Amazon Sets Up Onramp for Billions of MCU-powered Devices to AWS with FreeRTOS Stewardship

by Roy Murdock | 11/29/2017

AWS announced its intent to enter the IoT & Embedded operating system (OS) market today by taking stewardship of the popular FreeRTOS operating system. FreeRTOS is a small, MCU-focused Real-Time OS (RTOS) that has gained wide adoption since its release in 2003 as an alternative to paid options. AWS will offer Amazon FreeRTOS under an MIT license as a free download.

Richard Barry, founder of FreeRTOS, has joined AWS as a principal engineer, and will continue to support Amazon FreeRTOS. WITTENSTEIN high integrity systems (WHIS) will continue to support OPENRTOS anddevelop SAFERTOS, commercial implementations of FreeRTOS for projects that require certification or support.

We had been expecting Amazon’s move into the OS market for quite some time, especially after Silicon Labs acquired FreeRTOS’ close competitor Micrium last year. We discussed the rationale for Amazon to move into the IoT & embedded OS market in our 2016 IoT & Embedded OS report:

“Going forward, we expect to see non-traditional IoT software and infrastructure platform vendors looking closely at the embedded OS space. A compelling OS offering could drive millions of device signups for IoT services platforms, such as AWS IoT, Microsoft Azure, and GE Predix, which derive recurring revenue from services rendered to an installed base of devices. Onboarding an OS offering (or complementing Windows 10 IoT Core with an MCU-focused OS in Microsoft’s case) would allow these players to potentially hook analytics and connectivity services into a portion of the billions of MCUs that are shipped yearly, bumping up services revenue substantially.

We see this acquisition as a substantial, missed opportunity for leading MCU vendors, such as Renesas, Microchip/Atmel, and Qualcomm/NXP/Freescale, who we had shortlisted as likely acquirers. Micrium competitors Express Logic and WITTENSTEIN would be rational targets for the next round of RTOS acquisitions.”

We expect the synergy between Amazon FreeRTOS, AWS IoT/Greengrass, and WHIS to be highly beneficial for all parties involved. By offering a free, robust OS for the billions of MCUs that ship yearly, AWS is lowering the barrier to entry substantially for low-level embedded developers to take advantage of cloud storage, sync, analytics, and control. WHIS will benefit from increased usage of Amazon FreeRTOS, as some portion of the growing pool of developers working with the OS will require commercial and safety-critical support on its projects.

With this move, Amazon continues its tradition of moving aggressively into mature, low-margin markets. While operating systems are required for nearly every one of the billions of chips and boards that ships into products and systems each year, revenue generation has slowed considerably in recent years as silicon vendors and FreeRTOS have provided low-cost alternatives to premium offerings. In higher-resource systems, distributions of free/open source Linux continue to mature, running in sockets that would have once generated revenue for commercial OS vendors.

The vendors that stand to lose the most from this announcement are (1) small-footprint OS vendors (Amazon FreeRTOS’ direct competitors); (2) OS vendors that lack a strong presence in safety-critical markets; and (3) cloud services vendors Microsoft and Google.
OS revenue growth remains (relatively) strong among OS vendors that sell into safety-critical systems, as free, open source, unsupported and/or non-certified operating systems are unsuitable for use in the processors that power systems with real-time requirements (car brakes, infusion pumps, industrial machinery, etc.). OS vendors that sell mainly into consumer electronics, mobile phones, and retail/business automation OEMs had already faced strong competition from FreeRTOS, which will only intensify with AWS’ addition of cloud and partner services into the Amazon FreeRTOS ecosystem.

Cloud services providers Microsoft and Google both control powerful OS ecosystems – Windows and Android, respectively. Both of these OS ecosystems focus on powering high-resource systems, such as smartphones and laptops. While both had made tentative steps at courting MCU-level sockets with Windows 10 IoT Core and Android Things, neither of these efforts fully moved out of maker board SoC territory and into Express Logic, FreeRTOS, and Micrium’s MCU domain. Amazon is unequivocally providing an RTOS that will steer the billions of MCU-based IoT devices onto AWS rather than Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform.

Our upcoming 2017 IoT & Embedded Operating Systems report will provide quantitative and qualitative analysis on these topics and more in greater detail. VDC Research has researched the IoT & Embedded OS market since 1998. To find out more about this report, or our broader coverage areas, contact us  or view our research outline.