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Keynoter says chip value is in its intellectual property

Posted: 18 Jun 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Design Automation Conference? embedded software? hardware? IP?

Silicon complexity and rapidly changing architectures are making embedded software development much more difficult, said Jerry Fiddler, founder and chairman of Wind River Systems Inc., in a keynote speech Thursday (June 13) at the 39th Design Automation Conference. But the prospects for software and EDA cooperation are limited, Fiddler said, even as the boundary between hardware and software grows fuzzy.

Fiddler's software-centric view of the system-on-chip design flow indicated that the flow continues well beyond the completion of silicon. "What we mean by silicon is only a small part of the design problem," he said. Chip designers think a design project is over when silicon tapes out, but the end customer doesn't, he said.

Embedded designers now face the problem of "building and managing hundreds of billions of connected devices," Fiddler said. "Nobody has ever managed hundreds of billions of anything before."

Fiddler said the infrastructure of society is becoming "intelligent," with everything able to communicate with everything else, power in short supply, and less money being spent on technology. "Going into this economy, we believed companies would innovate their way out of a recession, but we haven't found that to be true," he said. "Many companies are being very conservative and risk-adverse."

Along with the difficult financial environment, embedded systems developers are facing increasing technology challenges, Fiddler noted. These include increased silicon variety, higher levels of integration, the use of programmable logic, and the proliferation of processors?of which some 98 percent now end up in embedded applications, according to Gartner Dataquest figures quoted by Fiddler.

Instruction set architectures used to be fairly stable, but no longer, Fiddler said. In one recent 12-month period, he noted, there were 59 new architectures. "We looked at it and said, 'This is chaos, how do we support these things?' We do it, but it's difficult."

Different types of programmable platforms also make embedded software development difficult, but Fiddler said he's a believer in programmable logic. "Yes, it's more expensive, slower, and uses more power," he said, "but think of how long it will be in the field. Over time, the flexibility of these [programmable] devices will trump the costs of deployment."

Multiple CPUs on a single chip pose another challenge. "We are building chips today that are very difficult to program," Fiddler said. "Everything in the software world is affected?tools, middleware, applications."

And meanwhile, he noted, the complexity of embedded software is exploding. A typical embedded system in 1995, Fiddler said, had 100,000 lines of code for a standalone, fixed product. A typical embedded system in 2002 has 1 million lines of code for a product that is networked and programmable. The good news is that perhaps 90 percent of that code can be reused, he said.

Fiddler noted that the boundary between hardware and software is getting very "fuzzy." As an example, he said that Xilinx Inc. makes chips that include hard cores and programmable gates. Wind River software runs on the cores, and the gates can only be programmed through the cores. The gates can be reconfigured on-the-fly at run-time.

"So what's hardware, what's software, and what's IP?" he asked. "That really calls this into question."

Fiddler said that the value in today's devices are its intellectual property (IP), not the chip itself. And yet, he noted, EDA companies give away IP, while embedded software companies sell it as their primary product. Moreover, concepts about the legal rights, valuations and expectations of IP are changing.

Fiddler said that co-operation between EDA and embedded software companies is "hard right now because of the economy. Everybody's strapped." But he said that new paradigms, including systems-on-chip and reconfigurable logic, will draw the two industries closer together.

He also mentioned several "convergence points," such as the JTAG ports that are used for both hardware debugging and software downloading. Another is emulation, which Fiddler said will help tie together hardware and software design flows.

"Are we making a world that's too complex to build and manage?" Fiddler said. "Somehow we have to get a simpler flow."

? Richard Goering

EE Times

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