The smallest-scale deployment of Windows Media Technologies is copying one low-bit-rate file to a Web server. The largest-scale deployment can include multiple servers deployed throughout a network, and content management and delivery systems that distribute streams to thousands of end users. With Windows Media components, you can build the system to fit your needs. If you have planned your deployment properly, you can scale up at any time by simply adding to what you already have.
Windows Media Technologies enables you to scale horizontally and vertically. For example, you can add more distributed servers as your enterprise expands, and upgrade the processors on servers to handle greater loads. Security, manageability, and upgrade-ability are also scalable. These are properties that give you the flexibility to manage the growth of the streaming infrastructure as demand increases.
In creating a business plan, you can include a calculation for cost per stream to better understand your return on investment. For example, if you invested $20,000 in a system that serves 1,000 streams per day, the cost per stream in one year would be $0.07. You can compare the figure to the cost per employee associated with other distribution methods, such as videotape or live classroom instruction. You could also use the figure to help determine the scale of your system by comparing deployment and operation costs to cost benefit for employees. As you study the figures, look at the return over time, and factor in the quality of the user experience. For example, ask yourself, are end users more or less likely to retain information when streamed to their desktop rather than sitting in a large meeting?
Scale is not just about the size of your audience and the quality of your content. The scale of your vision may also increase once you start to see the possibilities. One video may spawn a series of videos once users see how effective it is. Other people and groups may have ideas for content. Soon one video turns into one hundred. People on your intranet discover the effectiveness of communicating with streaming media and start demanding more. You may discover that the true value of a streaming media system can be determined by its positive effect on productivity or morale.
You can scale the size of a streaming media deployment, and you can also scale features within that system. A company may have originally deployed Windows Media simply to replace videotape distribution, for example. However, once a Windows Media system is in place, users can take advantage of many other features. With live streaming, the CEO can reach everyone instantly with video that can incorporate PowerPoint slides and animations. As more users become familiar with Windows Media 9 Series, they may discover server-side playlists, new ways to distribute content, and other features. You can then implement load-balanced servers and cache/proxy servers to handle the additional load. If hard disk speed and capacity become an issue, drive arrays and Network-Attached Storage (NAS) systems can be added to handle a large number of concurrent high-bandwidth streams. With Windows Media, you can start at whatever level is appropriate and then scale up, scale down, or expand the system in whichever direction gets the job done. Windows Media products are building blocks that fit together in a nearly unlimited number of ways.
In the first part of this chapter, we will describe the process that a Windows Media deployment person or consultant might undertake when sizing up a potential installation. You can use this process when determining the scope of your deployment. You do not get a better streaming media system by simply purchasing more equipment. The key to using the scalability of Windows Media to design the right system is knowing your requirements and the full scope of Windows Media capabilities. Deploy the solution that is appropriate now, and that will scale for tomorrow.