Does the internet of things need another platform? Ian Drew, the CEO and founder of Foundries.io, is betting on yes. Drew, who was the former chief marketing officer and EVP of business development at ARM, created Foundries.io as an operating system that can tie into any cloud and sit on any type of computing architecture. He’s offering it as a service to help mitigate some of the challenges posed by connected devices that need security updates while they spend several years out in the field.
Operating systems — software that sits between the hardware and the applications running on top of the hardware and links them together — aren’t sexy, but they are necessary. In the computing world, the OSes include Linux, Microsoft Windows, and variations on Linux. In the mobile phone ecosystem, the dominant systems are Android and iOS. But in the IoT world there are dozens of operating systems, and several are important enough that they might be used in a project.
There have been several efforts to address the fragmented nature of the IoT OS market. ARM introduced something called ARM Mbed, which tied an OS to ARM’s cloud, and Amazon hired the creator of FreeRTOS and has taken over development of that OS. There are other open-source options such as Contiki and Zephyr as well.
With so many options to choose from, it’s tough for businesses that want to build a connected device to choose. In some cases, these companies simply pick a hardware vendor such as Electric Imp, Particle, or another option and operate on the they OS provide. In other cases, they hire development teams to build an IoT product without realizing that they might get stuck with an OS that no one will know how to deal with five or 10 years down the road.
Drew thinks there’s a role for his company to build a customized OS for companies to support their connected products. Customers can choose between Linux or a Zephyr-like based operating system; which one they choose will depend on the type of device they want to build and how much computing power and memory it will need. Engineers at Foundries.io will then customize the OS to integrate with a single cloud, multiple clouds, or an on-premise option. They will also customize the OS for whatever hardware the customer would like to run.
Such customization offers a lot of flexibility when it comes to what customers build on and where they want to send data. It also means they don’t have to hire someone to support and maintain an OS. Drew says that the customization requirements are not so work-intensive that Foundries.io will becomes a consultancy as opposed to something that can scale.
It plans to charge $30,000 to $40,000 for each different SKU a company wants it to support. Generally, a SKU will be based on the underlying hardware that the OS will run on, so a company might have two or three products running on the same underlying board that could be maintained for the $30,000-$40,000 a year.
I like the modularity here. My biggest concern stems from the fact that in the consumer hardware world we’ve seen increasing verticalization of the hardware and the OS layer. Will IoT go the same way? However, given how many companies want to build connected products and how concerned many of them are about giving more power to the big IT players, the Foundries.io approach could resonate.