CES: Amazon's Annapurna ARM-based Alpine Is Aimed At The Digital Home

Annapurna Labs, an integrated platform-on-chip and subsystem developer owned by Web giant Amazon, on Wednesday unveiled its first solution for home video, networking and storage services, marking a new phase in Amazon's move to get better integrated in its customers' digital lives.

The new Alpine ARM-based solution from Annapurna is targeted at OEMs and services providers who build devices requiring high performance for UHD (ultra-high definition) video streaming, secure storage, application virtualization, Internet of Things and cloud applications, the San Jose, Calif.-based company said.

Not mentioned by Annapurna is the possibility that the company's 32-bit ARMv7 or 64-bit ARMv8 architectures could also be targeted at server applications -- a move that could claim some of the market dominated by companies like Intel and Cisco.

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The Alpine line was officially unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show, being held this week in Las Vegas. A number of OEM storage, networking and server manufacturers focused on the digital home market, including Asus, NetGear, Qnap and Synology, are already showing solutions based on Alpine.

Amazon acquired Annapurna in January 2015 for about $350 million. Investors in Annapurna included ARM.

Speculation at the time of the acquisition included the possibility that Amazon could use the Annapurna technology to develop ARM-based server chips or platforms.

Annapurna did not respond to a request for more information by publication time.

A possible move by Amazon into the server business would likely have little impact on the wider server market, said Rich Baldwin, chief information officer and chief strategy officer at Nth Generation Computing, a San Diego-based solution provider with long experience in building storage and server infrastructures.

"We're not really seeing ARM in the data center," Baldwin told CRN. "We did see a lot of interest in ARM a couple years ago when [Hewlett-Packard] first unveiled its ARM-based Project Moonshot servers. But there wasn't much movement. I haven't seen any of my customers take the leap yet."

Baldwin said he doesn't see ARM as a big threat to Intel, despite interest in ARM's lower power consumption and lower heat output.

"Somewhere there has to be a spot for ARM, depending on the application," Baldwin said. "Things are evolving quickly. Compute is a part of nearly everything people do today."

Actually, there is a big market for the ARM-based architectures unveiled this week by Annapurna, said Louis Sokol, president of Jet Computer Services, a Houston-based home and consumer solution integrator.

Customers are growing increasingly comfortable with devices that connect many of the digital services used in the home via Wi-Fi, especially as they increasingly depend on mobile devices, Sokol told CRN.

"Customers want to easily connect to their services, and mobile access is getting more common now than PC access," he said.

At the same time, it's important for Amazon to get into the digital home before competitors like Google and Facebook do, Sokol said. "They're going after the same target markets, and seeing who will get there first," he said. "Amazon's acquisition of Annapurna is an example of how large companies get to new markets first."

Having digital home devices based on the Annapurna Alpine ARM-based architecture is also likely a way for Amazon to sell more services to home users, Sokol said.

"Home automation has been a big push for the industry for a long time," he said. "Now we're seeing a focus on expanding uses for Wi-Fi. We're already seeing Wi-Fi being used to connect smart refrigerators with built-in screens that alert when certain items are not available."