We introduce the notion of network flow buffering for direct HTTP streaming of web-based video clips, making it a more viable alternative to specialized streaming protocols, and in some cases making it a superior approach. A network flow buffer is simply a remote buffer that is dynamically deployed between a Web client and server, and that actively or passively regulates the flow of streaming video data. Network flow buffering is a simple approach to improving the performance of Web-based streaming video by buffering at a location where it can operate more effectively, providing benefits such as supplementing client buffering capacity, smoothing differences between WAN and LAN bandwidths, regulating data flow to a client, and supporting personalized caching to improve restart times. Network flow buffering is easily implemented as a Customizer in a middleware architecture we have developed (and reported on in WWW02) called the Web Stream Customizer Architecture (WSCA). The WSCA has a number of desirable features for supporting network flow buffering, including the dynamic deployment and relocation of software intermediaries between clients and servers that allow them to customize Web transactions, an extended usage model that supports customization of HTTP streaming and non-HTTP communication, and two points of control (one at the intermediary and one at or near the client) which can be used to supply feedback on conditions at the client to improve a network flow buffer’s performance.
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