Microsoft's Azure Sphere, its Linux-based microcontroller plus cloud service, hits general availability

Microsoft is making its Azure Sphere secure IoT service generally available after several years of testing and previews.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft's Azure Sphere hardware and service designed to better secure Internet of Things (IoT) devices is generally available as of today, February 24. Microsoft initially introduced Azure Sphere, which includes a Microsoft-developed Linux operating system for microcontrollers, in 2018. The technology evolved out of a Microsoft Research project, called Project Sopris.

"IoT is in the science-fair stage. Every enterprise is doing at least one experiment here. But security is really keeping them from going to scale, " said Galen Hunt, a Microsoft Distinguished Engineer and managing director of Azure Sphere.

Azure Sphere consists of Microsoft-certified microcontrollers -- single-chip computers with processors, storage, memory and IoT capabilities -- plus the Azure Sphere Linux-based OS and the Azure Sphere cloud security service. The security service provides authentication, threat response, and on-device and application failure information

The first Azure Sphere chip was the MediaTek MT3620, which included an onboard security subsystem Microsoft christened "Pluton." Microsoft announced last year that it would be working with NXP on another Azure Sphere-certified chip, the i.MX 8, which will be suited to artificial intelligence, graphics, and richer UI experiences. Microsoft also is working with  with Qualcomm on  the first cellular-enabled Azure Sphere-certified chip which will provide secure connectivity

Microsoft officials said customers who have been using Azure Sphere in preview have used it to design and produce consumer appliances to retail and manufacturing equipment. The Azure Sphere-certified MediaTek MT3620 chips also are being used in "guardian modules" for securely connecting and protecting mission-critical equipment, officials said. 

The guardian module is a device no larger than the size of a deck of cards-built around an Azure Sphere chip, Microsoft officials said. Customers interested in connecting existing devices can connect through the guardian module to connect it securely to the cloud. Microsoft's own Azure datacenter team has been using Azure Sphere and guardian modules this way internally during preview, officials said.  

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