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How virtual platform boosts product devt

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:virtual platform? product life cycle? embedded developers?

A virtual platform is an embedded computer system simulated on a regular PC, behaving like the physical target hardware. It can boot and run the complete software stack, providing a platform for architecture definition, system and software design, test, debug, and training.

Virtual platform technology has been used to simulate a very diverse set of targets, from single-processor boards to complex multicore, multiboard, and rack-based clusters.

They are useful for system and software development and design as well. Virtual platforms are used across the product life cycle, from initial product definition, through development, and on to deployment and long-term maintenance.

From more than a decade of experience providing virtual platforms to system developers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), we've found that virtual platforms can have a truly revolutionary effect on software development.

However, while the benefits for software development realized by using virtual hardware are certainly nice, embedded developers will not be able to take full advantage of virtual platforms if they only look at them as just a tool to improve software development in isolation does not realize its full potential impact. A good case in point is project management.

Planning impact
After an initial project, users of virtual platforms will realize that many software development tasks can be reduced in time or be moved up within the project schedule. By taking these improvements into consideration when planning a new project, a very different project plan emerges.

New hardware. For projects involving developing software for new hardware, the early and wide availability of virtual hardware compared to physical hardware enables a number of schedule improvements:
? It is possible to decouple the hardware and software development and delivery schedules. The scheduling of the software is only dependent on the finalization of a hardware design, not on its actual physical availability.
? The start of software development can be scheduled with greater certainty because the limiting factor of hardware availability is removed. This greatly reduces the ripple effect of hardware delays on the overall project.
? Software development can ramp up faster, again because it is not tied to hardware availability.
? Overall project risk is reduced because unexpected delays in hardware availability (e.g., a key chip or processor not becoming available from the vendor according to initial plans) do not impact software development.
? Once the hardware appears, bringing up the software on the physical hardware is a much shorter and smoother process. Most bugs will already have been found and fixed and what remains are often bugs related to detailed hardware timing and analog effects of printed circuit board (PCB) design. The difference in development time can be striking, reducing the time to a working system by several months.
? Hardware and software developers can cooperate around the virtual model and provide mutual feedback on the design earlier than otherwise possible. This tends to avoid hardware design mistakes that make life unnecessarily hard for the software developers.

Existing hardware. When software is developed for existing hardware, virtual platforms still allow for efficiencies in development that reduce project lead times:
? The easy and scalable availability of virtual hardware makes it possible for an individual developer to test new code and changes in a complete, integrated system environment. This tends to catch obvious errors immediately, saving the latency and effort of sending the software to a specialized system integration and verification group. This also leaves the integration and verification teams free to concentrate on more difficult errors and integration work.

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