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 What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

Imperas: from Today to Tomorrow, with Intent

 
December 8th, 2015 by Peggy Aycinena


Simon Davidmann and the Imperas team are based near Oxford in the UK.
Nonetheless, Davidmann is a regular at Silicon Valley events throughout the year. (Wouldn’t you like to know how many frequent flyer miles that represents?)

I spoke with Davidmann during one of his recent visits to Northern California. Per usual, the conversation was unscripted and informative; I asked for an update on Imperas, and Davidmann started at 35,000 feet.

“Let’s start with a bigger picture than just the company,” he suggested. “I said a long time ago that the challenge yesterday, today and tomorrow in technology is for people to move more towards the software and away from a strictly hardware-centric point of view. And that transition, of course, comes with the requirement that there be far fewer bugs in the software. Particularly if we expect mission critical apps to be dependable.

“However, reducing the number of bugs has never been easy, and is only getting more difficult as the software in systems becomes more complex – particularly as the systems themselves become larger and larger.

“This exponential increase in the complexity of embedded software means that the old, tried-and-true methods for debugging have become unworkable – in fact, they are broken.

“Meanwhile, we all know that the risk of not doing debug correctly is a total game changer. Products that ship with buggy software don’t work, and the companies behind those products fail. This is not just hyperbole – new methods are needed yesterday!”

Perhaps easier said than done, so I asked: “Exactly how does the worldwide software supply chain go about discovering and implementing these new and crucial methods?”

Again Davidmann went meta: “Let’s go back to our roots in EDA, a place where it’s all about the methodology. We all know that when someone wants to build a chip, the starting point is always the methodology.

“And that methodology cannot be just about the design. It also has to include the verification, something that has to happen all the way along during the design process, and not just as an afterthought. That’s the absolute reality in product design today.”

“Is that also the case in software?” Davidmann asked rhetorically. “Absolutely! To say otherwise is simply incorrect.

“And it doesn’t matter how many times people say that in the software world, changes can be implemented right up to the last day before product release. It doesn’t matter that people take comfort in the fact that software is so easily changed, that regression farms and the relative ease of testing make changes simple and fast.

“The attitude that software doesn’t need testing along the way is highly inaccurate. Yet only now are people beginning to realize that.

“And that’s where Imperas comes in. For a long time, we were a lone voice calling out in the wilderness, trying to get the industry to recognize the need for in-stream software verification. But only now people are finally comprehending the message – something we definitely celebrate.

“Today a lot of people are talking about it, with customers the world over becoming increasing aware of the risks associated with not verifying the software component of a design along the way toward product completion.

“Not surprisingly now, we have customers coming to us asking for more ‘traditional’ verification solutions, the types of tools and methodologies long respected in hardware. At Imperas we are sitting in exactly the right place to meet those requests.”

I asked, “Given that there’s still a powerful disconnect between hardware and software design, how does Imperas travel in both worlds?”

Davidmann said, “There was a survey done by the VDC in 2014 that concluded that people who work at the system level recognize that a continuous integration between hardware and software design yields enormous benefits. If the VDC know this, certainly the semiconductor world now knows this.

“What we are seeing today is that the big companies – those companies whose products make them household names even outside of the semiconductor supply chain – are focusing more and more on the software. They understand the critical impact of this continuous integration mindset.

“Again, what we at Imperas have known for years is now being embraced by the market. As a result, we are seeing more and more opportunities, and shorter and short eval times for our design kits and tools. People are in a hurry now and we are working to meet their reduced time frames.”

As Davidmann is the founder of the Open Virtual Platforms consortium, I asked about the relevance of that initiative to his evangelizing for mid-stream software verification.

He said, “That’s our contribution to the industry, OVP as a way to open up the approach for model building. At the same time, OVP helps to move the industry away from the closed, proprietary solutions to software verification that cause so many headaches for system developers.

“Of course, OVP also engages with the IPXact standards, so many other people are contributing to the effort. Using IPXact and promoting OVP are both part of a positive evolution in the industry, and part of the larger global move to open source.

