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Internet of Things (IoT) and EDA

Gabe Moretti, Contributing Editor

A number of companies contributed to this article.  In Particular: Apache Design Solutions, ARM, Atrenta, Breker Verification Systems, Cadence, Cliosoft, Dassault Systemes, Mentor Graphics, Onespin Solutions, Oski Technologies, and Uniquify.

In his keynote speech at the recent CDNLive Silicon Valley 2014 conference, Lip-Bu Tan, Cadence CEO, cited mobility, cloud computing, and Internet of Things as three key growth drivers for the semiconductor industry. He cited industry studies that predict 50 billion devices by 2020.  Of those three, IoT is the latest area attracting much conversation.  Is EDA ready to support its growth?

The consensus is that in many aspects EDA is ready to provide tools required for IoT implementation.  David Flynn, a ARM Fellow put it best.  “For the most part, we believe EDA is ready for IoT.  Products for IoT are typically not designed on ‘bleeding-edge’ technology nodes, so implementation can benefit from all the years of development of multi-voltage design techniques applied to mature semiconductor processes.”

Michael Munsey, Director of ENOVIA Semiconductor Strategy at Dassault Systèmes observed that conversely companies that will be designing devices for IoT may not be ready.  “Traditional EDA is certainly ready for the core design, verification, and implementation of the devices that will connect to the IoT.  Many of the devices that will connect to the IoT will not be the typical designs that are pushing Moore’s Law.  Many of the devices may be smaller, lower performance devices that do not necessarily need the latest and greatest process technology.  To be cost effective at producing these devices, companies will rely heavily on IP in order to assemble devices quickly in order to meet consumer and market demands.  In fact, we may begin to see companies that traditionally have not been silicon developers getting in to chip design. We will see an explosive growth in the IP ecosystem of companies producing IP to support these new devices.”

Vic Kulkarni, Senior VP and GM, Apache Design, Inc.  put it as follows: “There is nothing “new or different” about the functionality of EDA tools for the IoT applications, and EDA tool providers have to think of this market opportunity from a perspective of mainstream users, newer licensing and pricing model for “mass market”, i.e.  low-cost and low-touch technical support, data and IP security and the overall ROI.”

But IoT also requires new approaches to design and offers new challenges.  David Kelf, VP of Marketing at Onespin Solutions provided a picture of what a generalized IoT component architecture is likely to be.

Figure 1: generalized IoT component architecture (courtesy Onespin Solutions)

He went on to state: “The included graphic shows an idealized projection of the main components in a general purpose IoT platform. At a minimum, this platform will include several analog blocks, a processor able to handle protocol stacks for wireless communication and the Internet Protocol (IP). It will need some sensor-required processing, an extremely effective power control solution, and possibly, another capability such as GPS or RFID and even a Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G Baseband.”

Jin Zhang, Senior Director of Marketing at Oski Technologies observed that “If we parse the definition of IoT, we can identify three key characteristics:

  1. IoT can sense and gather data automatically from the environment
  2. IoT can interact and communicate among themselves and the environment
  3. IoT can process all the data and perform the right action with or without human interaction

These imply that sensors of all kinds for temperature, light, movement and human vitals, fast, stable and extensive communication networks, light-speed processing power and massive data storage devices and centers will become the backbone of this infrastructure.

The realization of IoT relies on the semiconductor industry to create even larger and more complex SoC or Network-on-Chip devices to support all the capabilities. This, in turn, will drive the improvement and development of EDA tools to support the creation, verification and manufacturing of these devices, especially verification where too much time is spent on debugging the design.”

Power Management

IoT will require advanced power management and EDA companies are addressing the problem.  Rob Aitken, also a ARM fellow, said:” We see an opportunity for dedicated flows around near-threshold and low voltage operation, especially in clock tree synthesis and hold time measurement. There’s also an opportunity for per-chip voltage delivery solutions that determine on a chip-by-chip basis what the ideal operation voltage should be and enable that voltage to be delivered via a regulator, ideally on-chip but possibly off-chip as well. The key is that existing EDA solutions can cope, but better designs can be obtained with improved tools.”

