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Brian Bailey: Building Towards A Cohesive ESL Flow

Comments(1)Filed under: DAC, ESL, SystemC, High-level Synthesis, HLS, TLM, IP, Virtual platform, virtual prototype, EDA360, Brian, Bailey

Plenty of niche tools fall under the electronic system level (ESL) label, but putting them together into a cohesive flow has been elusive. At the recent Design Automation Conference, consultant Brian Bailey (and blogger at techbites.com) described how he's been working with Cadence on a flow that will link virtual prototypes to high-level synthesis (HLS).

In a short presentation at the Cadence booth, as well as in the video clip embedded in this posting, Brian talked about the need for a more cohesive ESL flow and the challenges it poses. "ESL has been a bunch of islands," he said at the booth presentation. "Each island is isolated. We have failed to create an ecosystem in which the benefits of each piece can be fully realized."

Bringing Islands Together

If virtual prototypes and HLS were linked into a cohesive flow, the same models used to build virtual prototypes could be synthesized and brought into implementation. Several developments in recent years have made this kind of connection more feasible. One is SystemC, which Brian described as a "major advance" that provides a common language for ESL tools. But SystemC alone was not enough. The Open SystemC Initiative transaction-level modeling (TLM 2.0) interface standard was also critical, because it allowed IP interoperability.

There is, however, a roadblock -- TLM 2.0 is not synthesizable. "That's a very big problem when it comes to putting together complete flows and methodologies," Brian said. To get around that roadblock, Brian has been working with Cadence on the definition of interfaces that allow the separation of computation and communications within the modeling environment. This can result in blocks that can be run through high-level synthesis. The video interview below, conducted right after Brian's Cadence booth presentation, provides more details.

If video does not play, click here

While re-use of virtual prototype models by the hardware team is one advantage of the flow Brian describes here, the benefits extend to the software team as well. As Brian says in the interview, virtual prototypes today are primarily used to develop and debug low-level software. If we can build fast models comprised of computational blocks, then higher levels of the software stack could potentially be developed using virtual platforms.

A cohesive ESL flow is more than just a productivity aid. It's a pathway to the creation of integrated hardware/software platforms ready for applications deployment. As such, it's a key enabler for System Realization as described in the EDA360 vision paper. And the first stage of this integrated flow is a link between virtual platforms and implementation.

Richard Goering


By Maxim Smirnov on July 8, 2010
Here's a related white paper on system-level computer-aided-design (CAD) tools that allow early hardware
and software co-development, hardware and software performance evaluation and fast system-level modeling.

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