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A View from the Top: A Virtual Prototyping Blog
 
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    A View From The Top is a Blog dedicated to System-Level Design and Embedded Software.
  • About the Author

    Tom De Schutter
    Tom De Schutter is responsible for driving the virtual prototyping business at Synopsys. He joined Synopsys through the acquisition of CoWare where he was the product marketing manager for transaction-level models. Tom has over 10 years of experience in system-level design through different marketing and engineering roles. Before joining the marketing team he led the transaction-level modeling team at CoWare.

    Achim Nohl
    Achim Nohl is a solution architect at Synopsys, responsible for virtual prototypes in the context of software development and verification. Achim holds a diploma degree in Electrical Engineering from the Institute for Integrated Signal Processing Systems at the Aachen University of Technology, Germany. Before joining Synopsys, Achim has been working in various engineering and marketing roles for LISATek and CoWare. Achim also writes the blog Virtual Prototyping Tales on Embedded.com.

Shift Left: Software Or Hardware?

Posted by Tom De Schutter on June 25th, 2015

A couple of weeks ago I was with a virtual prototyping user who described the benefits his company has seen from deploying virtual prototyping for early software development. The use of virtual prototyping has been rolled out progressively to more projects over the years, making it possible for the company to measure its impact on the software availability schedule and the impact has been dramatic. He stated that the software team’s stance on virtual prototyping has changed from “we don’t want it” to “we will tolerate it” to “we want more”.

In fact the shift left of the software development schedule and the availability of quality software through the use of virtual prototyping has been so dramatic that software availability, in a lot of cases, is no longer the long pole in the tent when it comes to releasing a new SoC.

Given the increased importance of software driven use cases and the explosion of software that has to run on a SoC, verifying the hardware in the context of the software has become the critical path.

However, this doesn’t mean that shift left of software development is becoming less important in favor of shift left of the hardware design and verification. In fact, it means that the software needs to be available even earlier as it is now a key factor in verifying the hardware. The result is a double shift left of hardware and software.

It also expands the role of virtual prototypes. Thus far the emphasis has been mostly on enabling early software development to ensure software availability alongside the hardware. Now virtual prototypes can help in accelerating software availability to drive the hardware verification and the hardware/software integration. Plus a hybrid setup of virtual prototype and hardware emulator can provide much faster execution of the software stacks as part of the software-driven verification step.

As discussed in a previous blog, hybrid emulation mixes the speed of a virtual prototype to run the application subsystem with the ability to verify the rest of the SoC mapped onto an emulator.

With the continuous growth of software content and complexity, and increasing time to market pressure spilling over from mobile to all other electronics driven markets, including automotive, shift left is more important than ever. In fact the shift left concept has become a universal term across software and hardware. This means that an investment in virtual prototypes pays off even more so than before. Since they enable earlier software availability and accelerate software driven hardware verification (in context of a hybrid emulation setup), their use has become a no-brainer. At least that is what users are telling me …

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Lazy Or Bored: The Outcome Might Be The Same

Posted by Tom De Schutter on May 31st, 2015

I recently talked to an engineering manager responsible for system validation at a major automotive company. The topic was the continuous growth of software content and how to reach the right software quality. He explained that for the part he is responsible for, most software is created by his suppliers. But because the carmaker is ultimately held responsible for any issue with the car, he has to define rigorous requirements that suppliers are required to meet. This applies to both the hardware and software that is delivered to him.

The suppliers need to provide a test report with every deliverable. The carmaker reviews the test report and asks clarifying questions to ensure that all requirements are met, plus his team performs additional tests, focusing on corner cases that they have learned about from past experiences.

While testing in general is something that most engineers dread, they understand that it is an important part of the overall development process. So a lot of time and effort goes into writing and running tests. But the problem is that not every piece of hardware or software is easy to test, especially when it comes to interfacing with people or with other sub-systems. In an effort to prevent issues from happening when the end product is used in its target environment and will be subject to inputs from people, engineers try to capture the most realistic scenarios possible. That typically means exercising scenarios by having it actually interact with persons or with other external stimuli. This makes for some important real-life testing.

