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IEEE standardizes 'e' language

Posted: 01 Jun 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Richard Goering? EE Times? "e"verification language? Cadence Design Systems? IEEE standardization?

The IEEE has put its stamp of approval on Cadence Design Systems Inc.'s "e" verification language, making it an open standard that anyone can use or support. But whether the standard comes in time to fend off a challenge from SystemVerilog is another question.

Although "e" was widely adopted as a proprietary language from Verisity Design, a company Cadence acquired last year, it lacks the widespread EDA vendor support enjoyed by SystemVerilog or IEEE 1800. SystemVerilog adds assertion and testbench constructs to the Verilog hardware description language. Some observers see a bleak future for "e," now the IEEE 1647 standard.

But Victor Berman, group director for language standards at Cadence, said that "e" licenses grew from 15,000 in 2003 to 64,000 today. Much of this increase happened since Cadence bought Verisity, assuring users that "e" will be around for the long term, he said.

IEEE standardization, said Berman, puts a "formality" around the openness of the language. "We're putting a real stake in the ground that it's an open language anybody can usethat it's well-defined, it's stable and it's going to be around," he said. "It's very similar to what happened to Verilog in the 1990s."

The Verilog analogy is a hopeful one. In the early 1990s, nearly all EDA vendors were pushing VHDL, but the Verilog languageproprietary until opened by Cadenceremained popular with chip designers. In the end Verilog prevailed, and became a much more widely-used HDL than its erstwhile rival.

SystemVerilog momentum
Today, the big push is toward SystemVerilog, which is supported by dozens of EDA vendors and products. "It is clear that the new design and verification standard is SystemVerilog, with broad support from both the design community and the EDA industry," said Karen Bartleson, director of interoperability at Synopsys Inc. "We don't see much interest in or demand for this ['e'] standard."

Indeed, "If companies were going to create tools for the 'e' language, they would have already done so," said Robert Hum, VP and general manager of Mentor Graphics Corp.'s design verification and test division. "While Mentor will support product integrations with the Specman tool as long as our customers want them, it's clear that SystemVerilog is the standard going forward in the verification market."

Cadence is also a strong supporter of SystemVerilog, Berman said, but the company sees a difference between the two languages. "'e' is really a specification-driven language rather than one that has risen from the register-transfer level, so if you're doing system-level verification, there's a big advantage to a language like 'e,' " he said. The people who use "e" the most, Berman said, are engineers in specialized verification groups.

Until very recently, the only tool to support the "e" language was the Specman product developed by Verisity. But an "e" language ecosystem is starting to appear, with several small vendors jumping on the bandwagon. Among them is Posedge Software Inc., which sells InnerLoop, an integrated development environment (IDE) for the "e" language.

"Every engineer who really understands the power of 'e' thinks that 'e' is better than SystemVerilog," said Dave Von Bank, Posedge's president. "These users are very passionate about the solution that 'e' provides."

There may be 50 to 100 million lines of "e" code in the world, and there are always hundreds of active projects under way, Von Bank said. "The market is there for InnerLoop with 'e' today," he said. "We chose to focus on 'e' first because there was not enough real SystemVerilog usage."

One feature that makes "e" better, said Von Bank, is aspect-oriented programming. But that also creates a big file management challenge, because rather than edit files, "e" users extend objects by writing new code in a new file. InnerLoop, he said, helps solve the resulting file-navigation problem.

Amiq Consulting also rolled out last March an IDE for the "e" language based on the Eclipse open-source standard. The company has already seen a lot of demand, said founder Cristian Amitroaie. Amiq also offers an "e" language parser, import viewer and name checker. "For Amiq, the final step in the IEEE standardization process is a further confirmation that Cadence is committed to go all the way and support the 'e' language technology," Amitroaie said.

Globetech Solutions offers "e"-based verification intellectual property, including peripheral, storage and design-for-test products. "IEEE standardization for 'e' secures continuous investment from the community and facilitates our plans to aggressively fulfill our 'e'-based road map," said Stylianos Diamantidis, Globetech's managing director.

In spite of these new developments, the language-standardization effort appears to have been mostly driven by Cadence. Yaron Kashai, group director for verification technology at Cadence, is chair of the IEEE 1647 working group.

That working group, Kashai noted, is a "group of individuals" rather than company representatives. It's thus hard to point to companies that are behind the standard. "I don't think anybody presented himself or herself as the representative of another EDA vendor," he said.

Synopsys' Bartleson said that it's "curious" that Cadence chose not to follow the IEEE Corporate Standards process, in which each company represented on a working group is given one vote. That's the process followed by the IEEE 1800 SystemVerilog committee. It ensures that no one vendor will dominate a standard, Bartleson said.

Kashai said the IEEE 1647 working group included Verisity people, users, academics and those with "other commercial interests." He said that there are "very minor differences" between the commercial "e" language and IEEE 1647, and that most of the working group's efforts went into clarifying the standard.

Kashai noted, however, that Verisity donated the "e" language to the IEEE in 2003, and that Verisity and Cadence have made some improvements to the language since then. But "more than 95 percent" of today's commercial "e" language is in the standard, he said.

An official Language Reference Manual is probably several months away, Berman said. Meanwhile, unofficial drafts are available at the IEEE 1647 Website.

- Richard Goering
EE Times

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