Advantage & Disadvantages of Virtual Instrumentation

By Robert Godard

Virtual Instrumentation (VI) describes a combination of computer software and hardware configurations that replicate analog systems used in the past. VI is useful for scientists and engineers that need computers to help run complex tasks and system sets, or in the radio and video industry to create high quality digital audiovisual files.

Overview

Virtual Instrumentation (VI) is the use of software, combined with hardware components, to simulate similar analog components. VIs are typically modeled on non-digital counterparts. For instance, a virtual oscilloscope, used to measure voltage, will replicate the functions of an oscilloscope. The difference is that a virtual oscilloscope can be programmed to perform a variety of other tasks, such as more nuanced measurement of voltage, while an analog oscilloscope has limited usage.

Cost

Cost reduction is a major advantage of using VI. A computer and the appropriate software are the only things needed for VI, although some virtual instruments may require that several computers be linked together. Occasionally, some hardware may be required. For instance, a video tape deck is sometimes needed to bring certain video formats onto a computer. However, this hardware is almost always cheaper and more efficient than its non-digital counterpart.

Performance

VI interfaces often utilize a great deal of processing power which allow them to quickly perform complex tasks. This is important for engineers who wish to digitally design their product before actually building it. VI can help identify design flaws before prototypes are built. The performance of VI is contingent on the computer, or computers used to run it, but increasing the processing power of your computer can positively impact performance.

Security

VI can be vulnerable to security breaches that non-digital instruments are not. Since data is stored on a computer, sensitive information may be accessible to public users. Even security software cannot prevent savvy hackers from infiltrating the system. Security risks can be avoided by storing information on a closed, local network that cannot be accessed online.

Power Consumption

VI demands that many devices run simultaneously and can consume a lot of power. Some VI may require computers to be linked over an Ethernet hub or local server. Each computer will consume a large amount of power in addition to any external hardware. When using VI, it is important to monitor power usage and shut off devices when not in use.