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Energy design through unified hardware abstraction

Posted: 13 Feb 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Energy efficient? Electronic Design Automation? EDA? Unified Hardware Abstraction? UHA?

At the firmware level, manually developed proprietary software solutions control the dedicated energy management processors and specialised hardware. Due to the lack of unified formats and aligned design methodologies, such solutions require either complete vertical integration of hardware, firmware, OS, and applications (similar to Apple) or forced distribution of "one size fits all" reference platforms to all customers, making it almost impossible to differentiate on energy performance.

United Hardware Abstraction solution
We see the solution in the development of a UHA, which starts with energy as the first and foremost objective and encompasses all design levels from the signal to the application software level, thereby enabling seamless collaboration among all participants in the flowfrom the VLSI designers to the device integrators and software programmers.

For EDA historians, you will recognise similar motivations that led to the development and adoption of hardware description languages (HDLs), namely VHDL, in the 1980s and 90s to achieve greater efficiency, multi-level consistency and interoperability, and improved documentation.

Besides the obvious political, environmental, and consumer pressures, from a technology perspective the timing is right for such an evolution in how we design for energy efficiency. Recent innovations in hardware and software require rapid improvements in energy design and management methodology. In particular:
???High complexity and granularity of clock trees and power rails require faster, finer, and smarter energy management.
???Multiple diverse OSs (e.g., RichOS, SecureOS, MediaOS) running on multiple heterogeneous processor clusters and non-uniform memories require sophisticated energy management synchronisation.
???The apps paradigm and the reactive nature of modern electronic devices require energy-aware software design and software-aware energy management.

The good news is that trends in the semiconductor industry provide an unprecedented opportunity to implement greater energy efficiency. Transistors are inexpensive and allow us to put plenty of redundancies (organised as hierarchies) into the devices.

Initially we had memory and bus hierarchies; now processor and, in the future, sub-system hierarchies.

Hierarchy means multiple equivalent ways to do the same computation, which means we can have many devices contained in a single devicee.g., a basic phone that allows months of use within the feature-loaded smartphone.

Solutions to these challenges must continue to guarantee shortest possible time to market through extensive reuse, full hardware IP protection, easy programming, and efficient collaboration.

A standard UHA provides a platform to address all of these challenges, mainly from an engineering perspective, by automating the design of power management software and hardware. But such an approach has broader benefits, including:
???Lowers the cost and shortens the time-to-market, as companies across equipment classes can share the same power management infrastructure
???Enables the introduction of formal energy description of equipment and automated generation of the power management software and hardware
???Fosters energy savings competition among manufacturers of various equipment classes
???Allows for unified run-time reporting and control of equipment's energy consumption
???Establishes tighter minimum energy efficiency requirements for higher energy savings and enables faster adoption of energy standards for future equipment classes
???Allows unified testing, measurement, and standardisation procedures
???Brings together a larger pool of power management experts to focus on the same problem and improves technical education in academia

As pressure mounts on device makers to become more energy efficient, we expect to see an acceleration of the current conversation on UHA, with an emergence of sample formats and constructs as well as the design tools required to implement them.

About the author
Vojin Zivojnovic is co-founder and CEO of AGGIOS Inc., a start-up focused on the development of energy proportional systems. Vojin has 30 years of research, technical management, and business development experience in the semiconductor and EDA industry.

Jim Hogan is the chairman of the AGGIOS Board of Directors. Jim serves as General Manager of Vista Venture Partners and Managing Partner of Vista Ventures LLC. He has been in the semiconductor industry for more than 33 years.

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