Wi-Fi LAB: secure solution for remote embedded software development - Sigma IT
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Embedded Software Development
Case study

Wi-fi Lab: secure solution for Remote Embedded Software Development

The new product development project may require developers to work with hardware and devices, especially in the testing and debugging phase. In case of development by the in-house team, the engineers usually have easy access to the hardware and devices on the company’s premises. It is different when product design and development responsibility is at the external remote team. Still, it is not a big obstacle, as they can be safely placed at the company’s site providing the development team. However, due to the popularization of remote work, such access by developers to the Client’s devices at the company’s premises is no longer sufficient. One of the solutions is to create in-house Wi-Fi Lab, enabling secure access to devices for all members of the project team, from anywhere in the world.

Wi-Fi Lab: for the Safety and convenience of clients and Engineering teams

Many of our projects in Sigma IT require our development teams to work with Clients’ hardware and devices. It applies particularly to R&D projects that include the early development phases of new products, such as embedded systems in which software engineers have to prove their development work on specific target boards. In these cases, the developers work on prototype and evaluation or debugging mode boards that require direct connection to the equipment and access to routers, switches, cables, and connectivity devices. For these types of projects, it is reasonable for security and device accessibility to require each team member to work from the office. With the pandemic and the spread of remote work, meeting this requirement has become difficult, if not impossible.

Therefore, for safe, effective, and independent of external conditions work, our developers have created and developed proprietary Wi-Fi LAB. Thanks to Lab, team members have easy, unlimited access to the clients’ devices and the ability to work on development and testing, not only from the office or home but from anywhere in the world. All this while maintaining all safety standards.

How it works

Engineering teams can test and work on multiple devices in our dedicated LAB. Teams can work entirely remotely. In terms of security, there is no difference between developers working remotely or from Sigma office.

wi-fi lab
Sigma IT Wi-Fi Lab

We implemented SSH (Secure Shell) for remote access: engineers who work remotely connect to the Lab with SSH. Additionally, there is 2FA and the password–secured hard drive encryption.

In our office in Wrocław, we arranged a separate room apart from the Lab room to place other devices, eliminate the connection noise, and ensure better testing conditions.

Key elements

The key lab elements include:

  1. Remote access to each device – through SSH
  2. The ability to remotely reset (power on/off) each device
    (which is especially useful in the case of crashes during development)
  3. In case of problems with ssh/ethernet, access via serial (TTY)
  4. Possibility of the remote flashing
  5. Sharing equipment between project team members
  6. All this while maintaining the security of the network:
    – SSH and using dsa / rsa keys: access control is done exclusively by using keys, so there is no need for passwords. Safe addition of access for new project members and removal in case someone leaves it.
    – NAT router as an additional security level – one external/public IP
    – Self-configuration in the case of a power failure in the office (power off)
  7. Implemented build server + jenkins – making nightly builds, on a daily basis
  8. “Remote_tests” based on opensource hostap / tests and python
  9. Basic sanity tests that jenkins runs every day after building the firmware and flashing it on the devices
  10. Remote testing on specific extensions implemented for clients
  11. Reference device (reference devices used in testing with current devices)

Main benefits

The main benefits are convenience and safety.

“The great advantage here is the high level of security thanks to the authorized keys. And the convenience of developers working on the project who are not limited by the place or time. There’s no need to worry about the space and connection to the device. Each team member gets a short instruction on what to add to its ssh to get to any device”. – says Janusz Dziedzic, senior embedded software developer and one of co-creator of Sigma IT Wi-Fi Lab.

Thanks to the creation of proprietary LAB, our customers no longer have to worry about the safety of the shipped devices and their quantity. There is no need to equip remote developers with the client’s devices at home, which could lead to breaches of security rules and problems related to the provision of suitable space/connections/resource sharing and – in the case of some devices – even radiation problems.

Thanks to Wi-Fi Lab, the engineering teams can provide better efficiency and productivity, independent of external factors. Additionally, remote access during the deployment and testing of embedded systems, besides it’s very convenient for engineers, reduces the amount of time and effort required to roll out an embedded system.

Project example with the use of Wi-Fi Lab

Wi-Fi Lab was used for the first time by our embedded developers’ team in the project for a Swedish supplier of software solutions for smart connected homes that address products such as wi-fi routers, wi-fi extenders, mesh systems, fiber termination boxes, and most home IoT devices.

The project aimed to develop a commercial open-source operating system (OS) for residential gateways based on OpenWRT. It required deep knowledge and expertise both in wi-fi and open-source.
The embedded software engineers, using Wi-Fi Lab, managed to build the OpenWrt-based platform working with multiple hardware vendors and operators. The main challenge was assuring platform independency and scalability. The first step was to move from the original SDK to OpenWrt. Then, extend and adapt the Client system with support for new platforms.

Our team took responsibility for Hardware Abstraction Layer, wi-fi, BSP, and VoIP. From expert knowledge to direct interactions with Client stakeholders, we have become an integral part of the product development team. Today this solution is one of the most advanced, open-source platforms for residential gateway and wi-fi devices based on OpenWRT, enabling broadband operators to offer next-generation services in the connected home.

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