Buzz, buzz! Why the buzz around virtual platforms? The embedded software community is increasingly embracing virtual platforms, as per many recent discussions, posts and research projects:
- “Fast Model Evaluation: Helping hardware & software designers sleep better”, by Robert Kaye, ARM, 31 May 2012.
- Gary Smith’s DAC 2012 keynote
- The April 2012 EE Times Embedded Software Market Survey
But what is the value proposition and ROI for adopting ESL and virtual platforms for your ARM processor-based designs? What are the critical factors in choosing a solution?
The traditional ROI for virtual platforms is derived from early software development, parallelizing hardware and software development and accelerating time to market. Before hardware is available, early access accelerates development of software for drivers, OS etc. In some cases, the software can be available even before silicon is ready. For example, in mobile / wireless, Motorola used a virtual platform to port their RTOS to a new DSP architecture. They compiled and ran the RTOS without the need for hardware, prevented software issues with the cascading interrupt controller hardware design, and ensured that the RTOS was ready when silicon arrived.
Also, advanced ESL tools provide unprecedented visibility and controllability, supporting faster debug than is possible with hardware prototypes. For more on this topic, please see the ARM Community Blog: Virtual Platforms Accelerate Embedded Software Development.
For example, one wireless device team used a virtual platform for software development for a large multi-core multimedia project, and achieved board bring-up of the entire software stack in 1 day! In this case, the virtual platform for a next-generation HD Video Processor was deployed broadly within the software development group…which would not have been possible with hardware evaluation boards! The software team in wireless developed and tested driver software; uncovering problems that would have caused significant bring-up delays and possible silicon iterations. Result: they met their time-to-market goals.
In another case, for cell phone stack test coverage, a Motorola mobile phone test team ran 2G and 3G wireless network scenarios over their stack software: booting up the RTOS, with 2G and 3G camp, and data calls.
But certainly, the advantages of ESL development are not yet enjoyed by all…..so let’s look at what is stopping the uptake of virtual platforms and how to overcome these factors.
OVERCOMING BARRIERS TO DEPLOYMENT
We all know that some barriers are economic: tool budgets are difficult in these challenging times! What makes an effective solution are flexible business models for affordable adoption and deployment of virtual platforms across the entire team of SoC, software and systems developers, and even to downstream development partners.
What if, as in the case of the Freescale Vybrid™ controller with dual ARM® Cortex™ cores, a virtual platform is available even before silicon? And what if Freescale customers could adopt the ESL platform to start development early? Now imagine if the customer of that customer could access the ESL platform as well, affordably?
You can view a short demo of the Freescale Vybrid virtual platform.
Virtual platforms can indeed deliver ROI across the value chain and downstream customers of silicon suppliers, but the business model needs to support this. The cost per seat must be in line with software development tools, as opposed to typical EDA vendor tools, for wide adoption.
When IP providers supply early virtual platforms for their IP, they help drive design wins. IP customers can select the right IP, get an early start on their own hardware and software product development, design more competitive products, and accelerate time to market.
For example, I know of a Japanese automotive semiconductor company who works closely with its Tier 1 customers to define new custom SoCs, as is common in this market. The semiconductor provider and its customers use ESL modeling and virtual platform technology to define and validate the MPU requirements, together, accelerating the architecture phase, IP development, software development and software/hardware delivery.
Meeting supply chain needs also involves interoperability, compatibility, standards and ease of use. To unify and accelerate development across the value chain, the technology behind the virtual platform must be truly standards-based. An effective technical solution for ESL modeling includes a rich library of standard SystemC models IP, SoC and standards (like CAN, AutoSAR, FlexRay, etc.) as well as model development tools, and support for standard SystemC models from any and all sources. Models need to be at the right level of abstraction, with the performance suitable for embedded software development. The ESL simulator must also be standard, fast, easy to use and well-supported. Users should avoid getting locked into non-standard solutions (like many of the first generation virtual platforms) which are subject to major switching costs. Debuggers must be flexible and extensible; able to support a variety of industry debuggers. Flow integration with co-simulation tools is also a key capability.
And to ensure success in deploying virtual platform technology across the value chain, the virtual platform should be easy to use, with great support and global consulting expertise available.
Virtual platforms not only accelerate development, they can significantly help the end products succeed in their markets. At one automotive company, a CAN router project used a virtual platform, simulator, and CAN support, to optimize software performance and accelerate development. The design team brought up 50,000 lines of embedded software in less than a day, and improved software performance, resulting in a more competitive product.
For an interesting look at the ROI for virtual platforms, you may want to take a look at this short 4 minute video.
MORE ON VIRTUAL PLATFORMS
Explore the buzz! If you work on embedded software or systems, and want to accelerate development, or need early access to hardware IP, ARM cores, Freescale Vybrid, and other platforms, virtual prototyping is certainly a technology to investigate. You can view a short video on the advantages of virtual platforms from VWorks.
Attending ARM TechCon 2012? VWorks will be demonstrating multi-core ARM-based virtual platform solutions featuring VLAB™ at the event, so be sure to visit us there!
And, to find out more, visit VWorks at www.vworks.com.
Guest Partner Blogger:
ARM welcomes its wealth of Partners in the ARM Connected Community (CC) to submit guest blogs to be published on our multiple community blogs. If interested in participating please submit email inquiries to Tell.Us@arm.com.
The ARM Connected Community (CC) is an extensive ecosystem covering all aspects of ARM processor-based design, from chip implementation through to system and device design. The CC provides a platform for collaborative innovation, with multiple types of forums for members to work with one another, and with customers, to solve industry challenges, all with the purpose of enabling designers to focus on differentiating features and an accelerated time-to-market for ARM powered solutions.
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