September 15, 2008
EDA: The Promise & The Challenge
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The number of people now doing design with programmable devices in the presence of a worldwide community of design peers means, “We’ve increased the number of innovators and dramatically increased the base. And, because they’re new entrants, they’re more culturally aware and better risk takers,” Rhines said.
Hence, the market for design tools and opportunities for innovation in electronics and semiconductor-based products is nowhere near the end. There are 500,000 designers worldwide today, per Rhines’ definition. Extrapolating forward, he said we can expect to see 5 million designers hard at work by 2030.
“Has the market reached maturity?” Rhines asked his audience, and answered his own question: “There are more than 200 companies in China alone developing cell phones, drivers, protocols, and differentiated products to meet various geographic niches!”
As always when Rhines is at the podium, it’s hard to avoid the contagion of his enthusiasm for the future. He said between the need for earlier architectural exploration of product specifications, better verification of increasingly complex systems, ferocious demand for more robust, low-power devices, the pursuit of reduced manufacturing variability despite increased analog and mixed-signal content on-chip, and emerging markets with an appetite for regionally differentiated features – not to mention the drive to higher levels of abstraction and
system-level optimization – it’s patently clear that for the semiconductor and electronics industries, and the EDA industry in particular, the best days are indeed still ahead.
Rabaey: Immersion computing …
Jan Rabaey spoke at
CDNLive in Silicon Valley last Tuesday morning. He predicted that someday every individual on the planet will be connected to the rest of the human “network” by 1000 radios, or more. Immersed in data, we will constitute a massive “societal IT system … a complex collection of sensors, controllers, computer and storage nodes, and actuators that work together to improve our daily lives.”
To achieve this Nirvana of connectivity, Rabaey said we’ll need a highly beefed-up infrastructional core, seamless mobile access everywhere and anywhere, and sensory swarms – this last thing being a good thing, not a bad thing like swarms of mosquitoes, bees, or yellowjackets.
The infrastructional challenge, per Rabaey, is defined by its appetite for storage, computing, and fast networking – and the requisite power needed to drive it all. The mobility challenge requires an extension of today’s ubiquitous cell phone, which Rabaey said will soon emerge as everybody’s “personal communication and computation device of choice.” He said this level of mobility will come to fruition based on yesterday and today’s work in low-power design, and tomorrow’s research into multi-core platforms.
Finally, Rabaey said that, although a “true immersion architecture is still out of reach,” buckle your seatbelts because the ride’s about to get really exciting. Reprising his extensive talk last June at DAC’08, Rabaey said the most sci-fi part of his vision will ultimately materialize when we’ve got brain and neurological links into the human/electronic uber-grid. Rabaey noted that humans constitute 10-to-15 percent of the biomass, as do ants, but ants are less complex, more redundant, and more resilient than humans.
Happily, Rabaey concluded, “humans are not a bad system either”, we’re just not as well synced as the ants. But, with further integration, multi-cores, nanotechnology, packaging breakthroughs and more low power, we’ll be in better sync soon – if Rabaey and Alberto Sangionvanni-Vincentelli, who Rabaey frequently referenced in his talk – have anything to say about it. Total immersion computing will need complex, reliable, heterogeneous systems, but we’ll only get there by designing to
system-level metrics – some of which we may not yet even understand.
It’s system-level to the rescue – so think “outside the box,” Rabaey told his audience.
Blyler: Green power …
Chip Design Executive Editor
John Blyer moderated an hour-long panel, also last Tuesday, at a by-invitation-only Press lunch in San Jose. Cisco sent
Nikhil Jayaram, IBM sent
Juan Antonio Caballo, Cal Berkeley sent
Jan Rabaey, Cadence sent
Ted Vucurevich, and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group sent
Carl Guardino to populate the panel. They all had pretty rational things to say.
Caballo said IBM’s busy partnering with well over 100 different entities to figure out how the world can get more green. He said there’s lots of low-hanging fruit when it comes to applying adaptive-systems strategies to help power companies with their load balancing, and IBM consulting services are hard at work helping to pluck that fruit.
Rabaey said it’s all about getting information out to the users and letting folks know how expensive their power is at different times during the night and day. Hence, they’ll know when to run the laundry. He also mentioned government rules and regulations can help get things greener and cleaner, faster.
Vucurevich said Cadence has recently learned how to project hardware models into the software domain, which will help optimize energy consumption when the hardware and software are married together in the end. He also said, “Energy efficiency and better utilization of resources requires a holistic view.”
Guardino reported that 275 Silicon Valley employers are now in his organization, working together via conferences, confabs, and commitment to improve the energy ecosystem, and noted the
Wall Street Journal that very day had commended IBM and HP for working on their data-center power efficiencies.
But, Guardino also pointed out that only 1.5 percent of the energy consumption in the U.S. (at least, in 2006) was attributable to corporate data centers. Although 10 new power plants will be needed by 2011 to meet the growing data-center energy demand nationwide, the real carbon-footprint offender continues to be the automobile and its darn combustion engine.
Jayaram acknowledged that Cisco’s been slow on the uptake when it comes to jumping on the we’re-all-in-this-together, save-the-planet, energy-efficiency bandwagon, but they’re on board now and wanting to do all they can to improve their own carbon footprint, not to mention the carbon footprint of their customers. Cisco is attacking things through virtualization, Jayaram said, and got nods of approval from Cadence sitting to his right.
[Sitting in the audience through all of this, I thought it might have been a small, but symbolic gesture to turn off the 3 chandeliers, 12 wall sconces, and 2 huge high-intensity flood lights illuminating the room, considering the topic at hand. If there’s ever a panel about reducing energy consumption that’s only illuminated by candlelight, I’ll know we’ve finally arrived.]
Meanwhile, the whole panel was adamant is responding to a question about the role of government in mandating change. First of all, they all reiterated, it’s not semiconductor-based products that are the problem; it’s cars. And, more importantly, governments cannot mandate a solution. The free-market-proponent panel members all insisted that only their customers’ demands for more energy efficient products can ultimately motivate the solution to this most daunting of societal problems.
More inclusively, John Blyler got high marks for pointing out that only through
system-level design and multi-disciplinary thinking from constituencies as diverse as chip and board designers, EDA, semiconductor, enterprise and consumer product companies, can we hope beat this energy beast into submission.
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-- Peggy Aycinena, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.
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