Amazon Web Services is loading up on engineers at a semiconductor unit in Portland, Oregon, where the cloud business is focused on improving video processing speeds.
Chips are becoming more important to AWS as the company aims to control more of the hardware in its giant data centers and strengthen itself against growing competition from Microsoft and Google.
Elemental, which AWS acquired for almost $300 million in 2015, is hiring employees at its Portland headquarters to work on field-programmable gate arrays, or FPGAs, which can be tuned for different applications after they've been plugged into servers.
In recent months, Amazon has issued three job openings for FPGA engineers, noting that experience with FPGAs from the industry's two big providers — Xilinx and Altera (now part of Intel) — is desirable. That follows the hiring late last year of Trevor Hendricks, a design engineer from HP, and John Hubbard, a longtime FPGA designer who previously worked at Portland-based Tektronix.
In an interview last week with CNBC's Jon Fortt, AWS CEO Andy Jassy referenced the significance of the company's 2015 acquisition of Israeli chipmaker Annapurna Labs in discussing Amazon's expansion into semiconductors.
We "bought a chip company in Israel a few years ago, so we've been designing our own chips for a while," Jassy said. "You can expect us to continue to do so."
Video processing is a common use of FPGAs and is listed as an application on AWS's web page advertising the technology. AWS Elemental services using FPGAs could speed up processing and cut down on complexity, but potentially at a higher cost than existing media services.
Amazon has been expanding its Elemental footprint in Portland, but the company hasn't publicized Elemental's chip-level work. An AWS spokesperson declined to comment for this story.
In 2016, the year after the acquisitions of Elemental and Annapurna, AWS announced that it would provide FPGAs for developers to use however they wanted. CME Group and National Instruments are among the companies that have shown interest in trying AWS FPGAs made by Xilinx. AWS is "a main customer" of Xilinx's data center business, analysts at Nomura Instinet wrote in an October note.
Microsoft recently started offering customers a cloud service for machine learning that uses FPGAs. Separately, Microsoft's Azure cloud offers live streaming and encoding services. Google hasn't announced any FPGA services, or live video processing tools.
— CNBC's Anita Balakrishnan contributed to this story.