The company’s President Brad Smith announced the new product, called Azure Sphere, at a press conference at the Microsoft Reactor in San Francisco. The technology includes three components: a thumbnail-sized micro-controller unit, a Linux-based operating system, and a cloud-based security service.
“The Azure Sphere Operating System is a new operating system based on a custom Linux kernel that has been optimized for an IoT environment and reworked with security innovations pioneered in Windows,” Smith said. “After 43 years, this is the first day we’re announcing that we will be distributing a custom Linux kernel.”
Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called Linux a “cancer” in 2001. Since then, however, the former rivals have made nice, with Microsoft hosting a team dedicated to Linux kernel work before joining the Linux Foundation in 2016.
Azure Sphere is the first product, however, that Microsoft has built entirely on the open source software.
Smith said the new micro-controller units (MCUs) have more than five times the power of legacy MCUs used to power toys, household appliances, industrial equipment, and millions of other IoT devices. And Microsoft will “license this royalty free to any silicon manufacturer that wants to buy these new Azure Sphere chips,” he added.
Taiwan-based chip maker MediaTek will ship the first Azure Secure chip later this year.
In addition to building security into the chip and operating system, a new cloud-based security service will protect all of these Azure Sphere devices using certificate-based authentication and online failure reporting. It also automates all OS and application updates and integrates with customers’ on-premises and other cloud providers’ security services, Smith said.
“We’re making this service compatible not only with Azure, but with customers’ other legacy or proprietary, or cloud-based services,” he said, ticking off Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google, Oracle, and Alibaba Cloud as examples. “It enables us as a company to put security first. We’re working with operating system technology in new ways to do that, and we’re working with our competitors’ services in new ways to do that.”
It also reflects Microsoft’s recent moves to prioritize its cloud and edge products and services. Late last month CEO Satya Nadella announced a major company reorganization as part of Microsoft’s cloud and edge push, and a week later the company pledged to invest $5 billion in IoT and edge technologies over the next four years.
Photo: Microsoft President Brad Smith at a press conference in San Francisco.