The mechanics that operate the Internet of Things are being increasingly finessed and augmented, but what is a hypervisor anyway?

The internal combustion engines and deeper mechanics that actually run the Internet of Things (IoT) for us are in and out of the workshop on a regular basis. The machine isn’t breaking down, as such. It is more a question of new nuts and bolts being fitted for additional functionality. So who are the grease monkeys with their hands in the gears?

One player of some significance is prpl (pronounced “purple”). The body is an open-source, non-profit foundation with a focus on datacenter-to-device portable software and virtualized architectures.

Latest news from the prpl Foundation sees it debut the prplHypervisor. Essentially this is a piece of technology designed to provide security through separation for the billions of embedded connected devices that power the IoT.

But hang on, what is an IoT hypervisor anyway?

In simple terms, a hypervisor is a piece of management software designed to look after so-called Virtual Machines (VMs) i.e. computers that we ‘define’ in cyberspace to work on servers often situated in cloud datacenters. With a hypervisor we can use one single chunk of hardware to run multiple Operating Systems and each OS will ‘appear’ to have its own processor, memory, Input/Output (I/O) channels and other resources.

Why is this good for the IoT?

Simple… it means we can use one datacenter Virtual Machine to run a variety of different IoT devices and the hypervisor will make sure that none of the computing resources crash into each other by intelligently allocating them the power that they need to do their job.

Why is computing separation important to the IoT?

A principle set out in the Security Guidance for Embedded Computing published by prpl in early 2016, showed that ‘security through separation’ is key to fixing the fatal security flaws plaguing the IoT.

“From theft of personal information and financial data to remote takeover of devices which could bring harm to the public, it’s in the interest of every stakeholder in the connected device supply chain to ensure that these devices are designed first for security,” said Art Swift, president, prpl Foundation.

For the more technically minded, the deeper details here tell us that the prplHypervisor uses hardware virtualization to create multiple distinct secure domains. Bare metal applications and rich operating systems can operate independently and securely within these domains.

The prplHypervisor eliminates the possibility of lateral movement within the system while allowing secure high-speed inter-VM communications. Or in other words, separating out IoT jobs keeps them safer.

No we’re not safe yet in IoT land, but we’re getting safer.

Related: We’re building the IoT better, honest


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I am a technology journalist with over two decades of press experience. Primarily I work as a news analysis writer dedicated to a software application development ‘beat’; but, in a fluid media world, I am also an analyst, technology evangelist and content consultant. As the previously narrow discipline of programming now extends across a wider transept of the enterprise IT landscape, my own editorial purview has also broadened. I have spent much of the last ten years also focusing on open source, data analytics and intelligence, cloud computing, mobile devices and data management. I have an extensive background in communications starting in print media, newspapers and also television. If anything, this gives me enough man-hours of cynical world-weary experience to separate the spin from the substance, even when the products are shiny and new.