It started out selling books, morphed into a consumer electronics giant, worked its way into the cloud -- and now Amazon is getting ready to enter the smart home arena.
A company Amazon acquired in July called Annapurna Labs just made a big announcement that could turn heads in the chipmaking industry -- the Alpine line of platform-on-chip (PoC) and subsystem products that pave the way for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and service providers to deliver digital services for network attached storage (NAS) devices, home gateways and Wi-Fi routers.
With Alpine, Annapurna is promising high performance for UHD video streaming, application virtualization, secure storage, cloud applications and Internet of Things (IoT) based on a portfolio of platforms that leverage 32-bit ARMv7 or 64-bit ARMv8 architectures and a "rich set of peripherals."
"In the fast-growing home application marketplace, new use cases and consumer needs are rapidly invented and adopted,” said Gary Szilagyi, vice president of Annapurna Labs, in a statement. “To stay competitive, OEMs and service providers therefore need to quickly add support for the new features that give consumers the ability to enjoy the latest applications without changing hardware or waiting for months to get updated software.”
Annapurna Argues Its Case
With the Alpine platform-on-chip and subsystems product line, Szilagyi is making a massive promise: a high-performance platform upon which service providers and OEMs can design hardware that will meet the increasing expectations of consumers looking to connect many devices and enjoy fast connectivity and new services.
One particularly hot application is the connected home. Service providers and OEMs are working to build NAS, Wi-Fi routers and home gateways that can interface with many different devices so consumers can benefit from cutting-edge products and enjoy in-home digital experiences. Annapurna is arguing that today’s in-home gateways and Wi-Fi routers don’t get the job done.
More bluntly, Annapurna said modern solutions are “severely limited by the lack of network and compute resources, constraining what services can be offered on devices in the home and forcing consumers to acquire multiple devices for networking, storage, media management, backup, and Internet connectivity.” The reason is because there is limited compute capability in standard processors targeting the in-home networking and storage device market, the company said.
How Alpine Differentiates Itself
Alpine differentiates itself from current market solutions with an approach that does not depend on hardware acceleration and deep software optimizations to reach peak performance. Rather than relying on an architecture that demands changes to hardware or lengthy software optimization projects to integrate new features, Alpine offers up to four cores of general-purpose compute, advanced storage interfaces, PCIe Gen3, and multimode Ethernet connectivity of up to 10G.
All that means is that products based on Alpine can support many different smart home services and devices. Annapurna lists multimedia, IoT management, storage management and cloud connectivity as examples. The Alpine platform also sets the stage for faster roll out of consumer services, as well as the freedom to leverage open source or third-party apps, without hardware acceleration or custom software optimizations.
We caught up with Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT who is at CES this week, to get his thoughts on Amazon’s move. He speculated that it looks like Amazon acquired Annapurna to have exclusive access to the company's ARM-based chips for its own use. He told us it also looks like Amazon is monetizing that investment by launching the new Alpine line of commercial products.
A Serious Competitor?
“The categories Annapurna is focusing on -- home networking devices, and NAS storage controller and subsystem platform-on-chip solutions like video streaming, app virtualization, cloud functions and IoT -- are areas that require relatively simple designs for chips that sell in high volumes,” King said.
He noted that many of the original equipment manufacturers in these markets leverage customized PoCs while others -- storage controllers, particularly, but also some networking solutions -- have migrated to Intel silicon.
“From a competitive standpoint, Annapurna will mainly threaten smaller chip vendors that focus on custom PoCs but it really comes down to pricing comparisons,” King said. “These segments are highly cost-sensitive so if Annapurna is aggressive in its pricing, it could become a serious competitor. I imagine Intel will keep an eye on how things develop but I don't see them sweating too much over this particular announcement.”