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How to Buy a Server for Video Streaming

by Jeff Grundy
Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

Just about any modern desktop or laptop computer allows you to upload and share the occasional video on sites like Facebook or YouTube. However, if you have a lot of videos you want to share -- be it with viewers of your website or social networking page or users on your local network -- you should consider buying or building your own video-streaming server. While some laptops or workstation computers may be able to handle the loads of light video streaming and sharing, dedicated servers with high-end hardware are much better suited to the task for moderate to heavy traffic applications. As with other types of computer systems, you should consider several factors before making a buying decision.

Considering Server Load

The most important factor in determining the type of server you need for your network is the number of users or other computers to which you need to stream video. For instance, if you intend to stream video to only one or two other computers in your home, you may not need a dedicated server at all and using one relatively powerful home PC may suffice. However, if you need a business sever capable of streaming to many workstations simultaneously, a more robust dedicated streaming server increases performance and frees other computers on the network for more productive tasks. If you plan to stream videos on a busy website or a large company intranet, you'll probably need a dedicated Web server with high-end hardware and streaming software.

Wired or Wireless

Modern wireless adapters and protocol provide relatively fast data transfer rates between networked computers and devices and are theoretically capable of delivering faster browsing and streaming speeds than common Ethernet wired connection. However, in practice, this is seldom the case because wireless signals between a router and computers on the network typically vary considerably in strength. Consequently, a wired connection from the streaming server to your network router often provides better performance overall. If you intend to use your server for only low to moderate streaming volumes, a wireless connection may suffice. Still, when serving videos in a busy business environment or on a high-traffic website, a wired connection performs much more reliably.

Hardware Considerations

As with any other type of computer, a fast processor increases performance overall with any streaming server. Several other key components in the computer affect streaming performance even more than the CPU used in the system. Most modern dual-core and quad-core processors can handle 50 or 100 simultaneous connections to the server easily. However, the bottlenecks in a network server or Web server are the hard drive and the amount of RAM in the computer. A video-streaming server should have a high-performance SATA hard drive with a spin rate of at least 7200 RPMs, and 10,000-RPM drives are even better. The capacity of the hard drive should be large enough to store all the videos you intend to stream with room to spare. As you fill a hard drive with videos, the read/write speed of the drive usually decreases slightly. Consequently, the hard drive you use in a streaming server should be at least twice as large as the aggregate size of all the videos you plan to stream. As far as RAM is concerned, you can never have too much in a streaming server. For streaming videos in your home, a PC or server with 2GB of RAM should be acceptable. When streaming on a busy network or website, the server should have at least 4GB of RAM at a minimum; increasing the memory amount to 8GB or 16GB enhances performance.

Software

For a moderately powered video server in the home, you probably don't need to spend anything at all for the streaming software. Windows Media Player in Windows 7 includes an easy to configure media-streaming feature that lets you stream videos and music to other computers on the network as well as other Windows Media Player-compatible portable devices. Windows Media Player even allows you to stream music and videos over the Internet using a Windows Live account. If you need to stream videos in FLV or other formats not natively supported in Windows, use the free VLC Media Player to stream your videos. These free streaming-media software options also suffice for moderate-volume business applications. However, Windows Media Player and VLC do not offer integrated multithreading support. If you plan to stream videos to many users simultaneously, use a more robust commercial streaming application, such as Helix Universal Server from RealNetworks, Apple QuickTime Streaming Server or Adobe Media Server.

Renting and Collocation

A high-end Web server computer capable of streaming videos can be expensive. However, when streaming videos on the Internet, hardware costs may be relatively insignificant compared to bandwidth charges. If your website streams short videos to fewer than 100 visitors per day, you may not need a dedicated server at all; a high-capacity virtual server should be able to handle the capacity without much trouble. If you want to stream videos to hundreds or thousands of visitors daily, consider renting a server or group of cloud servers from a hosting service that specializes in video streaming. Alternatively, you may choose to buy your own server but have the hosting service install it at its data center. Video streaming on the Web is expensive. Be prepared to spend several hundred dollars a month for quality hosting. Major service providers that offer video streaming hosting include Dailymotion Cloud, GravityLab and Rackspace.

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