I worked on a project in 2002 to build a “rich media server” for HP. At that time, I realized that content delivery is essentially an asymmetric activity, where the “command and control” channel needs to be much smaller than the content delivery channel. This was the original philosophy of ISDN phone lines, too, except when you’re processing HD content, it’s at a slightly different scale. It seemed pretty obvious at the time that the infrastructure required to process the content is fundamentally different from that required to process the control signals. The visual we used on this project is a guy sitting in his easy chair pointing a remote control at a TV. The bandwidth of the remote control is extremely tiny, essentially a few hundred bits per second. However, the bandwidth of the projected image and sound is enormous by comparison. That’s the nature of high-quality content.
That’s why I’ve been intrigued by some of the stories I’ve been reading lately. GigaOm covers “fat pipes” in the cloud, which is already happening. From my work in the social technology space, I already know that one reason Joyent has a thriving Facebook application deployment business is the fat pipe it has from its data center directly into Facebook’s. Take that, Net neutrality! I also think the new (nascent?) OnLive service is pretty interesting. The concept there is that by having highly efficient means of rendering games, the end user needs a skinny pipe to “remote control” the game. To be honest, I’ll believe it when I see it. I remember playing Nintendo 64 in a hotel room once for $4/hr, and it was not a good experience. I can’t imagine trying to do that with Call of Duty 5 over the Internet.
But it’s true, I think, that deployments will continue to be optimized and the special sauce for the solutions will be the remote control capabilities. Look at Amazon’s Web Services offerings (including their recent MapReduce offering). By using a Web Services interface, you can remote control deployments, including optimizing the deployment so there is a fat pipe (close association, anyway) between some number of instances. I think Amazon “gets it”. Of course, they’ve had the pain of operating an ecommerce site for so long, and they have been so successful at it, that I probably shouldn’t be surprised.
So, how are you making your solutions “remote controlled”? What integrations with other services do you provide to your customers? How easy do you make it for your customers to control their overall solutions from their easy chair? This will continue to be a huge differentiator for the next few years as it all shakes out.