November 24, 2015, anysilicon
For decades, EDA industry has been working out options to improve their offerings and ensure silicon success for the semiconductor industry. A few decades back, while the EDA giants were unknown, design automation was exercised individually in every organization developing a product. Gradually these tools moved out of the design houses and the ‘make vs buy’ decision carved a new league with EDA front runners. Talking specifically about verification, while the simulation tools were procured from outside, the in house CAD groups were still required to develop a flow for automation, self checking, regression management and data analysis. In the last decade, all of this came up as a package from EDA vendors thereby further squeezing the CAD teams in the design houses. So, what next? Well, the recent acquisitions in this space i.e. Cadence acquiring Denali, Synopsys acquiring nSys and ExpertIO indicate where we are heading. Initially the VIP providers were able to sustain with licensing and basic verification support model but now the pressure is surmounting as VIPs get commoditized. The VIP only vendors will have to identify themselves either with the EDA vendors or with Design service providers wherein the VIPs complement other offerings. Before moving ahead let’s discuss what is a VIP?
What is a VIP?
A Verification IP is a standalone ‘plug and play’ verification component that enables the verification engineer in verifying the relevant DUT (design under test) module at block, sub system and SoC level. Based on the need, the VIP can act as a BFM to drive DUT signals or MONITOR the signals and VALIDATE them for correctness and data integrity. It may have a set of protocol CHECKERS and test scenarios to confirm compliance with the standards (if any) or COVER groups identifying corner cases and test completeness. VIPs are developed using HDLs or HVLs with standard methodology or as a set of assertions. It needs to have enough APIs providing flexibility for modifying the internal units as per DUT. User should be able to extend the available monitors, scoreboard and checker hooks while developing a verification environment around this VIP. Ease of developing scenarios at different levels using available functions and sequences is important in minimizing the verification turn around cycle. Quick integration with other tools like coverage, simulate, debug and transaction analysis is critical in successfully deploying the VIP. Finally the most crucial is the support provided by the VIP vendor to the user in responding to issues and upgrading the VIP as the standards evolve.
The common VIPs available include –
– MIPI protocols like DSI, CSI, HSI, SlimBus, Unipro, DigRF & RFFE.
– Bus protocols like AXI, AHB, APB, OCP & AMBA4.
– Interfaces like PCIexpress, USB2.0, USB3.0, Interlaken, RapidIO, JTAG, CAN, I2C, I2S, UART & SPI.
– Memory models & protocol checkers for SD/SDIO, SATA, SAS, ATAPI, DDR2/DDR3, LPDDR etc.
Companies providing the above VIPs fall into one of the below categories –
– EDA vendors
– VIP only providers (some of them offering IPs also)
– Design services companies
Although, there is a lot of IP development still continuing with the design houses, the motivation to procure VIP from outside is much higher for obvious reasons.
While the increasing demand of VIPs would drive more participants to enter this space, there are significant challenges to come up with a decent VIP portfolio.
Challenges for new entrants
– Which protocol(s)/standard(s)? SoC design houses are well aware of their requirements, but any other entity wanting to invest in developing the VIPs to license further needs to engage with potential customer(s) and build the team with right skill set accordingly.
– Which HVL and Methodology? Starting with an early customer helps in resolving this. However the risk is that the other potential customers may want a different HVL & Methodology. The current trends indicate that development with SV (IEEE 1800) and UVM is a safe bet.
– Expertise with domain/protocol and VIP development? Building a team without a design partner would mean bringing in domain experts along with VIP developers. Further the team needs to be around after implementation so as to work with customers for VIP deployment, fix bugs, modify based on customer requirement and upgrade as the standards evolve.
– How to validate the VIP? Initial clean up may involve short circuiting the Master & Slave agents of the VIP. To prove it golden, either it has to be validated with an already available golden VIP in the market (added cost) or working with a strategic customer who is willing to try out this solution on the already available golden IP or IP under development. Note that it takes significant cycles for the VIP to mature.
– Inter operability with tools? Once the VIP is working with one set of tools, it is important to evaluate it with other simulators. Porting of the VIPs to work on the emulators and formal tools (if applicable) should be planned next. Note that all tool vendors have alliance programs to facilitate such requirements.
– Additional cost? Apart from engineering & tool cost, membership to the standard bodies contributes to additional cost. Members are required to pay yearly fees for adopting the standard to develop a commercial product.
If new comers have a challenge to enter this arena, what should the existing partners of this ecosystem do?
When the focus is on rolling out SoCs, investing into in-house development of a VIP for standard protocol(s) doesn’t help in adding any differentiation to the end product. VIP development would incur cost towards tool licenses and engineers during and after development as resources would be required to support multiple projects deploying the VIP, fix bugs and upgrade the VIP as standards evolve at a fast pace. For big design houses getting a good deal with vendors would clearly direct ‘buy’ decision. For startups, utilizing resources to get the product out faster is more important than investing into VIP development. Getting into strategic engagement with VIP providers is a better solution.
Investing into VIP makes perfect sense for the EDA vendors for multiple reasons.
– The cost of development reduces with the tool sets available in house.
– The licensing model for the VIP is same as that of tools and complements the product portfolio quite well.
– The sales channel can be reused since the customer base is same.
– If the solution has limited competition it can open up sockets with new customers while making sure that the design houses sticking to vendor specific flow are maintained.
– The VIP(s) can be used as a test vehicle for validating the tools.
– With cloud computing picking up, a strong VIP portfolio will help in offering cloud based verification services quite easily.
Design Service Providers
For design service providers, it is good to invest in VIP development as it complements the services offered. Since they work with both SoC integrators and EDA vendors it makes sense for them to get into partnerships with either or both of these parties instead of developing a solution standalone. Sub system as an IP shall pick up soon. This is where the design services companies should invest by building a complete verification environment and test suite to verify these sub systems while partnering with the IP & VIP providers.
Changing landscape ….
Verification has been the forte for India. Whether to get the right skill set or reduce cost, the verification engineers from India have been involved at all levels i.e. VIP development, IP verification or SoC verification. Geographically, the changing landscape on the VIPs point the efforts to be converging from SoC integrators, EDA vendors and Design service providers in India.
This a guest post by Gaurav Jalan, general chair at DVCON India