Instrument bridge

An Instrument bridge is an extension of the network bridge concept from the IEEE networking technology glossary. The term instrument bridge highlights the logical separation of scientific instruments from administrative computers (e.g. email servers) on the computer network of a science-intensive organization.

Instrument Bridge Motivation

Modern research instrumentation are often equipped with desktop class computers to perform data acquisition and control. For some instruments, these tasks occupy the majority of the capacity of the controlling computer. When instrument control computers are connected to the computer network of an organization, network security, operating system patch management and other concerns can interfere with the operation of the instrument during critical measurements. Most research organizations implement policies of virus scanning and automatic patching which require significant resources on the control computer or require it to be automatically rebooted. Lost productivity or lost samples during patching, scanning or rebooting has motivated the separation of laboratory computers from enterprise computers, but at the cost of loss of access to enterprise resources (such as storage) and poor integration for data analysis.

The concept of an instrument bridge can be implemented using various technologies, but suggests a separation between enterprise activities and laboratory activities. Key concepts of instrument bridges include:

  • The ability to communicate in the instrument protocol or connect to the instrument control system
  • The ability to act as a firewall for network activity: protect the instrument computer
  • The ability to assess acquisition status to control data movement to enterprise systems (such as storage)
  • Possibly the ability to map instrument-specific data or status information into other representations or formats
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