What is hardware abstraction, and what are the benefits when recording or generating signals for test equipment, data collection, or control systems among others?
Hardware Abstraction: Why and When?
When a computer program is to communicate with some hardware, a driver that provides the program with an interface to the hardware is needed. The driver is typically specific to a given piece of hardware, so when you use the driver in a program, you will, to a great extent, lock yourself to this instrument. Most often, you will not be able to replace the hardware without incorporating a new driver into the program, and you will therefore experience a very limited hardware flexibility.
The solution is to insert a hardware abstraction layer (HAL), so the program is separated from the driver. The program will only communicate with the hardware through the HAL, which means that the program does not need to know what specific hardware it is to work with. The program only knows about the hardware through an alias, which the HAL translates into the actual hardware. As all the specific details are hidden from the program, it is said that the hardware is abstracted.
A HAL makes it easy to replace one instrument with another, as you only need to let the program’s alias point to another instrument. Therefore, it does not require any changes in the software itself, but only in its configuration.
Hardware Abstraction at GPower
Typically, hardware abstraction is implemented based on the type of instrument, so you can classify the instruments into groups. The challenge, however, is that a Type A instrument cannot be replaced by a Type B instrument, even though both instruments have the required functionality for a given measurement. As an example, both a multimeter and an oscilloscope can measure a DC voltage, despite they are widely different.
At GPower, we solve that challenge by basing our hardware abstraction on functionality rather than instrument type, which results in a greater flexibility in the use of hardware – and therefore also an easier data collection. All instruments that implement the same functionality can easily be replaced, and it only requires a change in the software configuration.