Kamran Shah, Director of Marketing for Embedded Software at Mentor Graphics, noted: “SoC suppliers are investing heavily in introducing power saving features including Dynamic Voltage Frequency Scaling (DVFS), hibernate power saving modes, and peripheral clock gating techniques. Early in the design phase, it’s now possible to use Transaction Level Models (TLM) tools such as Mentor Graphics Vista to iteratively evaluate the impact of hardware and software partitioning, bus implementations, memory control management, and hardware accelerators in order to optimize for power consumption”

Figure 2: IoT Power Analysis (courtesy of Mentor Graphics)

Bernard Murphy, Chief Technology Officer at Atrenta, pointed out that: “Getting to ultra-low power is going to require a lot of dark silicon, and that will require careful scenario modeling to know when functions can be turned off. I think this is going to drive a need for software-based system power modeling, whether in virtual models, TLM (transaction-level modeling), or emulation. Optimization will also create demand for power sensitivity analysis – which signals / registers most affect power and when. Squeezing out picoAmps will become as common as squeezing out microns, which will stimulate further automation to optimize register and memory gating.”

Verification and IP

Verifying either one component or a subset of connected components will be more challenging.  Components in general will have to be designed so that they can be “fixed” remotely.  This means either fix a real bug or download an upgrade.  Intel is already marketing such a solution which is not restricted to IoT applications.Also networks will be heterogeneous by design, thus significantly complicating verification.

Ranjit Adhikary, Director of Marketing at Cliosoft, noted that “From a SoC designer’s perspective, “Internet of Things” means an increase in configurable mixed-signal designs. Since devices now must have a larger life span, they will need to have a software component associated with them that could be upgraded as the need arises over their life spans. Designs created will have a blend of analog, digital and RF components and designers will use tools from different EDA companies to develop different components of the design. The design flow will increasingly become more complex and the handshake between the digital and analog designers in the course of creating mixed-signal designs has to become better. The emphasis on mixed-signal verification will only increase to ensure all corner cases are caught early on in the design cycle.”

Thomas L. Anderson, Vice President of Marketing at Breker Verification Systems, has a similar prospective but he is more pessimistic.  He noted that “Many IoT nodes will be located in hard-to-reach places, so replacement or repair will be highly unlikely. Some nodes will support software updates via the wireless network, but this is a risky proposition since there’s not much recourse if something goes wrong. A better approach is a bulletproof SoC whose hardware, software, and combination of the two have been thoroughly verified. This means that the SoC verification team must anticipate, and test for, every possible user scenario that could occur once the node is in operation.”

One solution, according to Mr. Anderson, is “automatic generation of C test cases from graph-based scenario models that capture the design intent and the verification space. These test cases are multi-threaded and multi-processor, running realistic user scenarios based on the functions that will be provided by the IoT nodes containing the SoC. These test cases communicate and synchronize with the UVM verification components (UVCs) in the testbench when data must be sent into the chip or sent out of the chip and compared with expected results.”

Bob Smith, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business development at Uniquify, noted that “Connecting the unconnected is no small challenge and requires complex and highly sophisticated SoCs. Yet, at the same time, unit costs must be small so that high volumes can be achieved. Arguably, the most critical IP for these SoCs to operate correctly is the DDR memory subsystem. In fact, it is ubiquitous in SoCs –– where there’s a CPU and the need for more system performance, there’s a memory interface. As a result, it needs to be fast, low power and small to keep costs low.  The SoC’s processors spend the majority of cycles reading and writing to DDR memory. This means that all of the components, including the DDR controller, PHY and I/O, need to work flawlessly as does the external DRAM memory device(s). If there’s a problem with the DDR memory subsystem, such as jitter, data/clock skew, setup/hold time or complicated physical implementation issues, the IoT product may work intermittently or not at all. Consequently, system yield and reliability are of upmost concern.”

He went on to say: “The topic may be the Internet of Things and EDA, but the big winners in the race for IoT market share will be providers of all kinds of IP. The IP content of SoC designs often reaches 70% or more, and SoCs are driving IoT, connecting the unconnected. The big three EDA vendors know this, which is why they have gobbled up some of the largest and best known IP providers over the last few years.”

Conclusion

Things that seem simple often turn out not to be.  Implementing IoT will not be simple because as the implementation goes forward, new and more complex opportunities will present themselves.

Vic Kulkarni said: “I believe that EDA solution providers have to go beyond their “comfort zone” of being hardware design tool providers and participate in the hierarchy of IoT above the “Devices” level, especially in the “Gateway” arena. There will be opportunities for providing big data analytics, security stack, efficient protocol standard between “Gateway” and “Network”, embedded software and so on. We also have to go beyond our traditional customer base to end-market OEMs.”

Frank Schirrmeister, product marketing group director at Cadence, noted that “The value chain for the Internet of Things consists not only of the devices that create data. The IoT also includes the hubs that collect data and upload data to the cloud. Finally, the value chain includes the cloud and the big data analytics it stores.  Wired/wireless communications glues all of these elements together.”

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