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Semiconductor design increasingly requires collaboration by geographically-dispersed design teams, as well as partners and third-party suppliers. Private or public cloud computing may provide a rich environment for this collaboration, but some key questions and challenges remain, according to panelists at the Common Platform Technology Forum Jan. 18, 2011.
The panel, titled "Successful Collaboration in a Global Engineering Environment," wasn't specifically about cloud computing, but that was a recurring theme. The panel was moderated by Ron Wilson of EE Times, and it included the following participants:
Ron Wilson kicked off the panel with a provocative opening question. "In today's model of collaboration, I'll host my own tools, I'll host my own data sets, and I'll have my own support staff, but I'll give you a little data when I want some help...do we have the right model for collaboration at this point or should we be looking at some alternative?"
Private Clouds that Work
At AMD, Boufarhat said, "we have a shared cloud, and everybody has access to the same information. We can have a wafer sort at 6:00 a.m. and by 10:00 a.m. all the data is in Austin and people are doing debug and analysis. This kind of collaboration is critical for success as time to market shrinks."
Anderson noted that IBM's processor development group has a separate cloud for each processor. Everybody in the world who's working on a given processor logs into the same cloud. Since all the data is in one place, version control is fairly simple. "We have a common methodology so any designer anywhere in the world can work on any of our projects. That adds significant efficiency in our designs," he said. (A Design Automation Conference 2010 keynote speech described IBM's private cloud, as noted in an Industry Insights blog post).
"Someday you'll have a daily environment that may be like what [Anderson] is describing," said Drenan. "It's a hub, and you're 500 miles away working on a remote viewer." Beyond remote access, another benefit of the cloud is handling peak demand. "It may take hundreds of cores to run some analysis, but they could be anywhere - a batch job on one of our clouds or an Amazon cloud."
Getting Started With the Cloud
Wilson asked Anderson how IBM went from a conventional compute environment to cloud computing. The answer: encouragement and direction from the top. "The hardest thing was to get a common methodology, but in HR speak it was a term of employment," Anderson said. "Our technical leadership understood that we had to make these changes to remain competitive so we went ahead and did it."
The Dark Side Behind the Cloud
Jewett commented that Synopsys has been looking at the cloud for some time, and "we certainly are enamored of the ability of IBM and Amazon and others to scale," especially for tasks such as verification. But there's a downside. "When we engage with customers the number one issue that comes back is security...we need as an industry to understand how we're going to address security and how we're going to feel comfortable."
Boufarhat had an addition to the list of concerns - export controls. "There is government activity we have to comply with," he said.
"Everybody loves the cloud except when it's raining," Capodieci quipped. "The question is, who provides the cloud and who supervises the cloud?" He suggested that perhaps the foundry should become a cloud computing provider. The foundry, he said, is a "natural aggregator" of the IC design infrastructure. When Jewett said that "security issues are still going to be there," Capodieci responded that all the design data that's necessary for manufacturing ends up at the foundry anyway.
A Practical Suggestion
Drenan noted that there is no agreed-upon "credential for security" in the world of cloud computing and IC design. Data security is going to be an ad-hoc issue until we can agree on a standard way to certify it, he said. Drenan noted that some Cadence customers have been looking at the ISO 27001 security standard. This or some other standard is needed "so we don't have to spend 9 months at ground zero auditing security again."
My conclusion: Cloud computing will come to IC design because the economics will demand it, but what you'll see first is large companies, like AMD and IBM, building their own private clouds. The next step is to develop secure clouds, whether private or public, that contain data and IP from multiple companies. A certification standard like ISO 27001 could help open the door to a new era of IC design collaboration.
An Industry Insights blog post earlier this week offered a Cadence IT view on data security and cloud computing. A second post discussed the Common Platform forum keynote speeches. For another take on the Common Platform panel, see Ron Wilson's Jan. 19 article at EDN.
Global collaboration is a daily topic among the teams we work with - what's the right model of data distribution, IT infrastructure, workflow to move design data efficiently as it goes from concept to tapeout. The biggest concern we are hearing lately is security - more IP is coming from external sources and design work if being done in overseas locations or with 3rd party contractors, the potential impact and even legal liability for a breach is growing.
The cloud offers some interesting possibilities for fluidly moving design data and IT assets to where it's needed - kind of like Akamai for content delivery + Amazon for compute resource. The reality is that there is still a lot to be done to secure internal systems and until there can be 100% confidence on data security internally, no senior executive is going to think about going to a public cloud.
Whether it's distributed compute models, centralized private clouds or public clouds, the 3 most important security questions are:
How to determine who can see existence/read/edit design content?
How can design content be securely distributed and tracked?
What mechanisms will prevent a breach or allow a suspected breach to be tracked and shut down quickly?