I am thinking about starting a project and was just looking for some general input. Where I work our company currently have remote stations that take data in from a radio link and input the data to a sql database. I am responsible for maintaining the stations and their scripts. Currently they are just running on a desktop pc connected to a radio receiver and an internet connection. I have had some limited experience with working with embedded systems in the past, and would like to explore the possibility of migrating the current setup to an embedded system. The most difficult aspect of the project that I can foresee is gaining internet connectivity to a pic chip and having enough memory for the libraries that would be needed to connect to a sql database. Can anyone recommend a resource so I can learn how to connect a pic chip to the internet as well as any recommendation on what kind of pic chip to use? I know this can be quite a daunting task, but I like to think that I am up for the challenge.
There are many devices that could fit the bill for you...
If you're looking for ease of programming, consider an embedded Linux solution. You can find a list of possible boards here. Most of these have ethernet on board as well as large external flash and RAM chips. Many have USB host, meaning that USB flash drives or GPRS modems can be added.
On Linux, programming your application is easy. You have a choice of languages (C, C++, python, perl, Java, etc) and it should be straightforward to port your existing PC software. Curl is a good library for HTTP and sqlite is a compact database.
But, this ease comes at a hardware cost. In medium volumes, boards are likely to cost around $80-$120 going down to $30-$50 in high (10K+) volumes.
If you're looking to cut costs further, you'll want to target a microcontroller. Your code is going to end up much more hardware dependent and development will take longer...
For an integrated solution, TI/Luminary have a range of ARM Cortex-M3 devices with on-chip ethernet MAC/PHY. These devices go up to 512KB flash and 96KB RAM, so are capable of complex tasks. But, you won't fit an SQL database inside.
There's lots of choice - it all depends on your requirements.
I'll throw in the Arduino option into the mix. An Arduino + a WiShield can get you the ability to periodically post data to a webpage (e.g. on an apache server) over an 802.11 network. Your webserver would then handle the job of putting that data in a database (e.g. a PHP script that handles the posted data). This is probably a good place for you to be on the effort to cost curve. Best of luck, this sounds like a fun project!
I've been working with Microchip microcontrollers for a long time and I know that family quite well, but I think you would be better served by the solution proposed by the Mbed dev board.
This will give you without doubt the fastest route to have Ethernet running on a microcontroller. Take a look at them, the price isn't too bad either. Also, take a look at the forum, there's already a driver for MySQL, although I don't know the reliability of such driver. I suppose it could be a starting point for your particular SQL database (in case it is not MySQL).