Microsoft acquisition of Express Logic adds IoT improvements

Microsoft’s acquisition of Express Logic will give the tech giant access to billions of connected devices and, ultimately, give IT better control over IoT endpoints.

With the acquisition, Microsoft plans to make Express Logic’s real time operating system, ThreadX, available on devices with Azure Sphere, Microsoft’s cloud-based IoT software. The integration will also enable ThreadX-powered devices to connect to Azure IoT Edge, Microsoft’s edge computing platform.

Real-time operating systems, or RTOSes, can be used to process data quickly. As such, they are a crucial part of managing IoT devices, which are often scattered across regions and hard to control. An RTOS can provide more consistency and reliability between an IoT device and its cloud than a general-purpose OS.

Microsoft already had the cloud aspect of IoT covered with Azure and its cloud computing capabilities — both Azure Sphere and IoT Edge were developed in the past year. By adding Express Logic and its RTOS, Microsoft can now control both endpoints of an IoT interaction.

“Microsoft has made a tremendous investment in the Azure platform,” said Ken Klika partner of cloud and IT solutions at Sikich LLP, a technology consultancy in Chicago. “But IoT starts on the devices and endpoints. This Microsoft acquisition is in line with the consistency of having OSes on the devices. It’s the ability to have better connectivity with ThreadX and the Azure platform. Rather than create their own RTOS, it made sense to buy a major player.”

The acquisition, which was announced on April 18, is an example of Microsoft’s investment of $5 billion in four years in IoT, a commitment it made in 2018. 

“Microsoft historically wanted Windows on everything,” Klika said. “But, now, Microsoft is allowing for a consistent conversation on connectivity and interactivity to work within their environment.”

Express Logic has been around for 23 years and has made a name for itself as an embedded OS company. Its ThreadX RTOS is currently running on more than 6 billion devices, giving Microsoft a robust set of IoT devices to connect to Azure. Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Microsoft is allowing for a consistent conversation on connectivity and interactivity to work within their environment.
Ken KlikaPartner of cloud and IT solutions, Sikich LLP

One of the differentiators that Express Logic brings to Microsoft is its RTOS has a small footprint of 2 KB of instruction area and 1 KB of RAM. That means it can work on complex IoT devices, such as medical devices or manufacturing equipment, as well as constrained devices, which have limited resources. Constrained devices are typically battery-powered, have less than 64 KB of flash memory, and can include smart lightbulbs and smart thermostats.

“While we recommend Azure Sphere for customers’ most secured connections to the cloud, where Azure Sphere isn’t possible in highly constrained devices, we recommend Express Logic’s ThreadX RTOS over other RTOSes in the industry,” Sam George, head of Azure IoT at Microsoft, wrote in the blog post.

Microsoft, which declined to comment directly on the acquisition, remains tight-lipped about its future with Express Logic. However, Klika said he sees a scenario in which Microsoft offers manufacturers and developers an end-to-end platform for IoT devices.

“Microsoft is looking at this as an opportunity to expand the platform and let creative developers come up with applications,” Klika said. “If you think about Microsoft’s growth into open source and supporting the developer community, they’ve pivoted 180 degrees from where they used to be.”

Additionally, Klika said he sees developments like the Microsoft acquisition of Express Logic spurring the adoption of IoT for organizations.

“Organizations are still trying to be creative about how to leverage the concept of IoT and go beyond basic data collection,” Klika said. “If [Microsoft] can package solutions at a lower cost and develop a service around this, it can be exciting.”

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