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Hardware/software integration has become a major bottleneck in electronic design flows, according to Michał Siwiński, group director of System Realization product marketing at Cadence. It's also a major requirement for System Realization, described in the EDA360 vision paper as the creation of electronics systems driven and differentiated by software "apps." In this interview, Siwiński discusses the challenges that customers are experiencing, describes the technologies that are needed to support System Realization, and sets the context for the recent introduction of the System Development Suite.
Q: Is hardware/software integration and co-development a major concern for development teams, and if so, what's driving it?
A: Absolutely. Since our introduction of the Palladium XP Verification Computing Platform a year ago, we have seen a dramatic uptick in the adoption of that technology. One reason is that people are doing more and more hardware/software validation and testing as opposed to just faster SoC [system on chip] verification. The key driver is that time-to-market windows are drastically shrinking. This is true not only in consumer electronics, but in all aspects of electronics. Hardware/software integration is one of the key gating factors for companies to hit their market window and not incur the penalty of running late, where a quarter's delay can mean a $25 million revenue loss.
We're seeing a paradigm shift in which aspects of software development that used to be confined to system houses is also becoming a major part of semiconductor company development time and costs. We see semiconductor companies struggling with how software and hardware come together, as the cost of new development at 22nm approaches $150 million. Over half of that cost is now software, and the bulk of the challenge is around how that software comes together with the hardware.
Q: What challenges are customers experiencing in hardware/software integration?
A: We are hearing about three problems. One is that, to a large degree, software development is still trailing hardware development. We still see cases where SoCs sit on the shelf for a few months or up to a year before the software is fully ready to go.
A second issue is that hardware/software integration is difficult. There are reasons why hardware and software development cycles are done separately by different teams, but there needs to be a common set of bridges that allows teams to synchronize hardware and software early on and throughout the development process, as opposed to just doing it at the end.
A third issue is verification. How do you verify the system, how do you verify the SoC, and do it meaningfully with a high level of quality, so the product is ready to hit the market window?
Q: How much time does system integration take?
A: It varies. Customers are using different use models and applying different levels of resources. Some companies have been able to bring it down to approximately a quarter of the development cycle. But we're also seeing examples where the hardware/software integration is taking up half of the development cycle. Overall, we should not look at system integration as an isolated event. It needs to be planned as part of the standard development process from day one until the product is being shipped and should involve the hardware, software, system and verification engineers.
Q: What development tools, or platforms, are design teams using to bridge hardware and software?
A: People have been using a variety of technologies to more effectively bridge hardware and software. However, a lot of these solutions have been developed as point tools and use proprietary approaches, which is really problematic as the flow needs to allow for smooth transition from different phases of the overall development cycle without artificial barriers that slow things down. For example, the lack of a smooth transition from virtual prototyping to testbench simulation, and from RTL acceleration/emulation to FPGA-based prototyping, has been a gating factor for many customers in a more broad adoption of these technologies.
Emulation plays a significant role in ensuring bare-metal software will work with the hardware, but again, the flow to get into emulation through acceleration has to be more tightly connected with testbench simulation and virtual prototyping for effective transition during the development cycle.
With FPGA-based prototyping, the problem is similar to that for virtual prototyping. Approaches used today are non-standard and quite fragmented. This, again, introduces a migration hurdle from the phase where people are using emulation and then trying to go into prototyping. There's a lot of wasted time and very little reuse in migrating, porting, and trying to correlate the right tradeoffs for speed and accuracy.
Q: What technologies has Cadence developed to support System Realization?
A: Last year as we announced EDA360 we introduced System Realization, which talks about a set of approaches for application-driven system development. In conjunction with that we introduced the Verification Computing Platform, Palladium XP, which has been getting tremendous momentum in the marketplace.
We also expanded customers' ability to do transaction-level modeling, or TLM, bringing forth a methodology book and expanding the automation we provide for TLM design and verification to help customers have a meaningful path from high-level modeling down to implementation.
We extended system component modeling aspects with memory models, and extended our verification IP portfolio to provide accelerated VIP, and are working on further system-level extensions. We also recently extended our Allegro board offering to provide more automation for System Realization.
And the last but certainly not least, we're continuing to expand the ecosystem partnership with the System Realization Alliance, as properly addressing all the needs of complex systems will require a lot of collaboration.
All of that has been helpful, but more was needed, which brings us to the next big step with the System Development Suite.
Q: What's in the System Development Suite and what makes it unique?
A: The System Development Suite is really a "first" in System Realization. We're providing a tightly integrated set of platforms for concurrent hardware/software development. By providing the platforms needed for the various phases of the product development lifecycle, the suite aims to reduce hardware-software system integration time by up to 50 percent and reduce overall product schedules by several months.
The continuum of platforms gives people performance/accuracy tradeoffs, and bridges hardware and software from the architectural level to SoC development and prototyping. It lets people converge hardware and software from early phases all the way to the end, as opposed to waiting for the end of the process or applying technologies that introduce transition hurdles across the development cycle.
At a foundational level, the suite has the Verification Computing Platform and Incisive Verification Platform, which have been extended for a much tighter connection with the addition of UVM transaction-based acceleration. We are also introducing two new platforms. One is the Virtual System Platform, which is very tightly integrated with Incisive for the meaningful development of early software, with a smooth transition from architectural-level development to SoC development. Another new platform is the Rapid Prototyping Platform for FPGA-based prototyping. It's tightly integrated with the Verification Computing Platform providing common compilation, debugging, and SpeedBridge adapters, thus removing delays between SoC development to prototyping
The suite provides an integrated path that lets people deploy the right technology at the right stage of the cycle to mitigate and reduce the overall hardware/software integration time and costs.
Q: Finally, how does the suite tie into the EDA360 vision?
A: The System Development Suite is the next major step we are taking in Cadence System Realization, which is at the heart of providing automation that is central to delivering against the EDA360 vision. With the introduction of the suite, we believe we are providing customers with a giant step forward in how their systems are realized, with shortened time-to-market and reduced development costs for application-driven electronics.