Power Challenges Complicate High-Speed Digital Design

1311 Insight

Power- and energy-management issues are increasingly important to customers of Agilent Technologies' electronic measurement business as well as end users of the devices that those customers are developing, according to Jay Alexander, vice president and general manager of the Oscilloscope and Protocol Division, in a phone interview. To that end, he said, Agilent has restructured to form a new division called PED for Power and Energy Division.

(Editor's Note: On Sept. 19, Agilent announced it will divide into a life sciences company, which will retain the Agilent name, and a separate electronics measurement company. We will continue to refer to the latter as “Agilent” until a new name is chosen.)

1311 Insight
Jay Alexander
Agilent Oscilloscope and Protocol Division

Speaking of the new PED, Alexander said, “It's about bringing more focus to the needs that people have for managing power delivery and power consumption in digital designs.” He added that the new unit recently launched families of power supplies.

In an interview in January, Alexander had said that high-speed digital markets are driven by key megatrends: the rise of Asia and developing nations as centers of design as well as manufacturing, the dominance of mobile and cloud computing, and the need for energy efficiency.1 Those trends are still in force, he said, adding, “They are going to persist and continue to be important factors in the market for us and for our customers.”

To address those trends, he said, Agilent has introduced a number of products, such as the AXIe U4431A MIPI M-PHY protocol analyzer mentioned in EE-Evaluation Engineering's September issue.2 When I interviewed Alexander in January, his division was called the Oscilloscope Products Division, which had just released new mixed-signal oscilloscopes. The division retains the OPD acronym, he said, but has been renamed to reflect the logic-analyzer and protocol test businesses that have merged into the division. In addition to the MIPI protocol analyzer, the renamed OPD recently introduced the 16850 Series portable logic analyzers.

Commenting on the logic-analyzer business, he said, “That market has gone through quite a few changes over the past 20 or 30 years. The market is smaller than it once was because hardware and software system integration has become a more turnkey process for designers and because we have built increasing digital capability into our mixed-signal oscilloscopes.”

However, he said, some applications still require the channel count that only a logic analyzer can provide. “One of the applications we see for that is in DDR work,” he said, which involves a wide parallel bus combined with the need for a very fast capture. “That's why we still invest to develop this family of logic-analyzer products.”

Beyond the capabilities of his own division, Alexander noted that Agilent offers products that extend into the design space with ADS and SystemVue software. “We have worked hard to make sure that our hardware measurement products integrate well with the design tools,” he said, enabling users to move data between the design and measurement environments using the same file formats. He cited as a specific example the FlexDCA software, which lets a user remotely operate a sampling oscilloscope while also providing integrated operation with SystemVue. Customers working in the design environment, he said, can see the same user interface and measurement set that they would see using the sampling oscilloscope. “It's possible to do simulation vs. actual measurement comparisons in a very powerful way,” he said.

When asked about strategies for meeting future test challenges, Alexander said one word jumped to mind: “Invest!” He continued, “We are investing in core technology in silicon and in software to make sure that we are advancing our own capabilities to make measurements, and we are staying very close to our customers through initiatives like our digital standards program.” He described that program as a multifaceted effort that extends from Agilent personnel sitting on standards bodies to alpha-level development projects that investigate and solve potential measurement problems before standards get to print.

“We find that by staying close to our customers we make sure we are channeling our investments to where there's going to be the most need down the road. The market remains interesting for us as technicians and engineers trying to solve tough problems. We are motivated to continue helping advance the state of the art and the state of the practice,” he said, concluding, “It's an exciting business.”

References

1. Nelson, R., “Agilent VP Highlights Strategy for High-Speed Digital Design,” EE-Evaluation Engineering Online, Jan. 30, 2013.

2. Nelson, R., “PXI, AXIe Expand Measurement Options,” EE-Evaluation Engineering, September 2013, p. 8.

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