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Stealthy startup plans wireless monitoring for servers and storage devices

Arch Rock Racks $5M for Sensors

James Rogers
LR Mobile News Analysis
James Rogers
3/27/2006
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Wireless technology startup Arch Rock Corp. has clinched $5 million in Series A funding to support the development of sensor technology to protect servers and storage. The round, which included New Enterprise Associates, Shasta Ventures, and Intel Capital, is Arch Rock's first foray into VC funding.

The company was founded last year by David Culler, a professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and Wei Hong, the former principal investigator at Intel Research. Culler is now Arch Rock's CTO, and Hong serves as the startup's vice president of engineering.

Arch Rock is focused on the power and cooling issues that are currently the bane of IT managers' lives. With the rise of ultra-dense blade servers over the last few years, many CIOs are struggling to cope with a set of new heat and power demands. (See Data Center Heat Wave, It's All Cool, Battling With Blades, and NewEnergy Chops Its Blades.)

Arch Rock claims to offer specialized sensors attached to servers and storage devices that can measure for heat and power spikes. Data from the sensors is then reported back to IT managers via a wireless network.

"Data centers are probably the most acute place where temperature, airflow, and heat dissipation are critical to the equipment," explains Culler. "This technology gives you the opportunity to take information from the physical world and bring it into the rest of the environment."

Arch Rock, which is still deep in stealth mode, is giving little away on what these sensors actually involve. But Roland Acra, the firm's CEO, tells Byte and Switch that the sensor devices, which are also known as "motes," will likely range from the size of a coin to a two-inch cube.

The motes could contain a microprocessor from any number of vendors, including Intel [ed. note: surprise!], Texas Instruments, and Motorola, according to Acra, and will use the 802.15.4 radio standard to send data back to a larger "gateway" device. Information will then be converted into a database called TinyDB, which was developed by Culler.

Both the motes and the gateway device will use Arch Rock's TinyOS operating system, and users will have access to the information via a Web service. Customers, according to Acra, will be able to point their browser, "directly at the mote."

At least one analyst warns that TinyOS will need to be extremely flexible to cope with the myriad uses of sensor technology, from heat and light monitoring through to device vibration. "One of the gotchas that they have to deal with is that there's a variety of applications," says Harry Forbes, senior analyst at ARC Advisory Group. "You could have someone using [sensor technology] for environmental monitoring, you could have someone using it for perimeter security, and you could have someone using it for military purposes."

Although he would not commit to a specific date, Acra says the San Francisco-based startup's first products will be launched this year. The Series A funding, he adds, will go to building up the 10-person firm's sales and engineering teams to support the product launch.

Other firms also have their eye on this market. IBM, for example, has already worked with the U.S. Army to develop a wireless sensor system and has a team dedicated to the technology at its Zurich Research Labs. (See US Army Chooses IBM.)

Intel, for its part, has trialed wireless sensors to monitor conditions at an Oregon vineyard and has also fitted a processor manufacturing plant with 200 sensors that monitor vibration levels on factory equipment.

But Acra told Byte and Switch that Arch Rock is not simply an extension of Intel's research labs. "Intel is an investor in the company, but there's no mixup in intellectual property in either direction," he says. "Intel is a partner, as are many other chip vendors."

— James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Arch Rock Corp.
  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)
  • Intel Capital
  • Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC)
  • Intel Research
  • Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)
  • New Enterprise Associates (NEA)
  • Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN)

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