From Silicon To Software


A Year in Review: A Recap of Key Milestones and Moments in 2021

2021 year in review
By Editorial Team

Whatever area of business you work in, you’re likely to look back on 2021 as an uncertain yet hopeful year. As the pandemic continued to unfold and reshape the previously established ways of life and work, the world of technology faced its fair share of progress and hurdles. The much talked about global chip shortage exacerbated the rise of counterfeit chips and served as a reminder of the critical nature of unseen electronic components that we rely on every day.

Challenging as it has been, it has also been a time of great innovation. The appetite for transformation continued to grow, and in parallel, we saw exciting advances and even breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), automotive, the cloud, and high-performance computing (HPC).

Investments are growing in all these areas as their application potential becomes clear. Technologies such as AI and cloud computing are already solving large-scale problems, and long-established automotive companies are well on their way to a new incarnation as purveyors of clean, intelligent vehicles. At Synopsys, we have a long history of being the central enabler of such advancements for the last 35 years and are privileged to have an all-encompassing view of the latest developments at this pivotal time. With scale and systemic complexity defining the SysMoore Era, the co-optimization of software and hardware has become critical in fostering a new world of innovation.

As we celebrate our 35th anniversary and wrap up the last month of this year, here is a rundown of some of the key milestones we witnessed and made possible in 2021.

Collaboration Makes Progress Possible

We live in a truly interconnected age, and collaboration is more important than ever to realize the potential of new economies. In April, Synopsys expanded its strategic partnership with Arm to turbocharge the design capabilities of our mutual customers and accelerate their time-to-market for new products. The collaboration saw us deliver optimized design, verification, silicon IP, software security, quality solutions, and reference flows for Arm-based systems-on chip (SoCs). From a customer perspective, this meant easier, faster software development, hardware and software verification and design for HPC and AI applications.

Another important partnership came into fruition in June, when we partnered with Samsung Foundry to speed access to 3nm gate-all-around (GAA) process technology. By joining forces, we were able to unlock the opportunity that exists in the latest 3D transistor architecture. This marked an inflection point for process technology that will help the semiconductor industry to continue to scale to meet growing market demands.

Adding to our chip innovation efforts, in October, we teamed up once again with TSMC — a decades-long partner — to give designers access to top-quality IP that supports strict scheduling requirements on TSMC’s most advanced process, N4P. The Synopsys DesignWare® Interface IP offers high bandwidth and low latency to support compute-intensive designs, while the Synopsys DesignWare Foundation IP delivers high-speed, area-optimized and low-power embedded memories, logic libraries, GPIOs, and TCAMS. The initiative enables designers to quickly achieve silicon success of complex HPC and mobile SoCs and builds confidence with an IP that is easily integrated into designs and negates SoC integration risk. Both these IP portfolios are set to roll out in the first quarter of 2022.

More broadly, our DesignWare IP saw industry-wide uptake, enabling multiple first-pass silicon successes on TSMC’s N5 process across more than 20 leading semiconductor companies. Factors driving adoption of these solutions include meeting stringent power, performance, and area (PPA) requirements for advanced automotive ADAS and infotainment, AI accelerator, networking, and mobile SoC designs.

Cutting-Edge Innovation to Tackle Complexity and Reduce Risk

chip design

Among the new solutions that we introduced this year was the ZeBu® Empower emulation system for hardware-software power verification. As the fastest emulation system in the industry, it enables multiple iterations in the space of a day using real-world software workloads for AI, 5G, data center, and mobile SoC Applications. While the solution aims to allow customers to develop a new generation of power-optimized SoCs, as with other initiatives throughout the year, reducing risk was a key consideration. Performing power analysis in the standard way — post-silicon — introduces a high level of risk and by contrast, as an aid to the shift-left software development approach, Synopsys ZeBu Empower enables design teams to perform verification earlier in the design cycle, shrinking the risk of power bugs and missed SoC power goals

In May, we followed this breakthrough up with the launch of the first 10-MHz emulation solution, Synopsys ZeBu EP1, which enables electronics companies to develop and verify the most advanced SoCs with full software stacks. We see the appetite for pre-silicon development support continuing to grow unabated.

In terms of IP advancement, we launched new DesignWare ARC® DSP IP solutions for low-power embedded SoCs in September. The move expands our portfolio with 128-bit ARC VPX2 and 256-bit ARC VPX3 DSP Processors that complement the existing 512-bit VPX5 with power and area reduction up to two thirds. . This innovation speaks to the growing market need for specialized processors efficiently execute a wide range of DSP and AI workloads for applications in the internet of things (IoT), automotive, and voice and language processing.

Still on the topic of IP, a month later, we rolled out the industry’s first complete HBM3 IP and verification solutions, comprising controller, PHY, and verification IP for 2.5D multi-die package systems. The introduction was an important contribution toward helping designers meet growing bandwidth, latency, and power requirements across applications.

2021 also witnessed the launch of two Synopsys PrimeSim™ solutions. Launched in April at our SNUG® World international user conference, the Synopsys PrimeSim Continuum™ Solution accelerated the design of hyper-convergent ICs for applications in AI, memory, automotive, and 5G. As the industry’s only proven GPU acceleration technology and a foundation of the Synopsys Custom Design Platform, it speeds up runtime improvements for design teams up to tenfold. The news made headlines in several leading publications as well as recurring mentions in customer presentations and co-CEO Dr. Aart de Geus’ keynote address (watch a clip from his keynote above).

