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Equine Anatomy, Pax Romana and the Reach of Standards

Comments(0)Filed under: Acceleration, ESL, architect, embedded software, SystemC, TLM, osci, interoperability, high level synthesis, System Design and Verification, system, virtual platforms, IP, Hogan, system design, Accellera, Jim Hogan, standards, markets, Goodenough, pax romana, SoC Realization, Magarshack, horses

At the recent Synopsys EDA Interoperability Forum, the opening session focused on a 10 year review of standards and interoperability between EDA tools. Three speakers -- Philippe Magarshack (Central R&D Group VP, STMicroelectronics), John Goodenough (Vice-President of Design Technology and Automation, ARM) and Jim Hogan (Private Investor) -- reviewed their predictions from roughly ten years ago, and commented on how standards have evolved since then and whether and how they enabled the interoperability requested.

Philippe Magarshack kicked the day off by reviewing some of the slides he had used ten years ago. They included the well known Sematech/ITRS Design Productivity gap, and at the time, Philippe had asked for enablement of RTL to layout flows, IP reuse and analog IP. For future issues, he pointed to HW/SW co-development methodologies and system-level entry. He noted how the methodology of platform-based design has addressed and enabled a lot of the issues in question.

The rest of his talk focused on system-level design, which has developed quite a bit since 2002. At that time ESL, more specifically SystemC TLM, was used prior to the IP RTL freeze for hardware verification. By 2004 ST had expanded the use of ESL to verify hardware SoC integration prior to the SoC RTL freeze. In 2008 they adopted pre-RTL debug of HW/SW validation.

The next step: in 2012 Philippe expects TLM platforms to be used in the Request for Quotation (RFQ) phase of projects, for marketing purposes, and for bring-up of full software stacks prior to silicon availability. Today more than 1,000 users are utilizing the ST internal infrastructure and libraries for HW/SW design and verification, and hundreds of TLM or mixed TLM-RTL platforms. So with the last ten years representing a success, Philippe defined the 2012 priorities in OSCI/Accellera to be focused on model configurability and control, interrupt handling, address map management, point to point communication and system-level synchronization. For IP-XACT, he said, the focus should be on removing limitations on "busdef," enablement of parameterized IP, and a unified power view.

Beyond 2012 the biggest challenges identified by Philippe are (1) moving more software engineers from the post- to the pre-silicon development phases, (2) enabling HW/SW architects with specification-level models for earlier commitment on functionality, performance, power and safety/security, (3) verification reuse from specification-level to SystemC/TLM to VHDL/Verilog RTL and (4) easy integration of 3rd party IP TLM models, which will require evolution of the TLM 2.0 standard. Overall the takeaway from Philippe's presentation was a set of successful results of standardization and interoperability for the user base over the last ten years, with a roadmap of at least ten more.

The second presentation came from John Goodenough. In his talk "Design in the 21st Century" he stressed the importance of software, debug and energy aware design. After having mentioned in passing that his birthday is on Groundhog Day, looking at the challenges felt like Groundhog Day too: The requirements from 10 years ago still hold true, and today feels like a repeat because the complexity of the designs we are dealing with as an industry simply has grown so much. Design still is about modeling, integration and verification. Low power design and managing complexity require new thinking and new tools. EDA will play a critical role in enabling the industry, but interoperability remains crucial as nobody has all the EDA and nobody has all the IP. Collaboration between the players was, is and will remain key!

While the first two presentations already had left me with the impression that most of the interoperability challenges are in the pre-RTL and system-level domains, the last presentation of the opening session made it crystal clear! Jim Hogan presented the sequel to his 2003 presentation titled "EDA Interoperability - The Good, Bad and Ugly," appropriately titled "A Fistful of Dollars." Jim's presentation from 2003 (while he was at Artisan) was completely focused on back-end and layout related issues. This time around he focused on the system-level and software areas.

The beginning of his presentation also inspired the title of this blog post. To underline the importance and the potential widespread reach of standards, he first went all the way back to Roman times. Equine anatomy - its rear end to be precise - apparently is the source of the width of the U.S. railway gauge at 56.5." Twice a horse's rear end made the width of Roman chariots, which got standardized with appropriate SPQR stamps and then went on to leave their impression all over Europe as shown here from Jim's presentation. When the first railways in Britain were created, they used the standard width still coming from Roman "Pax Romana" times, and eventually they made their way to the U.S.

What can we learn from all this? Well, first of all Jim argued that standards were intended for military purposes, from which the specifications were written which lead to the creation of infrastructure and flows. Communications and commerce followed immediately, supplanting the original intent. Finally, as the example elegantly showed, standards may have a life expectancy well beyond their original intent.

Summarizing the time since 2003, James concluded that in 2003 the focus was much closer to the transistor, design for manufacturing and masks. Start-up companies rushed to fill the gap and were acquired. In parallel the industry moved from 180nm to 28nm, while market leaders held on to their 2003 proprietary standards. Also, some progress was made in system languages, RT-Level and Behavioral IP.

In his view a huge opportunity lies in standards for SoC Realization. As the example showed, standards can fill gaps and accelerate commerce. Given that they eliminate barriers to growth, they are a good investment of time and effort.  Jim used a couple of examples in the SoC Realization domain, especially around HW/SW co-optimization, high-level synthesis, IP integration and virtual platforms. In discussing the beneficiaries of standards -- the users -- I found the stacked triangles he showed especially interesting. James stacked the team sizes for the various software and hardware development tasks, and summarized the situation with the picture at the left.

After having heard all three speakers it is probably fair to conclude that the next set of challenges for standards and interoperability lies in the pre-RTL and system-level domains.  It will be interesting to see what that means for the different users benefitting from standardization efforts, and also which standardization committees will be the most influential ones. Given the mix of hardware and software developers, classic standardization committees from the software domain - like the Object Modeling Group OMG - may become much more influential for hardware in 2012 and beyond.

Let's hope that the results will be achieved in less than ten years and will be as long-lasting as the line from horses' rear ends to railway gauges!

Frank Schirrmeister



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