SUNNYVALE, Calif. To ease the management of embedded devices in private intranets and the public Internet, startup Embrace Networks Inc. has developed software it calls a "brokerage layer" for application and device management. While the software does not insert a true eighth layer into the seven-layer Open Systems Interconnect protocol stack, it does entail using client firmware for intelligent devices and requires servers to play a management role in arbitrating embedded devices.
To gain leverage to broker embedded devices in network management schemes, Embrace Networks will need to work in the enterprise first, then move out to public networks at a later date. It must also talk at early stages to OEMs and occasionally to chip vendors to devise strategies for linking embedded firmware to the three-headed brokering server architecture.
Embrace Networks president Maria Martinez said the company is exploring intelligent chip development e fforts with NetSilicon Inc., for example, and may look to alliances with lower-level embedded networking specialists such as Echelon Inc., Motorola Inc. and Ubicom Inc.
The startup occupies a market position between simple home networks such as the CEbus and Echelon's LONworks, and the intelligent application networks touted by IBM Corp., Oracle Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and others. Martinez said her company's Device Brokerage Platform could potentially complement both efforts, offering the glue that moves simple message-passing networks into the TCP/IP world, while providing the network-membership brokering that can make IBM or Oracle IT applications useful.
The founders believe their experience at Motorola, Nortel, Sapient and Sun will make it easier for them to attract partners from the chip world through the distributed-system level. Embrace has gained $30 million in venture financing since its founding in 1999, and has research facilities in Sunnyvale and in Naperville, Ill.
Link every thing
The company sees the networking tools developed by vendors such as Wind River Systems Inc. and emWare Inc. as closest in theory to its architecture, though vice president of marketing Remy Malan said he sees nothing coming from either company that would broker between devices and applications. Embrace has ambitious goals to link everything from energy meters to biometric devices to printers and PDAs to the Internet, with minimal intervention by network managers.
The services performed in the brokerage layer include transport abstraction; device abstraction; dynamic device administration; and context management. The turnkey software package performs these duties through a three-part logical partitioning.
While the brokering architecture is proprietary, and the subject of 12 patents, Martinez said it is based on standard languages and protocols, such as the extensible markup language (XML) and simple object access protocol. The software can be added to existing server or server-cluste r environments without re-architecting corporate networks, Malan said.
"When we say this software is programmable in real-time, we mean that an entire network can be brought up in weeks, and new devices can be added instantaneously," Malan said.
The easiest way to make devices compatible with the Embrace network is through the embedding of a MicroClient implemented in a small firmware chip. Though such a device will have a minimal code footprint and memory size, it will be capable of providing 256-bit advanced encryption standard encryption and MD-5 authentication. Alternatively, a special device IP adapter gateway can be set up between devices and server, or a dedicated software plug-in can be added to the brokerage platform.
The initial business model for Embrace will be a traditional software licensing program to enterprise customers, entailing a $50,000 baseline turnkey installation. Embrace also will offer professional services for setting up brokered networks. As the company gains traction and its software is accepted in more environments, Malan anticipates signing more porting deals with OEMs, semiconductor suppliers, real-time or Linux OS vendors, and enterprise application specialists. Eventually, Embrace may work with Internet service providers and carriers, though Malan emphasized that an embedded device software strategy "must be established from the lower levels, going up to the global Internet."