Azure Sphere: Drives Implementation of Azure IoT Edge Solution at Scale

By 2020, IoT connected devices are estimated to grow to 30 Billion units worldwide. With the increase in the number of connected devices, an estimate of more than 500 Zettabytes of data will get generated per year. This explosion of data presents a huge opportunity for companies to derive actionable business insights using data analytics. However, the majority of the data generated by IoT devices has, so far, been processed in the cloud.

Shift From Cloud to Edge

Moving forward, some applications such as autonomous vehicles, industrial machinery and home automation need real-time analysis, remote management of assets and ongoing operations even in intermittent connectivity. This leads to an increasing need for real-time collection, processing and analysis of data at the device or gateway level i.e. closer to the edge. Edge computing and analytics, emulates the public cloud capabilities by bringing intelligence closer to the devices but with a smaller and more agile footprint.

The Why’s of Edge Computing

 Edge Computing Takes Center Stage

Many leading cloud and analytics companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, PTC Thingworx, GE, HP Enterprise, IBM, and others provide IoT solutions and products. However, there is a rising trend among these companies to integrate edge analytics capabilities as part of their IoT platform.

Amazon and Microsoft are primarily offering software and services for edge computing, which tightly integrates with their existing cloud data storage and analytics platform. Amazon’s edge offering – Amazon Greengrass, launched in June 2017, extends AWS cloud capabilities to devices for local processing and analysis of data. Microsoft launched its edge platform almost a year after Greengrass, however, Azure IoT Edge is a more comprehensive and intelligent IoT edge solution.

In May, at IoT World 2018 USA, we surveyed more than 50 key IoT stakeholders from components to cloud. According to the survey results, developing “Edge Computing” capability within their IoT offerings is the key IoT focus area for these companies.

As more devices utilize edge computing, these devices are also prone to attacks and sensitive data can be compromised. Taking this into account, Microsoft launched Azure Sphere, which also allows Microsoft to penetrate the microcontroller market by integrating Azure IoT at the component/devices level. This allows Microsoft to enable hardware level security along side cloud level security.

Microsoft Azure Sphere

Microsoft announced Azure Sphere, a solution for creating secured, connected microcontroller (MCUs) devices, which will be able to provide holistic security for an IoT edge implementation. This is an important step from Microsoft to drive chip to cloud connectivity and security, which will extend its reach across the entire value chain.

Azure Sphere includes three components that work together for network and devices security

Microcontrollers (MCUs)

  • Includes built-in Microsoft security technology and connectivity
  • The first Azure Sphere chip will be MediaTek MT3620
  • It combines the versatility and power of a Cortex-A processor and Cortex-M class processor for real time guarantees

Operating System (OS)

  • Azure Sphere OS is purpose-built for security and includes custom Linux kernel which offers a robust platform for IoT implementation
  • OS also includes a security monitor layer and on-chip connectivity services for a secure connection directly to the cloud
  • Developers can use Visual Studio tools for Azure Sphere to write applications, connect to Azure cloud and get access to Azure IoT Hub

Security Service

  • It’s a cloud service that controls all the devices and provides authentication for device-to-device and device-to-cloud communication
  • Detects potential security threats and delivers patches and updates in a timely manner
  • Azure Sphere is somewhat open as it can be connected to other cloud-based device management layer

Azure Sphere Benefits

Integration of Azure Sphere at the chipset level will produce Azure IoT – ready devices. This has various benefits such as:

  • Quick implementation of Azure IoT Edge at scale
  • Reduces time-to-market for IoT- ready devices to directly connect to Azure cloud
  • Offers out-of-the-box, end-to-end security

Partners Ecosystem

Microsoft has been building an ecosystem of partners with various OEMs and component/device manufacturers in order to deliver Azure Sphere certified chips and devices.

In addition, Microsoft will be licensing the security technologies royalty-free, so chip manufacturers can build Azure Sphere chips at affordable costs. Microsoft has announced the availability of their first chip – MediaTek MT3620 in volume by the end of 2018. However, Microsoft will have to work with partners across the value chain to drive adoption of Azure Sphere so the devices are shipped with Azure Sphere.

Amazon launched Amazon FreeRTOS in Nov 2017, a microcontroller operating system that can run on a low power connected device and can securely connect to the cloud or other edge devices. Microsoft Azure Sphere offers similar functionalities, however, Microsoft is positioning Azure Sphere with emphasis on end-to-end security and faster time-to-market.

Falguni Shah is a consultant at Counterpoint Research focusing on IoT Platforms, Cloud Computing and Analytics. She brings in 7 years of experience in Information Technology working as a User Experience Designer at Deloitte Digital and APCO Worldwide, USA catering to Fortune 500 clients. She is Masters in Information Management from University of Maryland, College Park, USA and Bachelors of Engineering – Information Technology from University of Mumbai, India.

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