But here’s the catch: People get lazy. Or maybe more accurately, people quickly get bored with doing the same thing over and over again. This is how the system validation manager at the automotive company described it to me: ‘When we need to have manual tests for a particular piece of hardware or software, we have to continuously rotate the engineers who perform the test.’ He had observed that after performing the same test more than two times, his engineers start to do things slightly differently. They assume that a particular piece of the test is less important because it worked yesterday and the software change was really not that big. All of us take shortcuts because we get lazy or bored. If something worked for the last 37 times, why wouldn’t it work for the 38th time? So the system validation manager’s goal is to automate all tests, as much as possible, and he asks his suppliers to do the same.

The problem is that not every test is that easy to automate. In automotive, as in other markets, first hardware is rare and expensive and it functionality typically cannot be fully automated. This was exactly why I was meeting the system validation manager at the automotive company in the first place, which brings us full circle. He was very excited about the fact that virtual prototypes can offer an alternative to the hardware, and as such enable earlier, broader and more automated software testing. Combining additional control and visibility capabilities with better scalability makes virtual prototypes the ideal “vehicle” to further automate tests for the vast amount of software that makes its way into our cars.

Car manufacturers and their supply chain are embracing virtual prototypes as a way to create more, better and above all automated test suites for the software in your future car. As an added bonus, this enables their engineers to focus on innovation instead of getting bored running the same tests over and over again manually. That is what I call progress.

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Accelerate IP Software Development With Virtual Prototypes

Posted by Tom De Schutter on April 26th, 2015

Almost all electronics devices have some way to connect to other devices. While we don’t really think about it a lot, these interfaces actually have to be quite smart and need to deal with a lot of different device types and/or handle a great deal of data, preferably all while consuming as little power as possible.

As a result, device drivers for this type of interface IP are non-trivial. And because they are a key piece to making an SoC work, these device drivers have to be available early in the SoC design cycle. This is where virtual prototypes come in. They enable device driver development long before hardware is available. Plus, they help accelerate the software development and testing by providing superior debug and tracing, repeatability and scalability.

My colleague Achim Nohl just recorded a webinar on this topic: Accelerate DesignWare IP driver development for ARMv8-based designs with Virtualizer Development Kits.

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DesignWare IP VDKs

In the webinar he explains how Virtualizer Development Kits (VDKs), software development kits using a virtual prototype as the target, can be used to accelerate driver development for interface IP, more particularly the industry-leading DesignWare Interface IP. The webinar demonstrates how a Synopsys VDK for the ARMv8 Base platform with models representing specific DesignWare Interface IP like USB 3.0/3.1, Ethernet GMAC, Ethernet XG-MAC, PCI Express, UFS, Mobile Storage and so on, enable early and efficient software development for these interfaces.

I highly recommend viewing the recorded webinar presented by Achim Nohl via the provided link above to learn how to maximize the benefits from virtual prototyping through VDKs.

In the meantime we can all continue to benefit from the connectivity that our electronics devices offer. I for one am looking forward to a less frustrating USB connection future with the reversible USB plug (type C USB 3.1 reversible USB cable.)
Not all innovation has to do with software :-).

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Fast Followers And The Value Of Virtual Prototyping

Posted by Tom De Schutter on April 1st, 2015

I am writing this blog while traveling though China. In this country of opportunities, new electronics companies show up regularly and some of them are quickly growing to become leaders in their application domain. Of course it helps if your local market is as big, if not bigger, than the U.S. and European market combined.

The advantage of being a fast follower is that you can learn from the technology leader and adjust based on what worked well and what didn’t work well before. And one thing that these new Chinese semiconductor companies have quickly realized is the importance of software—especially the importance of starting software development early and adjusting hardware to the software needs rather than the other way around.

To achieve this, these Chinese semiconductor companies understand the value of virtual prototyping to achieve the fastest time to quality software. And this value is really achieved in two ways: starting early and the ability to achieve higher productivity. This week I had a discussion with a customer who praised the value of virtual prototyping post-silicon, pointing to determinism, debug control and visibility and software testing capabilities as key characteristics that extend the usefulness of virtual prototypes even when hardware-based alternatives are available.