“In fact, Imagination Technologies thinks OVP is so important, they are publicly discussing their use of the methodology – and as you know, such huge semiconductor companies rarely want to admit to any of their tools or methodologies, but Imagination considers it their contribution to the industry to talk about it.

“A couple of years ago, Imagination took the OVP models of MIPS, and gave them to hardware designers who used them to develop virtualization technology for helping to architect the next generation of MIPS processors. These were then used by software developers who have used OVP to build the new hypervisor technologies, which were then available several full years before the design went to silicon.

“OVP’s use in the commercial sector can really be seen as a success. And it is also worth noting that worldwide over 200 universities are using it as well, which of course means another generation of engineers and designers will soon be entering into the commercial sector well trained and ready to make even further use of all that OVP has to offer.

“At Imperas, we are delighted to see so many smart people getting involved. We think that not only is this all about new methodologies for today, but it’s about the future of design as well.”

Davidmann concluded with a larger vision: “The semiconductor industry today consists of an extremely complex ecosystem, full of inter-related players that cover the gamut from 800-pound gorillas to tiny minnows, voracious sharks, and everything in between.

“If you choose to see it as a game, the whole chip design solution space is huge. But even though that ecosystem is complex – and that’s what humans do best, they add more and more layers of complexity – it’s still very exciting and tremendously fulfilling to see our hard work is paying off.

“There’s a huge application space for everything that Imperas offers – everything from social networking, to the IoT, to apps that can move around with the cars on which they’re loaded. The complexity is exhilarating, as are the opportunities.

“However, if we really want to make the kind of progress that everyone wants to see over the next 10-to-20 years, we need to pay attention now to this very difficult challenge of software complexity. Something that we have known about at Imperas, respected, and labored away on for many years – and intend to keep on with, in a similar vein of contribution, for many more years to come.”

Ending on a characteristically optimistic note, Davidmann added: “It’s astonishing what we can do as humans when we pull together!”


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September 2015: Pushimg the envelope

Imperas Software announced the release of the second generation of the Open Virtual Platforms (OVP) APIs for building virtual platforms, additional Fast Processor Models, new models for popular peripherals and new Extendable Platform Kits (EPKs).

Open Virtual Platforms is a website for the OVP APIs, for the OVP models and platforms, for the OVPsim simulator and for community discussion of virtual platforms on the OVP Forum. The OVP APIs are publicly available and not proprietary, and the models and platforms are available under the Apache Open Source License.

New to OVP:

* Support in the OVP APIs for unlimited hierarchy in virtual platforms
* Support in the OVP APIs for virtualized passing of packets between peripheral models
* ARC EM6 model
* SPARCv8 model (developed by Friedrich Alexander University)
* CAN, Ethernet and USB models
* Altera Cyclone III Nios II Linux and Cyclone V HPS Cortex-A9MPx2 Linux EPKs
* Freescale Kinetis Cortex-M4 MQX and Vybrid Cortex-A5 MQX EPKs
* Xilinx MicroBlaze ML505 Linux

The addition of the ARC, ARM and SPARC Fast Processor Models brings the total number of CPU models available from OVP to over 150. The performance for these models under a typical load is hundreds of millions of instructions per second, with peak performance of billions of instructions per second. The library of fast processor models includes models of ARM processors from the ARMv4 through the ARMv8 architecture, a complete set of MIPS models, plus models of Altera Nios II, ARC, PowerPC, Renesas, SPARC and Xilinx MicroBlaze cores.

Models are available with both C (OVP) interface and a C++ (SystemC) interfaces. Extendable Platform Kits are designed to help accelerate embedded software development, debug and test. EPKs are virtual platforms (simulation models), including processor models plus peripheral models necessary to boot an OS or run bare metal applications. The platform and peripheral models included in the EPKs are open source, so that users can easily add new models to the platform as well as modify the existing peripheral models. The example OS and/or applications are also included.


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