A server is a combination of hardware and software designed to fulfill particular needs, generally of multiple clients. A streaming media server streams video stored on the server to clients who request it when it is called by the web server. The best streaming media server for your purposes will be one that best meets your needs in the areas of cost, the operating systems supported, the container formats that are supported, the protocols supported, and other key features. In addition, it is important to decide whether to operate your own server or to purchase a hosted streaming plan.
This is how the streaming media process works. A visitor to the website clicks on a video file that he or she wishes to view. The web server relays the message to the streaming media server. Finally, the streaming media server streams the file to the visitor directly and software on the visitor’s computer plays the file. In general, if the visitor does not have the appropriate software or the latest version of the software on his or her computer, a helpful message, usually with a link to a free download, will be given. The streaming media server must be capable of handling the traffic and bandwidth that streaming demands.
Streaming media servers with a GPL license are likely to be free. Servers with a proprietary license are more likely to have an associated cost, at least for commercial use. Not all streaming media servers work with Mac OS X, Linux, or other Unix operating systems, so it is important to make a choice that will work. Proprietary servers may also handle fewer formats than open source servers. For example The Apple® QuickTime® Streaming Server supports fewer formats than Helix® Universal Server, which supports platforms from Microsoft® like Windows Media®, as well as QuickTime® from Apple, and MPEG-4.
The protocol that the streaming media server uses to deliver the data is key to how the server will work under a heavy load and what types of things can go wrong with the service. Some of the often used protocols include HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), which may be the most widely used, TCP (Transmission Control Protocol), RTP (Real-time Transfer Protocol), RTSP (Real-Time Streaming Protocol), and RTMP (Real-Time Messaging Protocol), the last of which is used by the Adobe® Flash® Media Server. The combination of these that makes the best match with the media that you plan to serve, joined with the choice of serving the material yourself or purchasing a hosted streaming plan, will provide you with the best stream media server for your purposes.