We produce .avi and mpeg formatted video. Currently folks download these and begin to view them after the download completes. We would like to stream them as well as providing downloads. Besides a Real server, is there an efficient, cost effective way to do this?
Anyone from anywhere
How cheap, how fast, and how efficient depends on your volume.
MacOS X comes with a streaming server capable of handling all the major formats so if this is something you don't do a lot of, get an older Mac with lots of RAM and you'll soon be in business.
Now if you do more of it, but not as much as say a baseball franchise, consider MacOS X on an X-server with an X-RAID. These servers are fast and cheap, you don't face the Microsoft per client licensing issues, and set up is pretty much out of the box. The X-RAID is wonderful for streaming large videos because it more than makes up for being relatively slow to set up a simple file transfer, by being extremely good at keeping up with streaming requests once the flow starts. Think of it as a diesel and you'll get the idea: tough as nails and slow to get going, but unstoppable while in motion.
If you get really big the right answer is Sun -but they charge you for the server license and it takes specialized expertise to get it working right. What's going on there is that this is one of Sun's little secrets - you know, goodies the marketing goofs never tell anyone about in case, gee, wouldn't that be terrible, people actually bought the product.
I discovered this a few years ago while researching something similar for Sam Hiser -co-author with Tom Adelstein of Exploring the JDS Linux Desktop and, at the time, trying to get something called reelamerica.com going. ReelAmerica was going to stream out thousands of small videos concurrently and so needed something very agile - and it turned out that not only does Sun have an appropriate streaming server, but it uses custom instructions embedded in the SParchitecture to do it. Duh? who knew? Not me, but apparently quite a lot of buffos in agencies with acronyms for names and, today, major league baseball.
So the general answer is "Yes" but the specifics are going to depend on your volume.