Wireless vendor simplifies IPv6 sensor networks

Arch Rock's new hardware and software makes it easier to deploy and run IPv6 sensor networks

Arch Rock has released new software and hardware to simplify creating large-scale, distributed wireless sensor networks and linking them with the enterprise IP backbone.

The new product line, called PhyNet, shifts a set of control functions from the outlying Arch Rock IP sensor networks to a server in the data center. Linking the two is a new IP router. A new physical interface connects digital sensors into the sensor cloud. The goal is to create large collections of wireless sensors, make these networks more reliable, and treat them as an extension of the IP backbone.

Arch Rock uses IEEE 802.15.4 radio nodes, with an IPv6 network stack based on the IETF 6LoWPAN standard, to link physical sensors in a peer-to-peer wireless mesh. The nodes talk to a bridge node, which connects to the Arch Rock gateway, located with or near the mesh. The gateway plugs into an Ethernet-based enterprise IP network, making every radio node, and its attached sensors or other devices, addressable as IP endpoints.

The nodes and gateway support Web services and a service-oriented architecture (SOA). That means a wide array of existing enterprise tools, from Microsoft Excel to SAP ERP applications, can make a simple Web services call to the sensor data stored on the gateway.

The new products simplify and extend this arrangement. The ruggedized PhyNet router replaces the more complex gateway, eliminating relatively fragile components such as hard drives from the shop floor or outdoors. The router can use Wi-Fi or Ethernet to link the mesh with an array of IP WAN links. It supports IPv6 to the sensor nodes, and can handle IPv4-to-IPv6 translations. Each router handles as many as 100 sensor nodes.

Adding more routers to a given mesh provides redundant connections, and increases the throughput the mesh can support, according to Arch Rock. "Multiple [PhyNet] routers also improves battery life of the sensors," says George Iwaki, director of product management for Arch Rock. Adding edge routers reduces the number of hops a data packet has to make among the mesh nodes to reach an exit point to the backbone. Fewer hops means less drain on the node's battery, Iwaki says.

The PhyNet router enables the rest of the Cto be relocated on the PhyNet Server, an appliance that is housed in the data center instead of in the field with the sensor mesh. The software handles setup, diagnostics, node management and data management with an onboard SQL database, and hosts SOA-based applications. Via a Web GUI, administrators can see data and events from any and all of the wireless sensor networks, and centrally administer them.

The new IPSerial node is a connection point for digital sensors that use serial interfaces such as RS232 or RS485, and for various sensing or control systems that use legacy wired buses, such as ModBus, outfitted with serial interfaces. All these can coexist with analog sensors in an Arch Rock sensor network.

All three products are available now. An entry-level package, which includes the PhyNet Server, two PhyNet Routers, 10 of the existing Arch Rock IPSensor nodes, and two of the new IPSerial nodes, costs US$7,995.

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