Now, it is clear that even in these relatively new companies, where it should be easier to introduce new methodologies, there are some adjustment pains in fully embracing virtual prototyping for software development. Most notably the creation of a modeling team, and scaling that team to meet the software development requirement, is still too much of an afterthought. So in a lot of cases these companies are asking us to help them ramp up and complement their modeling expertise. But as we’ve seen in other technology areas, Chinese customers catch up quickly and their virtual prototyping modeling teams are growing at rates that not a lot of other companies have matched in the past.

So expect to see a lot more Chinese-based electronics products, such as mobile phones and tablets, soon. I plan to visit China much more frequently and continue to spark the virtual prototyping revolution.

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Better Software. Faster! A Virtual Prototyping Case Study from Kyocera Document Solutions

Posted by Tom De Schutter on February 27th, 2015

From time to time I like to use this blog to provide you with an update about the Better Software. Faster! book that illustrates the best practices in virtual prototyping. This time, I am happy to announce that Mamoru Kani-san, senior manager, R&D department 22, software 2 R&D division, of the corporate software development division of Kyocera Document Solutions wrote a new case study for the book. Kyocera’s case study explains how its software team leveraged virtual prototypes to develop device drivers for the DesignWare IP in their multi-functional printer SoC.

The book explains the use of virtual prototypes to accelerate software development tasks. Kyocera’s virtual prototype usage is an exact example of this. In the case study, Kani-san explains the importance of having transaction level models available for the main pieces of IP in their multi-functional printer SoC. The availability of TLM-2.0 LT models for their ARM and DesignWare IP helped Kani-san’s team to create a virtual prototype quickly and enabled them to focus on specific software development tasks.

Kani-san goes on to explain how the virtual prototype allowed his software team to complete 86% of the USB tests that they normally do with real hardware. The remaining software was mostly related to the USB PHY and typically done with real hardware.

kyocera

Figure 1: Kyocera Document Solutions VDK for software development

You can read this case study and others by downloading the Better Software. Faster! book for free at following website: www.synopsys.com/vpbook

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A Bird’s Eye View

Posted by Tom De Schutter on January 30th, 2015

We are living in the age of pictures. Just about any event or non-event in our life is being captured in a picture. Even more so, a lot of those pictures are being shared with others. It offers us a way to share a moment with the ones who weren’t there. Living with my wife and children in Silicon Valley, far away from our family in Belgium, it provides us with a way to show what we are up to and in that moment shorten the distance with our relatives.

On the other hand, having a camera-enabled device at our fingertips at just about every moment seems to make us want to take pictures of everything around us. Interestingly enough, one of the most photographed subjects is our food. While I was thinking about this, I recalled an old smart phone parody commercial, which is still very applicable and funny.

Another interesting use of lightweight cameras is in combination with a drone. There are companies working on drones that fly above you and track you while you are in action, such as while you are rafting or skiing. Even better than recording your ski skills from your helmet, have a drone actually record you while you are giving the performance of a lifetime thundering down the slopes.

What about having a small drone with you while hiking to fly out in front of you and provide a bird’s eye view of the road ahead, or more easily orient yourself in the context of your surroundings.

This is exactly what the Synopsys VP Explorer tool offers to software developers — a bird’s eye view of the entire system, both hardware and software, to better maneuver through the many lines of code and identify a particular issue faster. While I have been mainly focusing on the early availability benefits of virtual prototyping in this blog, with the right tool, a virtual prototype also provides additional benefits in terms of debug control and visibility.

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So be the adventurer. Log all your activities, events and non-events, and share them with your fellow software developers so that together you can create better software, faster.
Somebody should write a book about this.

