At DVCon 2013, the Wednesday morning panel, "Where Does Design End and Verification Begin?", included panelists from ARM, Mentor Graphics, Intel, Gary Smith EDA, and Real Intent. Several panelists mentioned that an application-oriented verification approach resulted in static techniques having a much more significant impact than in the past. They said it is becoming possible for designers to provide meaningful closure (sign-off) on a number of concerns before the design is handed over to the verification team. The biggest takeaway I heard from the audience was an appreciation of the amount of verification possible prior to simulation.
The idea of application-specific verification gives the EDA community the opportunity to develop tools that provide complete solutions to the well-defined verification concerns, rather than just tools that provide raw technologies that the user must then figure out how to apply. These complete solutions are, in fact, a synthesis of various technologies that have been around for many years, but their synthesis is enabled by the narrow scope of the verification concern being addressed. For example, structural analysis and formal analysis work very well together in addressing the clock-domain crossing (CDC) verification problem.
Smart structural analysis provides a baseline analysis of the design in the context of the narrow circuit idioms used to implement clock-domain crossings and creates a formal specification for the formal analysis tools to work on. The narrow scope of each verification concern along with the bringing together of multiple technologies in the solution allows many of these verification tasks to be completed pre-simulation (i.e. statically). This is an important, but not widely acknowledged, enhancement to existing design and verification processes.
The difficulty in extending the chip-design variant of formal methods to software is simple, yet it tends to get overlooked in discussions like this: Software changes at rates that are orders of magnitude faster than chip designs. This causes one of two things to happen rather quickly: Either the verification falls to pieces, or the verified set of software becomes pretty much useless due to its inability to compete. Because chip design generally addresses only a very narrow sliver of the full formal verification problem, I would respectfully suggest that more useful lessons might be learned by chip designers looking more closely at how formal methods are used (and not used) in nuclear reactors and commercial autopilot systems than vice-versa. Verification in systems subject to rapid change is a very, very hard topic, yet it is also one that more formalists need to recognize as the real problem they should be tackling.
As we unveil EE Times’ 2015 Silicon 60 list, journalist & Silicon 60 researcher Peter Clarke hosts a conversation on startups in the electronics industry. Panelists Dan Armbrust (investment firm Silicon Catalyst), Andrew Kau (venture capital firm Walden International), and Stan Boland (successful serial entrepreneur, former CEO of Neul, Icera) join in the live debate.