Seeking Scale, Semiconductor Companies Embrace IoT Framework

Unlock scalability and simplify deployments with a flexible development platform for IoT innovation.


Fragmentation has long been the IoT’s greatest impediment. Even before the “Internet of Things” entered popular lexicon, infinite opportunity had turned into infinite complexity as companies raced to deliver solutions without any common technological framework or set of standards that might have ensured that software could be ported between technologies or hardware platforms.

To bring order to an increasingly chaotic IoT, Arm announced Project Cassini in 2019 – a standard, industry-wide framework designed to enable cloud-based workloads to scale down to edge and endpoint devices near the production or consumption of data by strengthening standards, improving security, and enriching the microprocessor ecosystem.

One of Project Cassini’s key pillars is the SystemReady compliance certification program based on a set of hardware and firmware standards. Within this, SystemReady IR focuses on IoT devices built around SoCs based on the Arm A-profile architecture (as opposed to Cortex-M microcontrollers using the Arm M-profile). Such devices fulfill typically more complex roles within the IoT, powering edge gateways and intelligent devices such as smart cameras.

Standardized development for Arm A-profile IoT development

Following the SystemReady standards ensures interoperability with embedded Linux, enables industry Linux distributions to boot with minimal integration effort, and ensures compatibility with software higher up the stack. To achieve that, SystemReady IR-certified platforms implement a minimum set of hardware and firmware features that an operating system can depend on to deploy the operating system image.

An early adherent to Project Cassini, semiconductor manufacturer NXP gained SystemReady IR certification for its i.MX 8M Mini EVK application processor evaluation kit, but has since augmented its commitment by certifying three additional i.MX8M EVKs as well as two of its Layerscape platforms.

Since then, NXP has been followed quickly by other Arm silicon partners and their customers.

In addition, testing labs such as Capgemini, UNH, and GlobalLogic have embraced the initiative to provide complete services to the manufacturers looking to become certified. Component distributors, such as Arrow and Avnet, have endorsed the program and are gearing up to become Project Cassini Centers of excellence. And major cloud service providers are seeing the value, advocating for Project Cassini products to be deployed and integrating components into their delivery services.

Many of these companies have been at the fore of IoT development since its earliest days. They, along with countless other companies, saw the potential of bringing intelligent, connected devices to the edge that could mine data to transform businesses and society. But they also – as did others – got some bruises along the way, confronting development issues that were not only challenges for them internally but the broader IoT ecosystem. But hard work and partnership have paid off. With Project Cassini and SystemReady, the vast potential of cloud-native development at the edge can become a reality.

Why is this important? Because one of the limiting factors of earlier IoT development was that almost all the data captured in edge and endpoint devices had to be sent to the cloud to be computed and provide valuable insights. The cloud is more than capable of handling this, but that paradigm is no longer sustainable as the number of deployed data-generating endpoints grows to hundreds of millions. The infrastructure is unable to keep up, slowing time-to-response and limiting privacy in some cases.

Specialized compute at the edge

Today, the edge revolution demands that more and more compute be distributed closer to where the data is captured to improve processing efficiency, power consumption, time to results, and security and privacy. Project Cassini helps speed that development with an open, collaborative, standards-based approach to development that will accelerate the adoption of more intelligence at the edge and endpoints.

In one sense, SystemReady IR brings the concept of grab-and-go to board makers around the world. ODMs now have the freedom of processor flexibility to pair with software distributions that will bring new capabilities to their customers but also allow them to expand into new markets that might have required them to spend more money and effort just five years ago.

This flexibility is important because the promise of IoT has always been its inherent diversity. And innovating in that environment requires a range of target hardware, running varied software and firmware and powered by many different processors. Without a certification foundation like SystemReady, the velocity of innovation would be vastly slower than it will be now.

SystemReady and Project Cassini enable specialized compute to happen without fragmentation, which lays the groundwork for a larger, more vibrant ecosystem of global innovators. They improve vendor choice and flexibility and lower cost through standardization. And best of all, they don’t reinvent the wheel: Arm is leveraging the existing cloud-native development community and infrastructure to bring this new level of design freedom to innovators.

End-customer flexibility is also improved. For example, a company may deploy a smart camera with the intent to use it for CCTV security monitoring. But that asset in the field can now be used for multiple applications coupled with Project Cassini, from simple movement detection to counting people or monitoring traffic flow. Project Cassini provides a model in which assets in the field can be reused for multiple purposes and by multiple tenants. This offers both a shorter path to asset monetization and return on investment, as well as a platform for future applications, similar to what iOS and Android have enabled for smartphones.

No discussion of IoT could be complete without including the topic of security, which is another pillar of Project Cassini. Platform Security Architecture (PSA) has been in the works for the past four years from an independent team of industry leaders. Today, there are six certification labs that address regions worldwide and have issued over 100 PSA certifications to date.

PSA Certified offers a security framework for connected devices, from analysis of security requirements through to security assessment and certification. The framework provides standardized resources to help resolve the growing fragmentation of IoT requirements and ensure security is no longer a barrier to product development. With PSA certification, deploying SystemReady IoT solutions becomes a simple industry practice.

What’s next?

While these initial boards and distributions broke new ground, the momentum is just getting started. Any true breakthrough industry hits escape velocity on the wings of standards. The visionary Project Cassini development framework is just that for IoT. Countless IoT-solutions companies wanted to scale up into more powerful computing solutions but hesitated when confronted with the perceived complexity. Cassini has now eliminated that challenge.

Arm has also taken the philosophy and approach behind Project Cassini and now applied it to the adjacent space of microcontroller software with Project Centauri. The same pillars of standardization, security, and ecosystem apply, but specific to the hardware and software landscape of MCU-based devices and applications. The newly announced Arm Total Solutions for IoT will provide reference implementations leveraging Project Centauri and Arm’s Corstone platform to address specific use cases and provide a secure, standards-based starting point for any IoT product development.

We’re excited to be in the vanguard of this design and development transformation. It’s given our internal teams far more flexibility to support multiple software distributions and expand into new application areas, among other things. It’s helped our customers move more quickly and nimbly.

The IoT is a sea of possibilities, and while we have been on the journey since the coining of the phrase “IoT,” we realize that we’re not the only ones. IoT is, in effect, a big team sport, and Project Cassini and SystemReady are the kinds of standards-based approaches that will help expand opportunities for everyone.

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