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Turning on the Virtual Prototyping Hose

Posted by Tom De Schutter on December 18th, 2014

Growing up in Belgium, it never occurred to me that rain or for that matter water can be in short supply. Living in California for over 8 years now, I know better. While I still enjoy the fantastic weather in the Bay Area, I do realize the importance of having enough rain and water. Water is one of those resources that we easily take for granted. It is in fact the most important resource, but we are just used to the fact that it flows out of a tap, hose or shower with the turn of a valve. According to recent studies, the last three years of drought were the most severe that California experienced in at least 1,200 years.

In the meantime November and December have turned out to be quite wet. While it is great to fill up the basins again, too much rain in a short time brings its own set up problems, like mud slides and trees falling down. On the other hand, it is clear that Californians aren’t really used to rain and call just about anything the storm of the century, as depicted nicely in following picture:

we will rebuild

This cycle of extreme drought, followed by heavy rain reminds me of the problem software developers are facing. Without a strategy to incrementally get access to targets for software developers, the software development cycle for a particular project looks first like a drought: nothing is available to start software bring-up and then all of a sudden hardware is becoming available all at once and the pressure is on to deal with the software requirements of all IP blocks and subsystems at the same time.

A more incremental software target development plan can mitigate this problem and alleviate the pressure on the software team,  resulting in a better flow between hardware and software and a better product overall, which is available in the market faster.

It is hard to achieve this flow using purely hardware based targets for software development. Inherently virtual prototypes can be available much earlier since there is no dependence on hardware. Plus the nature of having a model-based approach allows you to stage the incremental target availability any which way you want. That means that the software team can drive the stages based on the logical order of software bring-up, debug and test.

incremental VDKs

So whenever you find yourself in need of an earlier software target to mitigate the trend of software development droughts and floods for your project, you might want to turn on the virtual prototyping hose to ease the software development flow.

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3,000 Reasons To Look Into Virtual Prototyping

Posted by Tom De Schutter on November 21st, 2014

As announced on Nov. 5, Synopsys virtual prototyping book achieved a remarkable milestone of more than 3,000 copies in distribution to more than 1,000 companies. The success of the book highlights the interest in virtual prototyping as a key methodology to shift left software development.

Upon the book’s publication, we received a lot of interest from China and Japan for translated versions of the book. Receiving such high interest for the book in both languages motivated us to start translations, with the Mandarin version already available on the Web site. Soon to follow will be the Japanese translation, scheduled to become available around the end of the year.

In return for downloading a free copy of the eBook, we asked people to fill out an online survey. The answers to this survey confirm the most common software development challenges and virtual prototype benefits that are discussed in the book.

When asked, “What are your biggest software development challenges,” the No. 1 answer by 36% of the respondents was software complexity. That was closely followed by late availability of hardware (31%), changing requirements (27%), and limited debug visibility (24%). (Note that respondents could mark multiple answers for this question.)

It is clear from these answers that software developers are under constant pressure to meet tight deadlines while dealing with increasing software complexity and changing requirements. So it is not a surprise that they are looking for new methods to pull in the software development effort, manage increasing software complexity and late hardware availability. Many software developers have found that virtual prototyping helps to solve these challenges, as evident from more of our survey responses.

When asked, “What is the most important benefit you have seen from using virtual prototypes,” respondents who used virtual prototyping in the past answered as follows: Earlier software availability (45%); better software quality (19%); tighter coordination between hardware and software teams (18%); and software bring-up and debug productivity gain (16%). (Note that because we wanted to understand the most important benefit, we only allowed one answer per respondent.)

I will use the findings of the “Better Software. Faster!” book survey in subsequent blog posts. For now I want to leave you with following observation: If 3,000 persons at more than 1,000 companies around the world are interested in learning more about virtual prototyping, you might want to take a look yourself.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 10.29.09 AM

To download a free ebook go to: www.synopsys.com/vpbook or If you would like a printed copy, you can purchase Better Software. Faster! at Synopsys Press, Amazon.com, or you can order a copy through any bookstore (ISBN: 978-1-61730-013-4).

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Gluten-Free Virtual Prototyping

Posted by Tom De Schutter on October 30th, 2014

When marketing products, should you emphasize what is included in the product or what is not? These days it seems that for so many foods it has become more important to highlight what is not in the food rather than what is. With sugar free drinks, alcohol free cocktails, gluten free bread and dairy free milk, one might wonder what you should continue to eat or drink. In fact, you now often see food packaging with multiple lines of advertisement to indicate what is not in the food.

