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Windows Server

Windows Server 2008 : Configuring Windows Media Services (part 1)

12/21/2010 11:31:39 AM

Understanding Media Services

The technical requirements for providing access to audio and video media can differ significantly from requirements for other types of content. The Web Server (IIS) server role can provide access to many types of files to your users. For example, you can enable users to download Windows Media Audio (.wma) and Windows Media Video (.wmv) files by providing them with the appropriate URL and access permissions. The drawback of this approach, however, is that users typically will need to download an entire file before they can start using it. The need to wait for a complete file download offers a poor end-user experience. Many users will choose not to wait for the media due to this inconvenience. Whenever users request large video and audio files, Web servers attempt to send the information as quickly as possible. This reduces the performance of the server for other users of the server and limits overall scalability. The download process can also waste significant resources if users decide they do not want the entire file.

All these issues are reasons for using a specialized service for serving media content. The primary purpose of the Streaming Media Services server role in Windows Server 2008 is to provide access to both live and on-demand audio and video content over standard communications protocols such as those used on the Internet. Media can be made available in an intranet scenario or to users over a publicly accessible Web site. In many cases, a Web application will include links that help users easily locate and launch the content they need. Usually, the content can begin playing within seconds, and the media server can throttle network bandwidth automatically based on the client’s connection speed and the desired quality. You can also use DRM to protect the content provided to users.

Delivering Live vs. Prerecorded Content

Users can use Windows Media Services to access two main types of content. Live broadcasts typically are used for events such as sportscasts, music concerts, and company meetings. The original source for live broadcasts is usually a server or camera that supports the Windows Media Encoder standard. This type of content starts at a specific time, and all users will receive the same audio or video content. Because the data is being sent as it is generated, users are unable to pause, fast-forward, or replay the content during the live event. Live broadcasts can, however, be archived so that users can access them on demand at a later time.

Prerecorded content is available to users on demand. Examples include access to a library of training videos, music videos, television shows, or other content that is available upon request. When users request content, Streaming Media Services starts sending it immediately. As soon as the client computer’s media player has buffered enough of the data stream, the playback can begin. The buffering process often takes only a few seconds, so playback usually begins very quickly. Content developers can also create Web pages that include an embedded media player to provide easy access to content and associated information. Additionally, users can stop, pause, fast-forward, or rewind the playback when accessing on-demand content.

Understanding Unicast vs. Multicast Streaming

An important goal for providing access to streamed audio and video content is to reduce network bandwidth requirements. Both clients and servers often have limitations that can reduce scalability and can reduce the number of users who can access media. Windows Media Services provides two methods of sending data to clients.

Unicast streaming is based on a direct one-to-one connection between client computers and the media server. This is the most appropriate approach for scenarios in which users should be given the ability to start playing any content on demand. Because the content is sent individually to each client, users can pause, replay, or fast-forward content in their media player. The primary drawback of the unicast approach is that it can consume a significant amount of network bandwidth. With multicast streaming, many clients can subscribe simultaneously to the same stream from a server. Server bandwidth requirements are minimized because the information is sent only once. As long as the network infrastructure supports multicast routing and distribution, clients can then receive the content without requiring a direct connection to the server. Multicast streaming is most appropriate for delivering live, broadcast-based media because users will be unable to control the playback of the stream. Multicast streaming is also well suited for internal corporate networks where administrators can ensure that the infrastructure supports it.

Comparing Data Transfer Protocols

Content providers must design their streaming media services to ensure accessibility and performance. Windows Media Services supports different protocols based on client and network capabilities. The Real-Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) provides an efficient method to send audio and video content to computers that are running Windows Media Player 9 or later. RTSP can use the User Datagram Protocol (UDP, referred to as RTSPU), if it is supported by the client and network. If UDP is not supported, RTSP can use TCP (RTSPT). The default TCP port for connections is 554, but you can change this setting to support specific firewall requirements.

Windows Media Services can also stream information, using the HTTP protocol to support clients or networks that do not support RTSP. By default, data is sent on HTTP port 80, but the port can be changed to avoid conflicts with the Web Server (IIS) server role. To simplify the connection process, Windows Media Services provides a feature called automatic protocol rollover. This feature can determine the most appropriate connection type automatically for a particular media player client and send data using that method.

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