SANTA CLARA, Calif. Electronic system level (ESL) design tools and methodologies have value, but many capabilities have yet to be developed, according to users and vendor representatives at a panel at the DesignCon 2006 conference here Wednesday (Feb. 8).
The panel was entitled "The bottom-line business impact of ESL: getting the right architecture right." Moderator Daya Nadamuni, analyst at Gartner Dataquest, described three ESL design methodologies identified by Dataquest algorithmic, processor/memory, and control logic.
Jack Donovan, co-founder of training firm ESLX, said that customers are looking for requirements traceability, early software development, reuse of verification models, and behavioral synthesis.
But there are obstacles, he noted. Software, hardware, and architectural groups have to learn to work as a team, even though some of these organizations may be subcontractors. Who's going to do software development on a prototype, Donovan asked, if software engineers are already working on the next project?
"The biggest impediments are not technical. It's how to change the organization of companies to handle this sort of thing," Donovan said.
Terry Doherty, principal engineer at Emulex, discussed his company's use of transaction-level modeling in SystemC. He called for better tool integration, a SystemC-aware debugger, and statistical tools that can profile software and report where it's spending the most time.
Doherty also observed that transaction-level models, which might provide 50,000 or 100,000 cycles/second, are still not fast enough for hardware/software co-simulation. He'd like to be in the million cycles/second range, similar to large, expensive emulation systems.
ESL is allowing people to focus on what they're building, as opposed to how to build it, said Emil Girczyc, CEO of Summit Design. "What we see with ESL is that people are focusing more on the front end. They're replacing intuition with analysis," he said.
Ultimately, Girczyc said, ESL design will look more like PCB design than IC design, because it will be dealing with larger and larger blocks. Girczyc noted, however, that there are many "flavors" of transaction-level modeling, and said that an agreed-upon level of abstraction is needed.
ESL builds another layer of abstraction on top of the current design flow, said Rindert Schutten, director of system-level solutions for Synopsys' verification group. But there are stiff requirements. Schutten said success calls for system-level intellectual property (IP), a "unified" ESL-to-RTL verification methodology, and a "predictable" ESL to RTL implementation flow.
"Integrated debug environments for SystemC are a precursor to having a full ESL flow," Schutten said. "We are working with IP vendors to make sure IP blocks fit into this flow."
Vojin Zivojnovic, vice president for ESL tools at ARM Inc., noted the lack of profiling tools and a standard debugger interface. "We need to move to collaboration and towards complete solutions," he said. "We need to overcome the competition mentality, so everybody doesn't have their own way to connect an ARM model to a software debugger."
Zivojnovic noted that ARM's cycle-approximate models don't have a SystemC interface, because that's not where software development takes place.
Consultant Brian Bailey issued a challenge from the audience. "I'm hearing nothing about system-level design," he said. "I'm hearing hardware guys talk about how to move up in abstraction." It's no improvement, Bailey said, to change the design flow so software developers finish their work before an architecture is defined.
Girczyc and Schutten responded that, in real-world situations, a great deal of software and hardware is reused from previous projects.
Gary Smith, chief analyst at Gartner Dataquest, spoke from the audience to note that systems engineers will be neither software nor hardware designers, but will have an ability to make tradeoffs in both domains.
"Until we can get the software guys to talk to both the architecture guys and the hardware guys, we're not going to get the full impact of ESL," said Donovan.