Maybe we need to adopt the same strategy for virtual prototyping. Now available: hardware free software development … There is actually something to it. It actually helps customers easily identify how the product is different. If you need or want to avoid gluten you choices are limited and a big brightly colored message saying: “Gluten free bread” avoids the need to check the contents of every bread package.

gluten free

If you don’t have hardware available yet, you want to find that one alternative that can help you to develop software in the absence of a target hardware platform. So with this: if you are working on a complex multi-core electronics design and can’t start software development until you have hardware available, don’t look any further: virtual prototyping is the product for you. It has a nice colorful message saying: “Hardware free software development”. Even better, you can continue to use your favorite debugger with a “hardware free” target to start software development earlier than you could ever imagine.

hardware free software development

Let’s embrace the marketing of products that are “missing” something. Hopefully the user will appreciate what he/she can get versus what he/she can’t get. Hardware may not be available yet, but  virtual prototypes offer a nice early replacement with lots of control and debug visibility. Enjoy!

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Leveraging Virtual Prototypes for Hybrid Emulation

Posted by Tom De Schutter on September 29th, 2014

As highlighted in many of my blog posts, virtual prototyping has really established itself as the key methodology to shift left software development by decoupling the dependency of software development from hardware availability. The success of the “Better Software. Faster!” book  illustrates the wide spread interest in the methodology.

The success of virtual prototypes has also led users to find more ways to leverage them across a wider range of use cases. For certain tasks, the combined strengths of virtual prototypes and other methodologies can help you achieve a 1 + 1 that is bigger than 2. Examples of these great synergies are virtual prototypes + automotive tools like Saber and Simulink, virtual prototypes + FPGA-based prototypes (called hybrid prototypes) and virtual prototypes + emulation (called hybrid emulation). In this blog we will focus on the use cases for hybrid emulation.

I see three main use cases where hybrid emulation can provide significant benefits to its users:

  • Software-driven verification: speed up software execution for SoC verification by running the application subsystem as part of a virtual prototype connected to the rest of the SoC mapped onto an emulator.
  • Early software development: by mapping blocks of the design not available or easily modeled in a virtual prototype, like GPUs, onto an emulator, software developers can connect these blocks to their virtual prototypes to develop software in context of the full system.
  • Architecture validation: once architecture exploration and optimization is done using traffic generators in virtual prototypes, hybrid emulation enables the traffic generation functions to be replaced with emulated cycle-accurate processor sub-system RTL running the real software for architecture validation.

hybrid emulation

Users around the world have experienced significant value from the above three use cases. A major SoC company explained how they first used a VDK (virtual development kit) to bring-up, test and debug their application processor software, like the OS and then connected the VDK to their GPU mapped onto an emulator (Synopsys ZeBu) to enable GPU software bring-up. The accuracy of the emulator environment also enabled them to optimize the caches in the system and complete the software performance optimization. Eventually they were able to validate the hardware and software by mapping the entire SoC onto the emulator. This step-by-step effort enabled them to fully leverage the strengths of the different methodologies such as high simulation speed of a VDK to boot up the OS and cycle accuracy of the emulator to optimize and validate the hardware and software.

The value of this hybrid emulation methodology is further explained in an article from Tom Borgstrom: http://electronicdesign.com/eda/hybrid-emulation-accelerates-architecture-optimization-software-development-and-software-driven-.

I also invite you to attend our session at ARM TechCon on this topic: http://schedule.armtechcon.com/session/synopsys-turbocharge-your-verification-with-synopsys-hybrid-emulation

Gwyneth Sauceda, one of our ZeBu emulator experts and I will explain the value of hybrid emulation and dive deeper into the different applications and customer case studies.

See you at ARM TechCon on October 1 from 12pm-12:50pm in the Mission City Ballroom M1 at the Santa Clara convention center.

Or visit us at the Synopsys booth #600.

 

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