For the past five years, Microsoft has been busy building a comprehensive IoT (Internet of Things) portfolio. At the company’s Build 2020 event, which took place virtually last week, Microsoft laid out an IoT vision and roadmap suggesting that today the focus is generally on connected assets, but the next trend is connected environments (e.g., smart manufacturing), and, in the future, the focus will be on connected ecosystems, in which connected environments interact with each other to achieve a more completely connected world. The event produced many Azure IoT-related announcements that will help innovative customers take the space into this future.
About a year ago, in April 2019, Microsoft first announced it acquired Express Logic and its ThreadX RTOS for IoT and edge devices. And now, one major IoT-related announcement is the general availability of ThreadX rebranded as Microsoft’s Azure RTOS (realtime operating system), a compact, fast, enterprise-grade RTOS that’s deeply integrated with key Azure IoT services. The RTOS is being delivered through Microsoft’s partnerships with companies like Microchip, NXP Semiconductors, Qualcomm, Renesas Electronics, and STMicroelectronics. Microsoft also announced it’s making Azure RTOS open source and available on GitHub. Thanks to features such as advanced scheduling, communication, synchronization, timer, memory management, and interrupt management facilities, the RTOS is especially suited for realtime and IoT applications. Importantly, Azure RTOS also supports Azure IP Advantage, Microsoft’s solution for protecting customers from IP risks.
Microsoft also announced that Azure Sphere, a comprehensive IoT security solution that spans hardware, OS, and cloud, and Azure RTOS are now working better together. Azure Sphere became generally available in February, and Microsoft says Azure RTOS offers the realtime component that helps round out Azure Sphere. The marriage is a great boon for developers who are building IoT devices that require stiff security and realtime processing.
Edge computing also figured heavily into the Build 2020 announcements. For instance, Azure IoT Edge support is now generally available in IoT Central (as is Azure Sphere support), and there are also several new, enhanced, or upcoming Azure IoT Edge enterprise-grade capabilities. Azure IoT Edge, built on the Azure IoT Hub, allows customers to deploy cloud workloads, including AI (artificial intelligence), to run on IoT edge devices, enabling faster communication and reaction times. One upcoming enhancement to Azure IoT Edge is advanced monitoring, which will create a whole new level of visibility on IoT edge devices. By further enabling the edge, Microsoft is opening doors for customers in industries like manufacturing, healthcare, and retail, as well as those working on solutions for smart cities, AVs (autonomous vehicles), and beyond.
On the cloud side of the coin, Microsoft also had several announcements that will benefit customers and support IoT innovation. For instance, the company announced Azure IoT Hub private link support—an industry first. It also announced some plug-and-play IoT Hub services that will continue to simplify IoT development, ultimately helping to make IoT development more accessible to more people, which will boost innovation in the space overall. Azure Digital Twins also now offers support for existing IoT devices.
Finally, Microsoft also touted its growing IoT ecosystem of partners. Sam George, corporate vice president of Azure IoT, said in his IoT session: “IoT really takes a village […] and we are here to have the best partnership ecosystem on the planet.” New developer trainings and certifications for Azure IoT, such as the Microsoft Certified: Azure IoT Developer Specialty, also helped drive home the point at Build 2020 that the company is focused on providing community and support as well as the tools to boost innovation and bring the IoT into its next iteration.
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