Get email delivery of the Cadence blog featured here
Mike Muller, ARM's CTO, delivered a little history and a lot of security. Oh, and he announced a new ARM processor and a new instruction set.
First, the history. In a couple of weeks' time is the 25th anniversary of the creation of ARM. I was there at the creation when ARM was spun out of Acorn (the A in ARM originally stood for Acorn, not for Advanced) and I'll save that for another blog.
Mike's presentation was from sensors to servers, via what he called "stuff", which was everything in between such as automotive (if you want Mike's eternal gratitude, come up with a better name for "stuff" that starts with an S). Obviously, ARM has been dominant in the mobile space, and in fact over 85% of mobile computing is based on ARM (including Intel-based laptops in the unit count) and by the end of this year over half of all those ARM devices will be on the ARM v8A architecture, which is 64 bit. It is amazing how fast 64-bit ARM processors have taken over mobile since Apple surprised the world by putting one in the A7 application processor.
At the other end of the scale are the servers. ARM has been trying to get into the server market with limited success for many years, knowing that penetrating that market would never be either easy or quick. ARM is eating their own dogfood and has been running its website, arm.com, on ARM-based servers. There are a few HPC supercomputer projects based on ARM too, such as the beautiful Barcelona Supercomputing Center (left). There are now lots of products available from the likes of Cavium, HP, and others. ARM is hoping that its lower cost of ownership (less power required, less heat generated, cheaper) will cause at least some datacenters to switch. For many applications, the single-thread performance of a single task is less important than the aggregate performance available. Many web-based applications fit this profile. There are not just raw servers available, also specialized ARM-based networking products such as this Cavium Cloud-RAN product (right).
Mike announced a new core, the Cortex-A35. (Simon Segars, the CEO of ARM, told me that he doesn't understand ARM's processor numbering system either, so I'm not going to even hazard a guess at why the number 35 was picked.) It is a next-generation Cortex-A7, with 10% lower power and 6-40% higher performance depending on which benchmark you look at. This will be an important product for mid-range smartphones; the high end will probably continue to use A53/A57 or custom cores. The A35 has been designed to be very scalable across a wide range of applications. The picture above shows a quad-core version with a large L2 cache on the left, a minimal implementation with a single core and no L2 from the same RTL on the right.
The big worry about IoT devices (well, pretty much all devices) is security. At an internal ARM engineering meeting, the company had created a special app that allowed engineers to compete in posting comments. Mike asked a group of IoT security experts whether the app was secure. It took them less than three hours to create a man-in-the-middle attack between the app and its cloud backend, find the private key that it used to manage the login process, and hack the score keeping for posting comments to keep themselves at the head of the leaderboard. ARM is a large company with great engineering and a lot of security knowledge and yet they produced something so compromised from a security point of view.
IoT devices need to be created by people who are not large companies with great engineering and deep security knowledge. And they need to cost $1. But they still need to be secure. Mike pointed out that if you imagined a 100W light bulb controlled by a $1 chip, a security breach could allow you to turn on and off 10,000 of them, generating megawatt-sized surges.
Moving down to the sensor end of things, Mike showed us a blood glucose monitor. What is different about the device, is that it is powered by taking off the cap. That generates 400 microjoules of energy, which is enough to perform the measurement. This is interesting not so much because we should all rush out and buy one, after all most of us are not diabetic, but as a harbinger of things to come: IoT devices that don't require a battery and thus never need to be recharged or have a battery replaced.
Mike announced a new instruction set architecture, ARM v8-M, which adds a lot of the security architecture of TrustZone and is targeted at IoT type devices with multi-year battery life and a strong need for security. He also announced TrustZone CryptoCell providing code validation and protection, key management, secure storage. Plus secure debug and test (one challenge with debugging security software is to make sure that the hooks provided for debugging do not themselves become a backdoor).