people are going to be doing it and we like to do that now. So we’re usually pretty far ahead when it comes to that. But identity, access control, two-factor authentication I think really becomes multi-factor authentication; it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a second factor for everything. But depending on the level of trust that a device or user has, and depending on the level of security for that particular application, that is all going to depend on the factors that you have to present to verify that you are who you are.

ABS: Okay. That makes sense. So as sort of a cloud first guy, a cloud expert, which we’ve already declared you – there’s no trophy or anything, but just know that you are – what kind of advice do you have for other companies who are looking to move to the cloud or if they’re already in it, to get more out of it?

JS: Right, and I get this a lot. After I talk, I always get a bunch of people coming up to me saying, “How did you do it? How did you do it?” It just– the business owners don’t want to do this or there’s always going to be people scared of change, that’s natural, human– that’s how humans work. Therefore, they are going to be scared of change. A lot of times, you’re going to have to rip the band-aid off, not procrastinate, think of ways to patch things up until you get to the cloud – my advice is always just go for it. If you’re going to spend money on capital expenses to buy stuff just to save time until you get to the cloud, I say spend that money to get to the cloud and just rip the band-aid off and be there. It’s, to me, I hate seeing that. I hate seeing when people are going to spend all this money buying stuff just to band-aid or buy time until they get the cloud. Cloud is here, it’s now, there’s a bunch of different ways to do it and I just suggest going for it. And if you need some words of encouragement, catch me after a conference or something and I will encourage you.

ABS: Alright Justin, you can be the next sherpa kind of leading people gently into the cloud.

JS: The cloud evangelist.

ABS: Yeah. There you go. So this has been a really informative conversation and again, I can’t thank you enough for being on the show today. To all of you out there in podcast land, if you haven’t signed up for Netflix, you’re in a very small group I think. You should definitely go try it. Go to Netflix.com and you can try it out for free for a month and you’ll absolutely love it. That about wraps up today’s episode. Thanks so much for listening and watching. And again, if you find yourself out there with a bunch of cloud data and no idea how to get it back if you accidentally lose it, visit spanning.com and try a 14 day free trial of Spanning Backup and we’ll make sure nothing happens to that data. I’m Andrea Bridges-Smith, and we’ll see you next time.