Old Technology, New Life: Why Image Servers Are Relevant Again
Over a decade ago when the dot.com bubble burst, one of the main concerns was still the bandwidth at which your average Internet shopper was accessing the web. The fact that over 50% of the people were still on dial-up, seems somewhat barbaric by today’s standards. Out of necessity, there was a mad rush to provide a clever way to serve up high-resolution images over the web, without incurring the performance overhead. Several companies sprang up including Xippix, Equilibriium, Liquid Pixels and TrueSpectra to name a few. These products all provided a way for companies to get more productivity out of managing their images as well as an efficient way to serve up large images over the web….while also providing dynamic zoom, pan, resizing and spin. It was brilliant to break images down to a series of tiles and then only serve up what was needed in real-time….stream 2k to the site instead of 10MB. In 2002, Gistics Research created a study which estimated that a billion dollar problem was being solved by these products. We have come a long way in the past decade….
These image server products, through a series of successes, mergers and acquisitions created the basis for the success of Adobe’s Scene7 and Liquid Pixels, and to a lesser extent Equilibrium today. By all intents and purposes, these products created a small but very useful solution to bridge the bandwidth deficiencies of the last decade and create an excellent base to provide rich media solutions to Internet retailers. They provided an elegant solution for years and thus, commanded enterprise software prices. But recently, there is a growing group of naysayers who feel that the image server has run it’s product life cycle to the end, and that with the advances in bandwidth and CDN’s (cache data networks) the need for image servers no longer exists, or at least has been commoditized.
To the tech detractors, I would agree to a certain extent that the usefulness of the image server to the desktop is not what it once was….but lest we forget that we are in a rapidly evolving environment and the popularity of smartphones and tablets is changing the game. Yesterday’s dial up modem is today’s 4G network. Our quest for mobile accessibility has driven us to a new, deficient delivery platform for high-resolution images, and the image server is relevant again. Throw a new breed of start-ups into the mix, add popular tools like 360 spin photography and HTML5 viewers, and once again you have an elegant solution for online retailers who want to deploy rich media, with high resolution images onto multiple devices.
With high-end legacy solutions for the enterprise delivered by Adobe-Scene7 and interesting, new solutions delivered by my favorite, image-exchange startup shotfarm.com, there are plenty of options available for retailers and manufacturers today to take advantage of an old trick solving a new problem.