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National Instruments Joins the Party

Posted May 23rd, 2011 · 4 Comments · Editorial

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By Colin Warwick

Over the past year or so I’ve been giving talks about the measurement-simulation synergy we at EEsof have leveraged for our customers from here inside of Agilent. It always seemed odd to me that we were the only EDA company inside a measurement company. Measurement and simulation complement each other so well: measurement validates the baseline simulation at the measurement points, and simulation let’s you interpolate between conveniently accessible points (such as an SMA connector) to inaccessible points (the ball of a soldered down BGA, for example).

What’s more, simulation let’s you extrapolate beyond the measured physical prototype to “virtual prototypes” that haven’t been built yet. You can do the “What if…?” design space exploration in the simulator without the time and expense of building hundred or thousands of prototypes.

National Instruments Joins the Party

This approach was validated today when Agilent’s competitor National Instruments acquired EEsof’s competitor Applied Wave Research (AWR) in an attempt to replicate the synergy we’ve been building here for years. Of course, no acquisition pays off immediately, and about two thirds don’t pan out at all. (See also Daniel Payne’s giant list of EDA mergers and acquistions at SemiWiki)

So, if you are an NI or AWR customer, don’t wait, come talk to Agilent about getting the benefits of these capabilities now!

What do you think? Please leave a comment!

Image source: Wilfredor/Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Daniel Payne

    Colin,
    Thanks for the insight on the NI/AWR acquisition. I’m always delighted to learn when a merger like Agilent/EEsof works out.

  • Colin Warwick

    Hi Daniel, Thanks! As you know, Agilent acquired EEsof 18 years ago (1993) and it’s going well so far :-)

    – Colin

  • Louis Brown

    I think the acquisition will work well since both companies listen to their customer and put customer needs first and foremost. I have been using LabView and NI hardware since 1995 when I was doing radar R&D in grad school, using LabView and NI ADCs for data acquisition and processing. I’m an RF/Microwave guy, and was new to LabView at the time, but the NI tech support got me up and running to create a solid back-end for my RF hardware. Great quality software and hardware; bugs were not an option in the frigid, offshore environment I was running my radar. I have been using LabView ever since, mostly for controlling test equipment for open test setups of my RF products, and hobby use, such as a home-brew SDR and ham radio use (audio filtering and spectrograms for crowded CW bands). I also use it for general engineering computations when I want a GUI instead of Matlab script.

    NI has local users groups. Our Kansas City group meets quarterly at a pub/restaurant. NI provides the beer and pizza, and sometimes gives the presentations, but mostly the users give presentations on how they are using NI products, wether it be for industry use or just for fun. I have given two; inertial sensing for a hobby project I was doing, and programming the Lego Mindstorms in LabView. For the latter I had the robot line-track over a course, then autonomously seek out a beer bottle with it’s ultrasonic sensor, grasping it with it’s claw. This users group meeting was the “holiday” one where the whole family comes, with the topic being something family oriented. Last year’s was the KC Space Pirates using NI products for the NASA space elevator challenge, using it for high speed control of an 8 kW laser to power their cable climber. These user group meetings provide not only a method for feedback to NI, but learning from colleagues as well, in an informal environment.

    As for AWR, I’m very happy with them as well. Started using Superstar (now Genesys) in 1993 when it came on 5-1/4” floppies for $995. I bought it as a college student since I was serious about learning RF, back in the day you could call them up and Randy Rhea answered the phone and talked shop. I doubt it costs $995 any more ;-). I then moved on to Series IV in grad school and full-time employment, followed by ADS, and then finally Microwave Office & VSS for almost the past 10 years. I won’t elaborate as to why I switched. I’ll just say I am extremely happy with AWRs responsiveness to customer needs, such as implementing features I have requested, for instance, pushing out custom DLLs to add new features/models I needed in a pinch. I work in a job shop environment. We only have a few licenses, however, they treat the little guy just like the big guy. They also meet with us a few time a year to get feedback, and also demonstrate the next major release, well before IMS. Our feedback does not go into a black hole. Any customer can get on their User Voice web site and request/vote on new features.

    AWR and NI already crossed paths for me a few years ago. One neat feature I liked about Series IV was a realtime VNA connection. Click simulate, it automatically pulled the VNA data, and used it in a simulation. I was using it for “poor mans load pull”, using an RF switch to measure the manual tuner impedance in real-time instead of having break apart the setup and measure it off-line. All the de-embedding and reference plane shifting was done in software, which was allot easier than multiple cal sets in the VNA. It was also useful for real-time tuning your circuit in a “virtual cascade”, without the headache of doing the S2P embedding in the VNA cal sets. This neat feature was dropped in ADS, and as far as I know, never came back. After switching to Microwave Office, and knowing a little LabView, I was able to link the two. Click simulate and MWO would call LabView, LabView would talk to the VNA, send the S2P data back into MWO for inclusion in simulation, and return the VNA into the same channel and format it was in at the start (which I recall the Series IV routine would not do and was a real annoyance). It is also modular enough to work on the 8753A, 8753C, 8720C, 8510B, 8510C, and N8358A (1st PNA); there were enough nuances between all of those to require slightly different routines. This is ironic using MWO and LabView to talk to Agilent hardware, to implement a feature dropped from Agilent software. I am not a programmer or test equipment guy, just an RF/Microwave hardware guy, but was able to get this going using the OLE guide on AWR’s web site, and a few question’s to NI’s user forum.

    So yes, I think it will be a good acquisition since I have had great dealings with both companies for many years. They have earned my respect as a customer. It’s obvious NI is getting into the classic RF T&M business; they have some nice PXI products out. This should strengthen even more with AWR’s expertise. We all will benefit, as end users, from the competition between NI/AWR and Agilent.

  • Colin Warwick

    Hi Louis,

    Thanks for taking the time to share your experience. We hope to win you back to Agilent EEsof one day.

    Addressing some of your specific points:

    Today we have Genesys configurations starting at a little over $4k (W1320B, US pricing) that have functionality equivalent to an AWR product (MWO 105 NL&SP) priced four times higher. Randy is still writing books on RF and still does webcasts with us occasionally.

    We’ve done a lot of work on load pull and X-parameters since Series IV.

    Please contact us if you need more info.

    We’re listening!

    Best regards,

    – Colin

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