As yet another sign of the changing dynamics in the EDA industry, the VSI Alliance (VSIA) recently ceased operation. Another signpost of our industry will be no more. Over 11 years ago, the VSIA formed in response to an industry need for a commercially viable way to reuse chip hardware and-later- system-on-a-chip (SoC) software. Since that time, several other groups including Spirit and Si2 have evolved to address related issues and more. Not surprisingly, most of these groups share the same members. This limited pool of resources-compounded by budgetary cuts resulting from consolidation in the EDA industry as a whole- forced the closure of the VSIA. Several of the VSIA products- namely, the Quality IP metric and its encryption activities-may become IEEE standards in the future.
My first real exposure to the work of the VSIA came at DAC 2001-the last time DAC graced the sweltering deserts of Las Vegas, Nevada. At that time, a press luncheon was being held to announce the transition of the Open Measure of Reuse Excellence (OpenMORE) program from Mentor Graphics and Synopsys to the VSIA's Quality and Compliance Initiatives group. The goal of the OpenMORE assessment program was to provide a mature quality measure for the best design-reuse practices for IP.
It wasn't until a year later, as I was doing research for an article on system-level design, that the real importance of the VSIA became clear. At that time, the big buzz among system architects and designers was "platform-based design" or simply PBD. While PBD wasn't a new concept, the idea gained new supporters as a way to deal with the rising complexity of SoC designs. Platformbased designs evolved naturally from the growth of softwareoriented SoCs. These "platforms" were nothing more than layers of abstraction that communicate with each other through welldefined interfaces for hardware-dependent software (HdS). The key word here was "interface." Once the interface was well defined, software reuse in SoC designs could be truly realized. The VSIA was uniquely poised to shepherd these interface standards, as it had already done for hardware IP.
Platform-based design made a lot of sense to me. It resonated with my many years of experience as a hardware-software systems integrator and engineer. But the platform approach required the reuse of both hardware and software to be effective in reducing time-to-market challenges and cost. Of course, the idea of reuse isn't new. Indeed, it was a desire to reuse existing hardware that originally motivated the creation of software in the first place. It didn't take long for software programmers to discover the value of code reuse via shared libraries. Once SoCs became more complex, the reuse concept expanded to deal with chip-level designs, embedded software, and verification methodologies. But such a level of IP reuse only works if the requirements of integration and quality can be satisfied. The VSIA worked to address both of these challenges though the OpenMORE assessment program and the Quality IP metrics, respectively.
Over three years ago, the VSIA's focus on IP integration culminated in the launch of the Quality IP Metric (QIP). The QIP, which has been adopted by hundreds of companies, includes metrics for soft, hard, and verification IP. Perhaps even more importantly, it includes a vendor qualification metric. But this is now "ancient" history. The future of the thousands of man-hours of engineering work donated by EDA and semiconductor companies now lies in the hands of the IEEE transition team. I'm encouraged by the observations of Victor Berman, Chair of the IEEE Design Automation Standards Committee (DASC) and CEO of Improv Systems: "Their [VSIA] technology complements many IEEE system-on-chip design standards, so adding it to our [IEEE] standardization activities will benefit the electronics industry." But only time will tell the final outcome of the VSIA's legacy.
I think the most fitting words for the VSIA closure were penned by Kathy Werner, VSIA President and Freescale IP Manager: "Personally, it's a little sad to see the end of an era, but I've been honored to work with some of the best and brightest on these efforts. I'm proud of the contributions that VSI has made to the industry and I look forward to their continued evolution in changing the way companies do business." I wish everyone involved with VSIA-especially Susan Cain, the Executive Director-the very best in their next endeavors. As is often the truth, the end is but the beginning.