The Synopsys PrimeSim Reliability Analysis Solution, which debuted five months later in September, carried important implications for sectors spanning automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, and 5G. By accelerating the design of hyper-convergent ICs, issues such as over-design and potentially expensive late-stage signoffs are becoming less common. Its pioneering approach to safety and reliability analysis reconceives design with emphasis on high reliability. For designers, this meant higher productivity, faster signoff, and faster results — saving customers from over-engineering their chips to make sure they can tolerate harsh conditions.

The Growing Reach of AI

new york times soc design

If chip designers feel overwhelmed by the many challenges they grapple with daily, help is around the corner in the form of AI. In June, we made the case for creating an AI strategy for chip design, and reinforced that message in July as the chip shortage continued to bite. As AI becomes a mainstream technology, it has the potential to free people up across countless industries to focus on higher value activities.

One disruptive application of AI in chip design is design space optimization (DSO), a generative optimization paradigm that uses reinforcement-learning technology to autonomously search design spaces for optimal solutions. In this context, it also stands to remove the element of guesswork that is still a feature of chip design. Synopsys ushered in a new era of breakthrough chip design to deliver better, faster, and cheaper semiconductors with the early launch of Synopsys™— a solution that has witnessed notable traction in the last year. In May, de Geus sat down with some of the top journalists at The New York Times, Forbes, and Anandtech to discuss more on the need for AI-designed chips.

It may not be as obvious to the average end user, but powerful processing architectures underlie just about everything we do that relies on a combination of connectivity and data. As system demands grow more complex, achieving high bandwidth and low latency die-to-die connectivity for HPC applications becomes equally critical.

Of course, AI’s applications spread far and wide, and in November, we acquired a leading provider of AI-powered performance optimization software, Concertio Inc. The move strengthens the Synopsys SiliconMAX platform, which aims to maximize silicon performance across the whole lifecycle from design to in-field operation. Concertio boosts performance through AI-powered software that monitors interactions between applications and the system environment. By learning about the behavior of the applications, the platform can self-tune the system to ensure it is in prime condition to meet current requirements.

In years to come, the continued spread of AI more widely will depend increasingly on hardware, a market that is set to reach $65 billion by 2025. We attribute this to the need to process massive volumes of data and effect iterative training, which hardware systems such as AI accelerators are best placed to perform. Clear advantages over a software-driven approach include greater energy efficiency, low computation latency, scalability, and an architecture that can support multiple processors for different tasks.

The Dawn of a New Age for Automotive

connected vehicles

The development of assisted and automated driving technologies continues to advance at a rapid pace. While we witnessed the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) gather speed in 2021 by both countries and companies, the challenges to overcome and realize President Biden’s vehicle electrification dream have increased. Top of the list is the range and lifespan of lithium-ion batteries — maxing out at around 311 miles and eight years, respectively. Additionally, charging infrastructure has far to go before EVs are able to effectively rival gasoline-powered vehicles.

Indeed, reliability is a consideration that affects the entire makeup of EVs from battery to motor and power electronics, all of which are sensitive to environmental stresses. Chip design teams will have multiple challenges on their hands for the foreseeable future, but they are surmountable through increased collaboration and advanced design tools, such as the Synopsys Saber platform, which offer the necessary scope of modelling and simulation.

Another challenge that is not limited to EVs is the security risk levelled by automotive aftermarket devices — gadgets that connect to vehicle systems to enhance the driver’s experience. Customization is infinitely desirable these days, but as cars become increasingly software-defined and connected, the threat of hacking and malicious interference increases. This highlights a pressing need for security by design, including safeguards to block attacks via aftermarket devices, whatever form they may take. Increased collaboration from interdisciplinary design teams and robust design tools that allow for extensive modeling and simulation features is expected to take the driver’s seat going forward.

Life at Synopsys Continues to Thrive

Synopsys summer interns

As technology continues to evolve at a rapid cadence, engineering ingenuity has become a valuable currency. This year, we continued to encourage and introduce innovations into our academic programs. As part of our summer internship program, over 130 students virtually interned with various industry experts across Synopsys North America. From working on projects such as storytelling through data, engineering key technologies, modeling flow charts, machine learning techniques, and enhancing prediction and correlation components in the design cycle — the cohort learned lifelong EDA skills to thrive in a world of smart, secure everything.

We also believe that the wider industry would benefit greatly from greater inclusion and diversity, and to this end we operate GIRLS GO Engineering annually — a scholarship and professional development opportunity for women pursuing engineering degrees. The three winners, announced in September, received financial scholarships, professional development support, and Synopsys internships, aimed at encouraging diverse voices in the STEM industry. We also understand how providing university students with access to real-world chip design experience is critical for the success and growth of the industry to close the talent gap. Nurturing key skillsets, the Synopsys Electronic Design University Program provided academic and research institutions with access to electronic design automation (EDA) software, technical support, curriculum, and more.

In terms of sustainability, we actively reduced our environmental footprint through energy management, waste management, and green building. Earlier in the year, we signed a green energy deal with Uber, Akamai, and MilliporeSigma to purchase renewable energy from a portion of Enel Green Power’s 350 MW Azure Sky wind project in Texas. The first large-scale project to combine wind and battery storage for Enel Green Power globally demonstrates an extraordinary shift in the renewable energy purchasing market and is expected to begin operations in the first half of 2022.

Lastly, on the executive leadership front, Synopsys gained a new president and COO, Sassine Ghazi. Since becoming COO in August 2020, Ghazi has had a significant impact on the company, bolstering its EDA and IP strategy and portfolio, broadening collaborations, and enhancing a strong management team. Being a long-standing employee at Synopsys since 1998, Ghazi’s appointment is a true reflection of the exceptional corporate leadership that will scale Synopsys to its next phase of growth and value.

As the year draws to a close, we wish you and your loved ones a happy holiday season!

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