It's the networking love that dare not speak its name.

Data center specialist Arch Rock says it will marry the best features of ZigBee and the best parts of Internet protocol in one neat package to make it easier to monitor power consumption.

The three-and-a-half-year old San Francisco-based startup says it has devised a compact application protocol based on 802.15.4 (the same low-power standard that underlies ZigBee to run over IP networks).

That means "every [ZigBee] node becomes IP-enabled" without the need for a gateway, such as those used by Silver Spring Networks to link its IP-based smart meter communications networks to ZigBee devices, Malay Thacker, director of customer solutions, said Thursday at the Teladata Technology Convergence Conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

That could give the company's technology a boost in linking devices devised for home power monitoring and control, for which ZigBee is emerging as a leading protocol, with broader networks from utility smart meters and other so-called "smart grid" devices.

But Thacker cautioned that Arch Rock's Compact Application Protocol is "still very much in development," and isn't being used in the half-dozen pilot projects and another half-dozen commercial deployments the company has going right now.

While Arch Rock is targeting commercial and industrial clients in general, about half of its commercial deployments are in data centers, Thacker said. That's a market being targeted by other startups, including Redwood City, Calif.-based Sentilla Corp., Santa Clara, Calif.-based Power Assure, San Jose, Calif.-based Cassatt and Folsom, Calif.-based SynapSense (see Sentilla Raises $7.5M To Compete in Data Center Power Fray and Keeping Facebook From Frying).

Given the large and growing power needs of data centers, it's worth a shot. Unless they grow more efficient, data centers and servers could double their energy consumption to 100 billion kilowatt-hours by 2012, which could cost their operators $7.4 billion a year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (see Data Centers Could Hit 'Resource Crisis').

Arch Rock has raised $15 million in two rounds of venture capital funding from investors including NEA Vetures, Intel Capital, Thacker said. Its systems monitor power usage on a minute by minute basis and display it through Web interfaces or displays made by third party vendors including Agilewaves and Telebright Corp., he said.

Agilewaves is a startup making a Web-based system that monitors electric, gas and water usage from building power monitoring systems and links them through an integration panel within the building. It's one of a number of startups – among them Tendril Networks, EnergyHub, Control4, Onzo and others – making systems to link home energy monitoring devices and utilities deploying smart meters to measure and manage power use.

Arch Rock is testing the home power monitoring waters with a small, three-home pilot project in San Francisco, Thacker said.