Microsoft built its own custom Linux kernel for its new IoT service

Remigio Civitarese
Aprile 17, 2018

At a small press event in San Francisco, Microsoft today announced the launch of a secure end-to-end IoT product that focuses on microcontroller-based devices - the kind of devices that use tiny and relatively low-powered microcontrollers (MCUs) for basic control or connectivity features. It was originally spotted over a year ago, then only known as Project Sopris. Finally, Microsoft is launching an Azure Sphere Security Service that's supposed to handle security and management of those chips. The bundle, called Azure Sphere, will cost less than $10 a device, though the company declined to be more specific. MediaTek is only the first of several silicon partners that will try out an Azure chip.

Early findings indicated that "even the most price-sensitive devices should be redesigned to achieve the high levels of device security critical to society's safety", the researchers said. Microsoft officials said this silicon security includes "learnings" from Xbox regarding how to secure these microcontrollers and devices they power.

Just when Google has begun to experiment with leaving Linux behind with its Fuchsia OS - new Fuchsia details emerged late last week - long-time Linux foe Microsoft unveiled an IoT platform that embraces Linux.

The first Azure Sphere chip will be the MediaTek MT3620, which will ship in volume later this year, and the first products are set to ship by the end of the year. The controllers themselves include the power of a Cortex-A processor with the real-time guarantees of a Cortex-M class processor, according to Microsoft's Azure Sphere web site. As Microsoft cares more about selling Azure services than on trying to get Windows embedded everywhere these days, the reliance on Linux for a custom kernel here isn't that surprising, to be honest. Its engineers added security features the company developed to the Linux "kernel", the core elements of the operating system.

The Azure Sphere MCUs "combine both real-time and application processors with built-in Microsoft security technology and connectivity", says Microsoft. Developers can use Visual Studio Tools for Azure Sphere to write applications and can connect their Azure Sphere devices to Azure to get telemetry data, messaging and access to Azure IoT Hub and other services. Right now, the service is in private preview.

Azure Sphere is now in private preview but the company Sphere devices to be on shelves by the end of 2018 with dev kits arriving in the middle of the calendar year.

Microsoft also made a few other RSA announcements today. For years, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took turns deriding Linux and open source while warning about the threat they posed to the tech industry.

And Microsoft is making an interface for its Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph available to customers and developers, officials said.

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