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Panel: What Embedded Software Gurus Think About EDA

Comments(1)Filed under: EDA, EDAC, virtual platforms, Wind River, Simulation, Embedded: Software, Bruggeman, MontaVista, Green Hills, virtual prototype, Evensen, Greenbaum, ReadyNow here's a novel idea - organize an EDA Consortium panel composed entirely of panelists from outside the EDA industry. That occurred April 15 at Cadence headquarters in San Jose at the EDA Consortium 2010 spring meeting. At this meeting John Bruggeman, Cadence CMO (and former head of marketing at Wind River) moderated a panel including three embedded software experts.

Part of the panel provided an update on what's happening in the embedded software development community, which has experienced a recent wave of acquisitions by semiconductor companies. In fact, two of the three panelists represented recently acquired companies. These include Tomas Evensen, CTO of Wind River, acquired by Intel, and Jim Ready, CTO of MontaVista Software, acquired by Cavium Networks. The third panelist was Jack Greenbaum, director of engineering for advanced products at Green Hills Software.

What was most interesting for me, however, were questions about how embedded software and EDA companies can work together. I wrote about this issue for many years as an EDA editor. I remember people talking about it as early as the mid-1980s, and nobody really came up with a good answer. But with systems companies demanding that their semiconductor partners supply much of the software stack, the question has taken on new urgency.

 

The EDA Consortium panel was moderated by John Bruggeman (left), and included Tomas Evensen, Jack Greenbaum, and Jim Ready (left to right).

Like Oil and Water

EDA and embedded software vendors sell to the same companies, but they're talking to different groups and working in different worlds. "The DNA of EDA companies and software companies is so different," Ready said. EDA, he said, is dominated by transistor physics, while the software world is focused on getting hundreds of people together to produce a common result. "Sure, we could work together to make things work better, but my take is that it's really like oil and water in some ways."

Greenbaum picked up on the "oil and water" metaphor. Hardware engineers, he noted, program in VHDL and Verilog, and use waveform analysis tools. Software engineers use "printf" statements if there's nothing better than a GDB debugger."You can't get a software engineer to talk to a hardware engineer," he said. "They speak different languages." A hardware manager will pay for tools, he noted, while a software manager will squeeze the semiconductor vendors until they provide free tools.

Virtual Prototypes - The Connection Point

However, all of the panelists noted that virtual platforms or virtual prototypes (which they referred to as "simulation") is one place where the worlds of EDA and embedded software do converge. Evensen noted that Wind River recently acquired Virtutech, a virtual prototype provider. However, he noted, hardware simulation today is way too slow for software developers, and getting hardware models is a problem. "I think we can work together to make models work," he said.

 Evensen also noted that software providers need more information about hardware dependencies as they develop drivers and middleware. "We have to do the same things over and over again, and it's not economical for us," he said.

 "We need a platform that executes realistic loads with realistic I/Os," said Greenbaum. "That's a place we can all work together at the technology level." In response to an audience question from analyst Gary Smith, Greenbaum said that a virtual platform with power modeling would be a very helpful tool for software developers.

Some Advice

Bruggeman concluded the panel by asking panelists what advice they'd give audience members. Evensen's message to the EDA community was to be aware of the consequences of small hardware changes. "If you change one bit in the hardware, there is a ripple effect and it's a lot of work," he said.

"Make your tools more open to software developers," Greenbaum said. "If you sell system level design, make sure the plumbing is there for tools your customers want to use." Ready's suggestion: before venturing into the embedded software world, you need the "deepest possible understanding" of its dynamics.

My Take

My takeaway is that hardware and software design remain two different worlds with different dynamics, and very different average selling prices (ASPs) for development tools. But as the importance of hardware/software integration grows, these two worlds will inexorably be drawn closer together. We are not in the same industry, but we are in the same ecosystem. We need to form closer partnerships to strengthen that ecosystem on behalf of our mutual customers.

 

Richard Goering

Comments(1)

By Gary Dare on April 22, 2010
Richard, I agree that hardware and software design remain two different worlds (and that is based on experience in both electronics and EDA), they are being forced to recognize common roots through all the talk about 'systems' and taking such a perspective.  But in the end, each side knows that they have to create either a piece of electronic hardware, or files of software code to run on that hardware.
The separatism has been reinforced by organization and management structures, with hardware and software design fiefdoms.  While EDA and software development platforms have been made to talk to each other, it is management and process that now requires change to take advantage of those technologies working together.  The Big 3 EDA firms plus Intel/Wind River (is it too soon to talk about them as a #4 in contention with Magma?) do seem to understand that (e.g., Cadence support of OVP for virtual platforms).  But how long must they (still) hold their collective breath for their customers to come around?
I have wondered whether the Great Recession, forcing leaner design teams, would have had a role to bring down some of those walls.

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