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Hey, remember Microsoft's IoT Linux gear? After two years, Azure Sphere is finally here

Internet of Security is the name of the game, instead of that other 'S' word

Arriving fashionably late, Azure Sphere, Microsoft's take on turning the Internet of Sh*t into the Internet of Updates, has finally reached General Availability.

Though the homepage for the tech was still festooned with "Preview" at the time of writing, after nearly two years, the time has finally come.

Back in April 2018, Microsoft made beer come out of our noses in surprise when it announced the Arm-based system on chip for IoT devices. Not least because it ran the company's own flavour of Linux rather than a variant of the embedded versions of Windows emitted over the years.

That was before the company shoehorned a Linux kernel into its flagship operating system in the form of Windows Subsystem for Linux 2. Nothing surprises us now when it comes to Redmond and penguins.

Those IoT devices connect to an Azure-hosted backend and are kept up to date in a way that, frankly, an awful lot of IoT gizmos are not. Microsoft made the blueprints of its chips available to vendors in the hope that the tech would find its way into hardware, and customers find their way into the warm embrace of Azure (and stop worrying about security updates).

Microsoft insists that Azure Sphere is not really a subscription service. The MediaTek MT3620 Micro-controller unit (MCU) silicon, the Azure Sphere OS and the Azure Sphere Security Service costs up to $8.65 upfront (with volume discounting) and will be supported through July 2031.

At the time of launch, Galen Hunt, Distinguished Engineer and managing director for Microsoft Azure Sphere, reckoned the first wave of Azure Sphere devices "to be on shelves by the end of 2018", but despite signing up the likes of Starbucks and E.ON, the product has remained resolutely in preview.

It's clear that Microsoft has had a few challenges to overcome in persuading chip makers to adopt the technology. In a chat with Ann Johnson, corporate veep for the Cybersecurity Solutions Group at Microsoft, Hunt admitted that right now its first silicon partner, MediaTek, was pretty much the only game in town when it came to volume.

It took until October 2019 for Qualcomm to announce it would be making a cellular Azure Sphere chip following NXP's June announcement that Azure Sphere would be turning up as an extension to its i.MX 8 high-performance applications processor series. The latter chips won't be turning up until the end of 2020, and even then only in "limited sampling".

Still, finally getting to General Availability is a milestone for the gang, even if alternatives such as the diminutive Raspberry Pi have been gaining traction. "Our next big plan," trilled Hunt, "is to take Azure Sphere everywhere."

Or at least have a crack at creating an Internet of Security rather than an Internet of, er, something else that begins with "S". ®

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