Amazing progress

IBM 360/40 from Attwood Statistics, Berkhampstead, Herts 1974.
IBM 360/40 from Attwood Statistics, Berkhampstead, Herts 1974.

I often see comparisons with technology, many of them resonate but seem incomparable. A common one is that the smartphone you carry in 2014 has many times the processing capacity and speed of the mainframe I started working on 40-years ago. Yes, thats me.

But today, as I drove into the office, I had a visceral reaction to a directly comparable example.

20-years ago, 1994, I was a technology consultant to the Kingston in Surrey, UK on demand movie streaming project. We had done some prototyping around streaming video on a local area network, the performance capacity and pricing.

We felt we could deliver the technology solution based around keeping movies on massive tape libraries(disk storage was too expensive). As movies were requested, we’d cache them on disk for streaming and essentially push the movies into homes via local staging servers over “broadband” cable, using a 750MHz+ bandwidth and a fiber-optic backbone. We priced the movies at just over the price of travelling to the rental store and renting a video tape. The system worked, but sadly didn’t scale in both the number of users and the performance. Once we went over around 100 different streamed movies, the performance became “jittery”. The result of this service was the timed on demand solution you see in many cable and satellite systems for years after that. You could have video on demand, but only on a set schedule.

14744435-large[1]And so it was today I was cruising up I35 to the office at 70mph, and when I left the house I put the Samsung S3 smartphone on the Boston Marathon livestream, set the  car audio system to Bluetooth and connected to the phone. The whole way to the office, approx. 25-mins, the phone streamed a full color video and quality sound. Amazing over the AT&T 4G network.

There is no way for me to know how many users were receiving a concurrent stream. The credit mostly goes to Akamai, who have an amazing content caching network; also to everything that allows live streamed pictures to go from the back of motorcycles up to satellites, back down to earth, over the backbone network and into the Akamai network; also to the software algorithms and standards that have allowed video to become a ubiquitous medium, the Boston Marathon site had a link at the bottom of the page that said iOS users link here, but that was as far as I can see, an H264 MPEG stream, mislabeled as everyone knows, Apple doesn’t support flash.

Really, totally amazing progress.

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