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AWS mobile development blows up with acquisition

Amazon bought Elemental Technologies in one of the biggest bets in the company's history to boost its platform for mobile app development.

Amazon Web Services has planted a new stake in the ground as it looks to differentiate its cloud services from IT incumbents with the acquisition of Elemental Technologies.

Amazon has not disclosed the exact amount it paid for Elemental as it beefs up its Amazon Web Services (AWS) mobile development offerings, but reports peg the deal at between $330 and $500 million, which would make it one of the five largest acquisitions in Amazon's history.

AWS has also offered services similar to what Elemental provides, with its Elastic Transcoder service.  Both fundamentally do similar things --translate, or transcode, video from television broadcast formats into formats suitable for mobile devices.

But where the Elastic Transcoder has limits on the number of inputs and requests AWS mobile development customers may make in a given time period, Elemental advertises faster-than-real-time processing. Elemental also offers products in adjacent spaces such as video delivery management and bandwidth optimization. The company boasts big-name customers in the mobile development space, from the BBC to Comcast, ESPN, HBO and other giants of the mobile video development world.

Amazon's retail business offers streaming video through its Prime customer program, and so enhancements to that program are to be expected through the acquisition, but Elemental was also acquired specifically to help create new AWS mobile development products, according to AWS officials quoted in an Elemental Technologies press release detailing the acquisition Sept. 3.

Industry analysts say the move indicates a strong shift in AWS strategy away from infrastructure as a service (IaaS) as the primary focus and toward platform as a service (PaaS), as IT incumbents such as IBM and Microsoft eat away at the IaaS pie.

"Everybody's trying to beef up their PaaS offerings," said Charlotte Dunlap, senior analyst with Current Analysis in Washington, D.C. "And that requires more sophisticated and advanced developer technologies and features … this is just Amazon making another move to be able to offer those kinds of sophisticated app platforms."

Video in particular for mobile apps makes those applications much more attractive to both consumers and developers, Dunlap said.

Whatever Amazon can do that attracts enterprise developers is going to be its best move going forward, according to Dunlap, but it's still unclear whether the merging of Elemental Technologies into the AWS fold will primarily target those who develop apps for consumers or business-to-business uses.

Amazon stands to gain more than just IP from the Elemental acquisition.

 "I don't think Amazon has been promoting its platform for commercial entertainment video streaming," said Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT, Inc., in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. "Elemental is bringing tools and expertise to the table I doubt Amazon had in house."

Amazon does, however, have a framework for mobile application development in its Amazon Cognito service, which emerged last year. Cognito offers identity management and data synchronization across different mobile devices. 

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchAWS. Write to her at [email protected] or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.  

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