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Microsoft Previews Azure IoT Edge for Linux on Windows

Microsoft this week announced a preview of Azure IoT Edge for Linux on Windows, which lets organizations tap Linux virtual machine processes that also work with Windows- and Azure-based processes and services.

The edge device concept is a way to bring compute and storage closer to Internet of Things (IoT) devices out in the field. The open source Azure IoT Edge solution, offered as part of the Azure IoT Hub service, is Microsoft's offering for deploying Docker containers that run Azure services or "third-party" services to address such device traffic. Microsoft uses the term "module" to refer to these Docker containers in Azure IoT Edge.

What Microsoft now offers in preview form is the ability to run Linux containers with the Azure IoT Edge service. The example offered by Microsoft is a camera surveillance system that gets augmented using machine learning via a Linux module. Typically, organizations would have to set up a Linux server in such scenarios. Now, with the preview, they can now just deploy Linux in Azure IoT Edge as a virtual machine or module.

The ability to run Linux virtual machines on Azure IoT Edge happens because Microsoft is using its own Linux variant in Azure IoT Edge called "CBL-Mariner." Microsoft has other Linux solutions, too, which are used for things like Windows Subsystem for Linux (built into Windows 10), SONiC and Azure Sphere OS.

Microsoft adopted Azure IoT Edge to run Linux modules largely because of their traction in the marketplace, explained Terry Warwick, senior program manager on the Windows IoT team, in a Microsoft-produced IoT Show video.

Organizations could just run Linux as the host OS directly. However, the idea behind the Linux on Windows capability in Azure IoT Edge, called "EFLOW" by Microsoft, is to address customer IT expertise needs. IT staff may be more knowledgeable about Windows management and less knowledgeable about Linux servers, so EFLOW eases matters. It also lets IT departments connect Windows and Linux processes.

Here's how Warwick characterized Microsoft's rationale for bringing EFLOW Linux capabilities to Azure IoT Edge, per the video:

Our customers have to choose between running either Windows or Linux, or it requires a second device in the enterprise to host the Linux environments. These IT administrators may not have skills to operate both platforms, or the enterprise may have a large investment in management of one vs. the other. So we're focusing mostly on those enterprises and those solutions that have a vast investment in Windows architecture, Windows devices, Windows management and Windows knowledge to really bring the best of both worlds together in a hybrid environment in a way that does not require the enterprise to set up a new control plane to manage a Linux environment.

The benefits of EFLOW also include the ability to remotely manage and update these Linux modules using the Windows Admin Center portal. The Microsoft Update Service is used to keep Azure IoT Edge's "Windows runtime components, the Mariner VM, and Azure IoT Edge" updated. Microsoft also claims that EFLOW supports "bi-directional communication between Windows processes and Linux containers."

Azure IoT Edge for Linux on Windows is just at the preview stage now for testing purposes. Currently, it'll only work with a Windows Insider Program preview version of the Windows Admin Center portal, Microsoft explained in this overview document.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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