A View from the Top: A Virtual Prototyping Blog


Is Successful System Design About Control?

Earlier this week I attended an ICCAD co-located session on the future of EDA. Jim Hogan and Paul McLellan led an interesting discussion on what has to change to make a chip development successful in 2012. A lot of the early feedback in the Blogosphere on EDA seems to be right akin to the movie scripts like in Doomsday or the upcoming 2012. Are we at five minutes to twelve on the doomsday clock (the is picture borrowed from here)? I would argue that EDA always has been part of a complex changing landscape and has been able to solve the challenges. Will we again? Sure, I know a lot of people working on it daily!

The slides of the presentation Paul and Jim used showed some interesting data, including a graph on adoption of technologies on page 5. The iPhone and iTouch are the fastest adopted consumer devices ever, beating the iPod itself and the internet. Software is key to that success. Paul also pointed out that semiconductor economics determines a lot of issues in our industry. As a result of cost shifting to software, Paul and Jim articulated the requirement of a software sign-off.

If you have read any of my Blog entries before, then you know that I wholeheartedly agree with the importance of software. I also fully agree with the direction we need to take to enable software development and as early as possible hardware/software integration. The key is timing. I know exactly what my Dad would say in this situation. He would quote the old German saying that “nothing is consumed as hot as it is cooked”. Don’t take me wrong – I do not want to downplay the importance of change. The questions are when, how and where. On “when” – we certainly have been trying for a while to get to the next level of abstraction. With transaction based design we are making progress I am part of teams who are working on the “how” every day in our world of system-level design, virtual platforms for early software development an so on. On “where” it is very clear to me that change is not EDA specific, it happens everywhere in the semiconductor related eco-system.

The adoption curve of page 5 of Jim’s and Paul’s presentation made me choose the title of the Blog. One key differentiator in the development of Apple’s iPhone and the iTouch is “control”. The design of the hardware and the software is controlled by the same company. The situation is different for phones using Windows Mobile, Symbian or Android. Here the OS and hardware are controlled by different vendors. The OS effectively locks in the channel to access the hardware and provides the necessary monetization – providers take a share of every application sold through that channel. The idea is great and if a vendor has control of both he can flexibly allocate the monetization between hardware and software.

System-level design may turn out to be about control and about enabling communication to assert it. One of the beauty of system-level models – of functional algorithms and of architectural platforms running software – is that they allow effective interaction between companies or between groups within companies early on in the design flow. In exchange that communication enables better control of requirements. For example architects can change the hardware to address issues the software brought up. And eventually we may arrive as suggested by the ICCAD discussion at a “software signoff”. Will EDA help get us there as part of a constantly changing ecosystem? Time will tell. We are definitely working on it daily! My boss is knocking … back to work 🙂

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