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Bill Beausoleil, 1950s Computer Pioneer, Shapes RTL Emulation Technology Today

Comments(0)Filed under: EDA, Industry Insights, Palladium, CAD, IBM, IEEE, emulation, Cadence, Fairchild, RTL emulation, Beausoleil, computer history, FPGA-based emulation, silicon computers, Gordon Moore, processor-based emulation, System/360, graphical design, mainframes, Quickturn, Gene Amdahl

An important aspect of any advanced technology -- including the RTL emulation systems used for IC verification - is the expertise that stands behind it. Few can claim more expertise than Bill Beausoleil, an IBM, IEEE and Cadence fellow who designed some of the world's first silicon-based computer systems in the 1950s and 1960s and is still at work designing emulation systems at Cadence.

Beausoleil was born Oct. 24, 1929, the day the stock market crashed. At the age of 12 he worked in a factory that restored movie projectors for the U.S. Navy. During World War II he built a ham radio from surplus equipment, building his own drill press and band saw. He also rebuilt a Model T Ford. Says Beausoleil: "I like to make things happen."

After serving in the Marine Corps and working for several other companies, Beausoleil obtained his BSEE from the University of Connecticut in three years, a path he does not recommend - "I had no social life." He landed at IBM Federal Systems in 1956, and stayed at IBM for the next 47 years. He has been at Cadence for the past 10 years.

Designing With Silicon Transistors

Transistors were new in the 1950s. They caught Beausoleil's interest, because "I really liked what I thought was digital stuff." In 1958 he found out that IBM had acquired 100 silicon transistors from Fairchild Semiconductor for $150 each - produced by a team led by Gordon Moore - and Beausoleil volunteered to be involved.

"I knew how to do AND and OR and a few other things, so I ended being assigned to build a drum loader" for the B-70 bomber, Beausoleil said. After he provided a demonstration to the Air Force, he was asked to join a small team as one of two logic designers who were building a first-of-its-kind silicon transistor computer for the Titan II missile. The transistors were welded together and encapsulated for reliability purposes.  (This reliable computer was also installed in Titan III and Saturn rockets).

Beausoleil then turned his attention to computers by joining a design group for the IBM System/360 mainframe, which was introduced in 1964 (and was followed by the System/370 and System/390, which are still in use today). He quickly discovered that the System/360 was lacking a standard I/O interface. So, he proposed one, and top management liked it. Computer pioneer Gene Amdahl was in charge of the architecture at that time, and he told Beausoleil that his work on getting the interface approved had "saved me two years and a lot of heartache." Beausoleil ended up working for Amdahl.

"I'm always working on something not part of my job," Beausoleil noted. One example from the late 1960s was a new methodology that improved semiconductor memory yields from 4% to 44%. As a result, IBM was able to close several new fabs and save over $242 million the first year on equipment they no longer needed, "but more importantly it allowed the company to do what they said they'd do, which is to use semiconductor memories for all of IBM's mainframe product line," Beausoleil said.

This effort also accounted for one of Beausoleil's 50-plus patents.  His patents include such diverse technology areas as keypunch performance improvement, hierarchical storage systems, two-device memory cells, the first telephone PBX architecture using semiconductor switching, magnetic bubble memory, and pattern recognition of handwritten checks and deposit slips for the banking industry. 

In 1972 IBM made Beausoleil an IBM Fellow. He recalled that the Fellow Department "operated as a small company in a very large company," releasing many different types of products and handling marketing, sales, and direct contact with customers as well. His group travelled the world demonstrating new products to customers.

EDA, Graphics, and Emulation

Eventually Beausoleil's work led to graphical workstations, IBM EDA technology, and RTL emulation. But the story goes back a ways. When IBM made Beausoleil an IBM Fellow, he was assigned to go to an IEEE conference and describe what IBM was doing in design automation. He took a look at graphical design capabilities and was "just appalled" by what he saw.

"IBM had alpha-numeric machines," he recalled. "If you wanted to draw a box it was awful." So, his team designed a workstation that used a high-speed link going to the alpha-numeric machine and diverted graphical information to a Tektronix Storage Display Head. The workstation included two display devices -- an alpha-numeric display that provided the high speed text, and a storage display that could quickly draw vectors on a screen by providing two endpoints. The storage device had 12 million addressable points and could put up to 60K characters on the screen.

This "Graphics Attachment" supported the full gambit of engineering and scientific applications including EDA applications such as logic design, PCB layout, and chip wiring. Over 400 of these low cost workstations were delivered to IBM internally before being announced as an IBM product.  Productivity soared with these workstations, Beausoleil noted.

For remote operations, a mainframe was required for the workstation, so Beausoleil decided to do what others thought impossible and build a small mainframe out of CMOS. Beausoleil's research group developed the A74/370, a true mainframe system in a PC-sized box, and followed up with the P/390, a System/390 mainframe on a single PCI card. In the course of this work his group needed an RTL emulation capability. That's when he heard about Quickturn, a pioneering provider of emulation and acceleration systems in the late 1980s and early to mid 1990s.

IBM bought two Quickturn machines, but found they didn't talk to each other very efficiently, so Beausoleil's group devised a bus interface to help out. "We emulated a processor in those boxes, had a chip built, and were successful the first time," he noted. But he also realized that those early emulators had a number of problems associated with FPGAs. So, he started putting together home-grown processor-based emulation systems, including one that had 64 chips on a board with 64 processors on each chip.

Cadence bought Quickturn in 1998, and then acquired IBM's emulation technology in 2002. At that point Beausoleil and other members of his team went to work for Cadence. Beausoleil has been there ever since, working today on a half-time basis. Well, maybe a little more than half time. "I'm always busy with something," he said.

Improving Emulation Technology

Beausoleil and Tak-Kwong Ng (who later invented the NASA laser rock blasting system now on Mars) are co-inventors of processor-based emulation. This technology provides faster bring-up times and better debug productivity than FPGA-based emulation, and avoids the challenges of FPGA partitioning and routing. Today, it is the foundation of the Palladium product line sold by Cadence.

At Cadence, Beausoleil has been the chief silicon architect for five generations of Palladium emulators. About every two years, there's another emulation system, he noted. "Right now, my problem is to keep up with Moore's Law," he said. "The node change to 20nm and 14nm will give us challenges, but if we are successful we will get performance and capacity. Applications also change. We have to know where the bottlenecks are."

Beausoleil was involved in the development of the Palladium XP Verification Computing Platform (left), a groundbreaking product that combines simulation, acceleration, and in-circuit emulation in a single box with a "hot swap" technology. He's hard at work on the next generation of emulation technology.

"Bill is a pillar of Cadence and a triple fellow - IBM, Cadence, and the IEEE," said Chris Tice, vice president and general manager of R&D for Hardware System Verification at Cadence. "His legacy has impacted the industry and is certainly at the core of our Palladium products."

Richard Goering



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