Smart meters are one IoT application that will require considerable back end support

ARM moves into server software in IoT push

ARM aims to extend its business into the world of server software on the back of predicted strong growth in Internet of Things applications.

Executives at the company believe the sector will surge over the coming years and although ARM will provide an operating system for IoT devices for free, it will charge royalties for cloud-based server software that talks to them.

"We are trying to drive an industry but we are also trying to drive ARM's business," Mike Muller, ARM CTO said. "And the royalty model is how we like to do things."

Muller said in his keynote at ARM TechCon this week in Santa Clara, California, that the two-pronged strategy answers the question: "How do we enable the device guys to make the hundreds of thousands of IoT apps the world will have?"

The Mbed operating system for IoT nodes is designed to consume less power than traditional real-time operating system (RTOS) software. "In the 1990s, the processor was the scarce resource. You had to time-share the processor and it was a very processor-centric model. Today even on those tiny embedded chips we have immense computing power. Instead, the scarce resources today are energy and productivity. Mbed is not a hard real-time operating system. But it's energy efficient and productive," said Muller.

Although not constrained to talk only to the ARM server software – Muller stressed the communications are based on existing protocols – the company has designed the Mbed Device Server to hide many of the implementation difficulties of building applications that talk to devices that only join the network intermittently because they are powered-down most of the time.

"The Mbed Device Server is free for development. But we require a licence for commercial use. It allows you to use open web standards for development, and translates into the web standards that are useful for constrained devices. You can run it where you want, whether hosted on a cloud platform, or run it in your own server rooms," Muller said.

Muller explained "periodic connectivity... is not what an applications developer wants to hear. With the server, you can talk to the device as though it's there even when it isn't. And you talk to devices behind a firewall".

Mikko Saarnivala, director of technology, said the server software has been deployed in trials by a couple of customers, with one system being used to manage streetlights and another handling smart meters.

The device-level operating system is in an earlier stage of development, with alpha software going to selected partners by the end of the year. Zach Shelby, director of technical marketing at ARM, said: "By TechCon next year we will be at full production for the whole thing."

Some of the support infrastructure needed to handle security still has to be rolled out. Although the Mbed operating system calls for an encryption subsystem, known as the CryptoBox, to handle secure operations, current versions of the Cortex-M processor that are most likely to run it do not have as standard the hardware elements needed to guarantee that the processor can boot up securely and maintain a root of trust for the software infrastructure.

"There are some roadmap items that will show up over time," said Krisztián Flautner, general manager of ARM's IoT operation.

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