Microsoft has designed a family of Arm-based system-on-chips also know as SoC for Internet of Things devices that runs its own flavor of Linux and securely connects to an Azure-hosted backend. Microsoft has named its new SoC’s “Azure Sphere,” and its how they plan to get into the edge computing space.
What does this mean for you?
For device manufacturers, they now gain the ability to buy and use a chipset designed by Microsoft. Offering a turnkey solution to get your device connected to the Azure cloud, it makes a lot of sense for companies that are already in the Azure or Microsoft world. As someone who might buy or use the devices, it comes with some great features like, secure connectivity to Azure IoT Hubs along with a robust Cortex-A CPU that runs a Microsoft version of Linux called “Sphere OS”. I know what you are thinking “a Microsoft version of Linux” how did that even work? Well, Microsoft has been pushing that they Love Linux and have been offering slow and not widespread support in Azure, but still providing the option. It was only a matter of time before they started to produce Linux based IoT devices, windows would not be a good option. Microsoft is touting security and built-in protection on the device itself. Based on the specs it looks to have the ability to validate and update its firmware for bug and security patches.
Azure, what about another IoT Platform?
Here is the bad news, if you are not planning on using the Azure IoT service, then this SoC is a wrong choice. This will lock you into the Azure IoT Hub for the life of the device. If you have had any experience with Azure IoT, you will most likely have thoughts on how this Chip will turn out. For the rest of you that have not used Azure, let me fill you in quickly. Azure’s IoT is an organizational mess, from top to bottom, while we have nothing against Azure and some of the web services we do have some thoughts on it’s IoT service. It’s often very inconsistent and not reliable, getting a device setup and running is quite easy but getting data out is a whole other story. We worked with a client that wanted to use Azure IoT for a significant project hosting thousands of devices but was quickly turned off by the cost and development time associated with pulling the already collected data and sending it an application. Well, enough about Azure IoT (if you want more details, contact us – we can talk all day).
For IoT as a whole, I think we will start to see more SoC’s like this, where they are locking potential users into cloud solutions. It makes sense – in the process, the chipmaker moves more silicon, the device vendor gets a turnkey security service to show to customers, and Microsoft gets a cloud customer for the lifespan of the device.
As stated above, if you don’t plan on using Azure IoT this SoC is a wrong choice. Now, for those of you already using Azure IoT, this makes perfect sense, you get automatic updates along with bug/security fixes and what they say is “highly secure” SoC. I will hold my judgment on the Microsoft Linux Sphere OS until I can use and test it. Microsoft touts security with this chip, but honestly, you can get this with a modern and trusted IoT development firm like… Let’s say Echolo!