Microsoft has recently announced that they are planning to release Azure Sphere into General Availability (GA) in February 2020. After a nearly two-year period, Azure Sphere will be going out of Beta and entering General Availability. This means the Azure Sphere platform (hardware, Azure Sphere OS, and AS3 cloud service) should be getting a better SLA guarantee than that currently provided in Beta. Also, GA means you should be able to rest assured that the platform wont undergo any major changes that could derail your current development plans, or even live, production solutions.
Azure Sphere is Microsoft’s microcontroller (MCU) platform for building more highly secured Internet of Things (IoT) devices and solutions. It combines a custom Linux-based operating system (OS), secured microcontroller unit (MCU), and a cloud-based security service (called Azure Sphere Security Service) to provide a solution for building more highly secured IoT solutions. The original Beta was released in early 2018 that included the Azure Sphere OS, Azure Sphere Security Service (AS3) cloud service, and the availability of Azure Sphere Dev Kit hardware. Since then, Microsoft has released regular updates to the platform every month or two.
The first Azure Sphere microcontroller unit (MCU) chip made available was the MediaTek MT3620, and is the chip found in the Dev Kits that are available for purchase. Microsoft has since announced partnerships with additional companies to provide Azure Sphere chips with different functionality. They are working with NXP on the i.MX 8 chip that will provide capabilities for artificial intelligence, graphics, and richer UI experiences to be built. They are also working with Qualcomm Technologies to build the first Azure Sphere chips with Cellular connectivity.
Once an Azure Sphere MCU has been purchased, there are not any additional charges to use the Azure Sphere Security Service (AS3) or Azure Sphere OS. The one-time cost of the physical MCU chip includes licensing for the chip, Azure Sphere OS, and the Azure Sphere Security Service. Microsoft has listed that updates and support are included in this licensing through July 2031. This support end date will get updated over time, but this should give you an idea on how long your solutions will be eligible for updates and support after you purchase the physical hardware. Additionally, the pricing for specific Azure Sphere MCU hardware will depend on the manufacturer and the features / capabilities of the chips.
Included in the licensing of Azure Sphere, is use of the Azure Sphere Security Service (AS3) service without any ongoing subscription fee or consumption fee. There are no additional costs for Azure Sphere beyond the initial, one-time cost. This model provides a great model that helps reduce the barrier to entry on the Azure Sphere platform in figuring out how much it will cost. Once you purchase the Azure Sphere MCU hardware the Azure Sphere OS (including updates) and use of the AS3 cloud service is included for the supported lifetime of the device.
The overall cost of a solution using Azure Sphere will depend on the other cloud services used. Even though there isn’t any ongoing cost for using an Azure Sphere device, you will need to pay for all the other Microsoft Azure services you integrate into your overall Azure IoT solutions.
Overall, the Azure Sphere platform provides innovative advancements for building more highly secured IoT solutions. This is increasingly important in an ever connected world that is depending more on IoT solutions every day. A GA release for Azure Sphere is exciting, as Microsoft is entering a phase where they will be officially stating Azure Sphere is ready for primetime, production use.
If you aren’t already digging into Azure Sphere, then I recommend you start soon! There are many security related benefits that come with the platform that will likely help you build more secure solutions for your organization and your customers.