With verification taking up more and more of the design
cycle, is there any hope that verification will keep up with escalating design
complexity? Yes, according to panelists at the DVCon conference Thursday Feb.
25. From the discussion, I distilled three basic approaches to improving
Verification consultant Brian
Bailey, panel moderator, started the discussion on a hopeful note. "We've
muddled through a 16X increase in design complexity since 2004, and we're not
in verification hell," he said. "We're obviously doing an awful lot right." But
how, he asked, will we survive another six years and another 16X increase in
1. Raise the level of
abstraction for verification and design
Perhaps the most obvious way to improve verification
productivity is to move to a higher level of abstraction. This means less code,
fewer bugs, easier reuse, and faster simulations. Indeed, as I reported in an earlier
blog, Bailey spoke about the advantages of a SystemC transaction-level
modeling (TLM) based flow earlier at DVCon.
Panelist Ran Avinun, marketing group director for system
design and verification at Cadence, noted that the transition from gate level
to RTL began 15 years ago. "We see the same thing happening right now with
SystemC," he said. Moving up in abstraction, Avinun noted, makes it possible to
separate functionality from constraints and leverage high-level synthesis.
included (left to right) Brian Bailey, Ran Avinun, Janick Bergeron, Shawn
McCloud, J.L. Gray, and Rajeev Ranjan.
"I'm calling for the death of state-based design," said
Janick Bergeron, fellow at Synopsys. "That term includes RTL, and C level
synthesis that's barely above RTL." Don't start with states, he said - start
with the application, build a corresponding virtual platform, and then bring in
synthesis and equivalence checking.
Shawn McCloud, director of high-level synthesis at Mentor
Graphics, said that a customer survey showed that verification is the number
one reason that people move to high-level synthesis. Moving to a high level not
only speeds verification, he noted, but makes it easier to find tricky
2. Apply more
intelligence throughout the flow, at every level of abstraction
This second point is perhaps more subtle, but is no less
important. We can move to a TLM-based flow, but that doesn't mean that RTL and
gate-level design will disappear. What's needed, Avinun said, is a "unified
verification environment that we can use throughout the flow."
This flow, Avinun said, has three components. One is metric-driven
verification guided by an executable verification plan and coverage
metrics. Another is the use of verification IP, which he said is "as important,
or in many cases more important, than [design] IP." A third is scalable
performance throughout the verification process. This is where acceleration and
emulation become important.
Rajeev Ranjan, CTO at Jasper Design Automation, noted that
formal technology can offer improvements during all phases of the verification
flow. In particular, he noted, formal tools can allow a "designer
pre-verification" without having to generate a testbench.
3. Educate new
engineers for real-world design and verification challenges
A point that was made in a Feb. 24 DVCon panel, and reported
in my previous
blog, is that universities are doing a poor job of training engineers for
the real world of IC design and verification. University graduates need a lot
of additional training before they're really useful on design and verification
projects, and as a result, are often not hired in today's economy.
J.L. Gray, verification consultant at Verilab, moderated the Feb. 24 panel. As a
panelist on the Feb. 25 panel, he noted that "the thing I've realized about the
advanced verification techniques we need to move forward is that a very large
majority of engineers don't have the skills to take full advantage of these
"The lack of educated people for design and verification is
a big challenge," Ranjan concurred. He talked about graduating from U.C.
Berkeley in 1997, and noticing that fewer students and professors were involved
in IC design and verification.
"If training is one
of the biggest issues, we've got to fix the educational system," Bailey said. That's
a tall order. As I wrote
last year, the Cadence Academic Network is one attempt to bring real-world
relevance into university education. The time has come for an industry-wide
discussion of this issue.
Photo by Joe Hupcey