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Could I suggest forgetting telnet (It is a hairy protocol to implement at the best of times and is really poorly suited to interactive control), and going for Open Sound Control (OSC) instead.

There are some good libraries available for implementing it on the client side and it is actually designed for things like this.
I suspect that Steve Harris would be more then happy to license you liblo (which is a light weight implementation in C) for closed source use fairly cheaply.

Even just documenting the packets that need to be sent to connect to the rack and what the contents mean would be a good start, I was thinking of having a go at doing it with wireshark, but getting the structure from you guys would be easier!

Metering over a network is notoriously hard to get right, and I would suggest that broadcast (or multicast) UDP with a defined layout is probably about as good as it gets, a hundred channels will easily fit into a 250 byte packet and if the transmission rate was say 30Hz, that is only 7.5KB/second.

Just a thought.

Regards, Dan.