Microsoft Releases Azure Sphere Secure Edge to Cloud IoT Solution

The solution includes a new secure Linux OS embedded into microcontrollers.

Jeffrey Schwartz

February 27, 2020

3 Min Read
IoT Cybersecurity, IoT security

Microsoft’s Azure Sphere, embedded software and services designed to hasten the development of secure IoT endpoints, is now available.

The release of Azure Sphere during this week’s RSA Conference comes nearly two years after Microsoft introduced it at the same annual event. During that time, various customers have piloted the preview release of Azure Sphere, notably Starbucks, which is deploying it to gather telemetry from its coffee brewing and expresso machines.

Initiated as a high-priority Microsoft Research effort in 2015, IoT solutions built with Azure Sphere will offer advanced security designed to protect edge devices, such as cameras and remote sensors, from cyberattacks.

Azure Sphere consists of microcontrollers certified by Microsoft that provide secure wireless communications, memory and compute, with a new edge-based operating system based on a custom Linux kernel that integrates with a cloud-based security service.

The first Azure Sphere microcontroller certified by Microsoft is now available from Taiwan-based MediaTek. Its Wi-Fi connected MT3620 controller enables smart devices to the new Azure Sphere service and partner solutions.

At last year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Avnet launched its Azure Sphere MT3620 Starter Kit. The Avnet kit enables developers to rapidly build prototype solutions based on Azure Sphere. In addition to including the MT3620 Sphere module, the Avnet Azure Sphere Starter Kit includes Wi-Fi connectivity, a subsystem and expansion interfaces for third-party sensors, displays, motors and relays, among other devices.


Avnet’s Jim Beneke

The Avnet bundle is a development kit is based on a production-ready, certified Azure Sphere module, which reduces the time it takes to build a solution, according to Avnet VP of product and emerging technologies Jim Beneke, who described the offering to Channel Futures last year. The kit includes FCC certification, meaning a solution provider doesn’t have to go through that lengthy process and expense, Beneke explained.

“It includes different interperipheral interfaces that are in Azure Sphere, brings them out on the module and makes them accessible on the starter kit platform through various expansion slots,” he said.

The starter kit also includes what are known as “click boards,” an ecosystem consisting of hundreds of small boards with various sensor types such as pressure, temperature, control relays and actuators.

“With these click boards, you can just plug them right in and you can customize for the types of interfaces you’re looking for, to connect into this platform and to connect them to Azure Sphere,” Beneke said.

Microsoft said other microcontrollers in the works will support various verticals, such as toys, home appliances, industrial systems and enterprises implementations such as the Starbucks effort. More advanced microcontrollers are under development, including a processor announced by NXP Semiconductors last summer that will offer greater compute capability to enable AI, graphics and image recognition. Also in the works is the first native cellular Azure Sphere processor announced in October that’s coming from Qualcomm.

The Azure Sphere security service monitors each microcontroller via trusted links between devices using certificate-based authentication. The service also provides threat detection, failure reports and enables device patching.

“The security service connects with every single Azure Sphere chip, with every single Azure Sphere operating system, and works with the operating system and the chip to keep the device secured throughout its lifetime,” said Microsoft distinguished engineer Galen Hunt and managing director for Azure Sphere, in an online discussion with Ann Johnson, corporate VP for the company’s cybersecurity solutions group.

Moving forward, Hunt said his goal is to expand the Azure Sphere ecosystem. Besides the forthcoming processors from NXP and Qualcomm, Hunt said: “Our next big plan is to take Azure Sphere everywhere. We’ve demonstrated it’s possible, but I think we’re just starting to scratch the surface of secured IoT.”

About the Author(s)

Jeffrey Schwartz

Jeffrey Schwartz has covered the IT industry for nearly three decades, most recently as editor-in-chief of Redmond magazine and executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner. Prior to that, he held various editing and writing roles at CommunicationsWeek, InternetWeek and VARBusiness (now CRN) magazines, among other publications.

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