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HOW DOES STREAMING WORK?
SERVERS WITH  A  SMILE?
Although streaming technology can start to seem mighty complex mighty fast, it's all 
really based on this simple model:
If you are a do it yourselfer who is not 
going to be streaming very much media 
Web Server
to very many people, your Web server 
1 
The end user selects 
2 
The Web server relays the 
and media server might just be different 
a media fi le, causing 
request to the media server.
processes (handled by different server 
software applications) running on 
a request to be sent 
Media Server
the same machine.
to the Web server.
If you are already going into techno  
phobic shock at the very mention of 
Client
 clients  and  servers,  don't despair, 
read on  The techies who invent these 
things love to confuse the rest of 
us with tricky terminology, just to 
3 
The Media server 
make sure we keep them around.
streams the media fi le 
While the term  server  sometimes 
back to the end user's computer.
refers to hardware, as in  That old server 
4 
The client, or  player,  decodes 
is collecting dust,  it may also mean 
and plays back the media fi le.
software, as in  We installed a new Web 
server on that computer today.  Both 
uses actually refer to the same princi 
WHERE DO STREAMS COME FROM?
ple a server is a solution designed to 
receive requests from a third party and 
respond by delivering, or  serving up,  
Streaming media architectures 
a particular type of data. This process 
An architecture is an interdependent system comprised of a variety 
is also known as a  transaction. 
of components that all work together to perform certain functions. 
Requests are sent to a server by a  client.  
Streaming media architectures are comprised of encoding and trans 
Again, the term client may be used to 
mission methods, server software, and players (client software). 
refer to a PC (hardware) or to a software 
Currently, the three most popular streaming media architectures 
application. A good example of a client is 
are RealMedia, Windows Media, and QuickTime. 
a Web browser, which is software installed 
on a PC that functions as a client to Web 
There are also a few interesting alternatives available, including archi 
servers. When the client receives the data 
tectures based on Java applets that do not require the end user to have 
it has requested from the server, it may 
a proprietary player (or plug in) installed. Instead, an ultra light Java 
further process and/or display the data. 
applet delivers an ephemeral player to the end user's browser, enabling 
Media  players  are software clients that 
playback for the duration of the streaming session, after which the 
process and play back video and/or audio.
player is discarded. While such java based players are usually less intru 
Any computer on which the appropriate 
sive than proprietary players some even virtually transparent they 
server software has been installed can 
typically do not offer the full range of end user controls made available 
function as a server. But typically, when 
by the proprietary players.
a piece of hardware is dedicated to 
that role, it is made up of high grade 
Currently, however, and for a variety of technology and business reasons which 
components that will deliver reliable 
are beyond the scope of this document, the streaming market is dominated by three 
24/7/365 availability.  
architectures: RealMedia, Windows Media, and QuickTime. The unfortunate result is 
that there are now three parallel standards that do not work together. Imagine what it 
If you reach the point where you are 
serving so many streams to so many users 
might have been like if, when television fi rst hit the airwaves, each of the three major 
that, in order to handle the traffi c, you 
networks required a different device to translate their signal into video and audio each 
need a dedicated media server (and you 
home would have needed an ABC television set, a CBS television set, and an NBC televi 
namic Medianamic Media
decide to handle your media hosting in 
y
sion set, if the household wanted to watch programs on every channel. That's essentially 
y
house rather than outsourcing), you will 
what the situation is, in today's streaming media marketplace. While there is some 
probably want what is known as an 
limited cross over in the players' ability to play back other architectures' formats, the 
 appliance server  or  network appliance.   
technology is so competitive, that end users cannot count on cross over capabilities 
A network appliance is server hardware 
obe Dobe D
working, as the formats rapidly evolve. This can be confusing and irritating for end 
with  factory installed  server software, 
dd
users, who must continually download the latest plug ins and then fi gure out which 
designed specifi cally for a specifi c type of 
AA
server function such as handling media.
to choose as the default player in their browser, based on which is being supported 
by the majority of their favorite content providers.
10
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