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Researchers map out Netflix’s network of streaming video servers

A research team based at the Queen Mary University of London has mapped the network infrastructure that Netflix uses to stream video to over 190 countries worldwide. The study is believed to be the first time that the company’s servers have been mapped.

During April and May, five researchers used university computers to watch videos on Netflix, using a browser extension to make their requests appear as if they were coming from various different countries. They then analyzed the traffic delivered by servers in each region, according to a statement from QMUL.

The study found that servers are spread across six continents, and are housed at 233 individual locations. Unsurprisingly, the United States leads the pack in terms of traffic, with Mexico, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Brazil rounding out the top five.

As it turns out, it’s not just the Netflix library that can vary dramatically from one region to another — the very way that the streaming giant distributes its videos might be different, too. In the United States, servers are placed in many different locations, whereas in Europe they are largely deployed en masse in a select few locations per country.

However, the United Kingdom is something of an anomaly in terms of the company’s European strategy. The study observes “widespread deployment” of servers throughout the country, with many being maintained in partnership with internet service providers as part of the Netflix Open Connect program.

“The study is important as it provides an insight into how today’s internet works,” said Timm Boettger, the first author of the paper. “The different deployment strategies observed are caused by inherent regional differences, forcing Netflix to adapt its strategy to ensure low movie startup times and to avoid video stalling during playback.”