Twilio has announced the beta release of its “Microvisor” IoT platform. Microvisor will complement Twilio’s current IoT portfolio, comprising its SuperSIM cellular service and Electric Imp IoT platform.

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Summary

During Twilio’s annual Signals conference (September 30, 2020–October 1, 2020), the company announced the beta release of its “Microvisor” Internet of Things (IoT) platform. Microvisor will complement Twilio’s current IoT portfolio, comprising its SuperSIM cellular service and Electric Imp IoT platform.

What does Microvisor provide?

Key announced details of the Microvisor offering include:

  • Creates a secure management runtime on the device, supported by cloud-based management elements
  • Supports any real-time operating system (RTOS) now, with Twilio developer support initially announced for Amazon FreeRTOS; support for other frameworks to be announced
  • Enabled by Arm Cortex-M Trustzone
  • Supports connectivity via Twilio’s SuperSIM cellular service, Wi-Fi, or Ethernet
  • Pricing will comprise a single one-off license per device, with pricing levels to be announced, but scaled on a volume basis. The license provides a fixed term of Microvisor security support and over-the-air (OTA) application deployments among other features.

Microvisor helps IoT developers and adopters to solve complexity and security

Twilio has steadily increased its focus on the IoT market since first entering in 2016. The company introduced its SuperSIM cellular platform (essentially a carrier-management offering that abstracts customers from the need to manage multiple carrier relationships) in 2018. Twilio acquired the Electric Imp IoT platform in early 2020.

Twilio’s IoT focus centers on the device-to-cloud segment of the infrastructure needed to develop and deploy IoT applications. Microvisor enables four key device lifecycle management features:

  • Secure boot – Cryptographic verification of OS and application
  • Secure Firmware Over-The-Air (FOTA)– Fail-safe, atomic upgrades of OS and application
  • Secure debug – Remote debug and log collection
  • Secure communications – Talk directly to cloud or via Twilio tunnel

In surveys and interviews, IoT developers and adopters regularly cite the challenges of managing the complexity of IoT application development and the security risks of remote, often unattended devices in the field, as their leading concerns. Microvisor squarely aims to address these challenges.

Microvisor’s target customer profile

Omdia believes that Microvisor is best-suited to the consumer, enterprise, and “light” industrial IoT applications that target fragmented and niche use cases, which will be deployed over a wide geographic area and are based on existing product designs that are now being integrated into connected device offerings.

Microvisor’s messaging focus at Signals for connectivity centered on cellular, Wi-Fi, and Ethernet. Nevertheless, Twilio states that Microvisor enables developers to use a range of industrial connectivity protocols, such as MODBUS-TCP, MODBUS-RTU, CAN, IO-link, or EtherNet-IP. These protocols reside higher in the IoT stack, above Microvisor. For example, Twilio provided the hypothetical example of a customer (e.g. an industrial automation vendor) adopting Microvisor for the use in a motor control unit and porting their code over to Microvisor with very few modifications and thereby having a secure internet connection to the unit in addition to their fieldbus support that they may have built up over decades.

Microvisor seeks to provide a complementary capability to the Electric Imp IoT platform. While Electric Imp is more turnkey, it also affords less choice and ability for the developer to bring in an existing code base or existing device components. In contrast, Microvisor enables the flexibility to do such things and thereby gives a developer who already has a product and now wants to connect that product the option to reuse existing research and development (R&D) investment.

Twilio’s competitive environment

Twilio is not the only vendor to focus on the device-to-cloud segment of IoT infrastructure offers. Certain cellular IoT module vendors have also built out capabilities to provide cellular connectivity services, on-device development environments, and device lifecycle management capabilities. In some cases, these companies have, so far, focused more on industrial applications by integrating extensive support for industrial protocols and legacy device drivers.

Nevertheless, Twilio is becoming an increasingly good option for IoT developers who want to pair Twilio’s device-to-cloud IoT infrastructure offerings with Twilio’s extensive array of marketing, customer care, and communications solutions. As companies in many industries increasingly focus on the opportunity for fundamental digital transformation from being product vendors to “outcome-as-a-service” solution providers, such pairings are likely to be increasingly relevant and attractive.

Appendix

Author

Sam Lucero, Senior Principal Analyst, IoT Services & Technologies

askananalyst@omdia.com