Microsoft Advances Vision of Azure as 'The World's Computer' with IoT Partners

Microsoft is advancing its vision of Azure cloud platform as "the world's computer" with partnerships with leading makers of IoT devices ranging from small microcontroller units (MCUs) to more robust microprocessor units (MPUs).

The cloud-based world computer employs a real-time operating system, Azure RTOS based on technology from Microsoft's acquisition last year of Express Logic and its ThreadX RTOS, stated Sam George, corporate vice president of Azure IoT, in a blog this past week announcing the semiconductor partnerships.

"STMicroelectronics, Renesas, NXP, Microchip, and Qualcomm will all offer embedded development kits featuring Azure RTOS ThreadX, one of the components of the Azure RTOS embedded application development suite," George stated. "This allows embedded developers to access reliable, real-time performance for resource-constrained devices, and seamless integration with the power of Azure IoT to connect, monitor, and control a global fleet of IoT assets."

These partners make up the majority of companies marketing 32-bit MCUs that are embedded into billions of devices, including sensors in everything from streetlights to shipping containers, smart home appliances to medical devices, according to the Microsoft executive.

"IoT is reaching mainstream adoption across businesses in all market segments," George wrote in touting the world's computer concept. "Our vision is to enable Azure to be the world's computer, giving businesses real-time visibility into every aspect of their operations, assets, and products."

Embedded developers will be able to use Azure RTOS to provide access to streams of information coming from IoT devices, he said. As part of this initiative, Microsoft is releasing the full source code for all Azure RTOS components on its GitHub site. This will make it possible for members of developer teams to develop, test and adapt Azure RTOS for the specific applications they are creating, according to the company.

"When developers are ready to take their code into production, the production license will be included automatically if they deploy to any of the supported MCU devices from STMicroelectronics, Renesas, NXP, Microchip, or Qualcomm," George stated in his blog. "If they prefer to use a different device in production, they may contact Microsoft for direct licensing details."

Because IoT devices, data and applications are targets of cybersecurity attacks, Microsoft is incorporating its Azure Sphere IoT security solution for hardware, OS and cloud components, which is designed to provide protection for the world's computer.

"When combined with Azure Sphere, Azure RTOS enables embedded developers to quickly build real-time, highly-secured IoT devices for even the most demanding environments -- robust devices that offer real-time performance and protection from evolving cybersecurity threats," George stated. "For MCUs and system on chips (SoCs) that are smaller than what Azure Sphere supports, Azure RTOS and Azure IoT Hub Device Management enable secure communications for embedded developers and device operators who have the ability to implement best practices to protect devices from cybersecurity attacks."

One of Microsoft's partners, NXP Semiconductors, touts itself as "a world leader in secure connectivity solutions for embedded applications, serving customers in the automotive, industrial and IoT, mobile, and communication infrastructure sectors." The Netherlands-based company is collaborating with Microsoft on applications for voice control and machine learning (ML) for edge computing.

"Edge computing reduces the latency, bandwidth and privacy concerns of a cloud-only Internet of Things," said Jerome Schang, head of cloud partnership programs at NXP, in a statement. "Enabling Azure RTOS on NXP's MCUs is yet another step to provide edge computing solutions that unlock the benefits of edge to Azure IoT cloud interaction."

Renesas Electronics Corp., headquartered in Kyoto, is also stressing the security aspects of Azure RTOS in its MCU and MPU products. "Our Synergy and RX cloud kits combined with Azure RTOS and other Azure IoT building blocks offer MCU customers a quick and secure end-to-end solution for cloud connectivity," said Sailesh Chittipeddi, executive vice president, general manager of Renesas' IoT and Infrastructure business unit.

Qualcomm Technologies Inc., based in San Diego, Calif., plans to incorporate the Microsoft technology into its chips for smartphones and tablets for a host of applications including asset trackers, health monitors, security systems, smart city sensors, smart meters, and wearable devices.

STMicroelectronics (ST), a French-Italian multinational electronics and semiconductor manufacturer headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, will be including Azure RTOS as middleware for its installed base of 5 billion MCUs.

Chandler, AZ-based Microchip Technology Inc., said it plans to incorporate support for Azure RTOS and Azure IoT Edge across its products, which include microcontrollers, stated Greg Robinson, associate vice president of Microchip's 8-bit microcontroller business unit.