Engineers designing FPGA applications face many challenges. Using Plunify’s automation and analysis platform, engineers can run 100 times more builds, analyze a larger set of builds and quickly zoom in on better quality results. Using data analytics and the cloud, Plunify created new capabilities for FPGA design, with InTime being an example.
Kirvy Teo said: What happens when you need to close timing in FPGA design and still can’t get it to work? Here is a new way to solve that problem – machine learning and analytics. InTime is an expert software that helps FPGA design engineers meet timing and area goals by recommending “strategies”. Strategies are combination of settings found in the existing FPGA software. With more than 70 settings available in the FPGA software, no sane FPGA design engineer have the time or capacity to understand how these affect the design outcomes.
One of the common methods now is to try random bruteforce using seeds. This is a one-way street. If you get to your desired result, great! If not, you would have wasted a bunch of time running builds with you none the wiser. Another aspect of running seeds is that the variance of the results is usually not very big, meaning you can’t run seeds on a design with bad timing scores.
However, using InTime, all builds become part of the data that we used to recommend strategies that can give you better results, using machine learning and predictive analytics. This means you will definitely get a better answer at the end of the day, and we have seen 40 percent performance improvements on designs!
How has Plunify been doing this year so far? According to Teo, Plunify did a controlled release to selected customers in first quarter of 2014, who are mainly based in China. It is easier to guess who as we nicknamed them “BCC” – Big Chinese Corporations.
Unsurprisingly, they have different methodologies to solving timing problems and design guidelines, many of which were done to pre-empt timing problems at the later stage of the design. InTime was a great way to help them to achieve their performance targets without disrupting their tool flows.
Plunify is announcing the launch of InTime during DAC and will be looking to partner with sale organizations in US.
What’s the future path likely to be? Teo added: “Machine learning and predictive analytics are one of the hottest topics and we have yet seen it being used much in chip design. We see a lot of potential in this sector. Beyond what InTime is doing now, there are still many chip design problems that can be solved with similar techniques.
“First, there is a need to determine the type of problems that can be solved with these techniques. Second, we are re-looking at existing design problems and wondering, if I can throw 100 or 1000 machines to this problem, can I get a better result? Third, how to get that better result without even running it!
“As you know, we do offer a FPGA cloud platform on Amazon. One of the most surprising observations is that people do not know how to use all those cheap power in the cloud! FPGA design is still confined to a single machine for daily work, like email. Even if I give you 100 machines, you don’t know how to check your emails faster! We see the same thing, the only method they know is to run seeds. InTime is what they need to make use of all these resources intelligently.
Why would FPGA providers take up the solution?
The InTime software works as a desktop software which can be installed in internal data centers or desktops. It is on longer just a cloud play. It works with the current in-house FPGA software that the customer already own. We are helping FPGA providers like Xilinx or Altera, by helping their customers with the designs. They will feel: How about “Getting better results without touching your RTL code!”
I was pointed out to a piece of news on TV, where a ruling chief minister of an Indian state apparently announced that he could make a particular state of India another Silicon Valley! Interesting!!
First, what’s the secret behind Silicon Valley? Well, I am not even qualified enough to state that! However, all I can say is: it is probably a desire to do something very different, and to make the world a better place – that’s possibly the biggest driver in all the entrepreneurs that have come to and out of Silicon Valley in the USA.
If you looked up Wikipedia, it says that the term Silicon Valley originally referred to the region’s large number of silicon chip innovators and manufacturers, but eventually, came to refer to all high-tech businesses in the area, and is now generally used as a metonym for the American high-technology sector.
So, where exactly is India’s high-tech sector? How many Indian state governments have even tried to foster such a sector? Ok, even if the state governments tried to foster, where are the entrepreneurs? Ok, an even easier one: how many school dropouts from India or even smal-time entrepreneurs have even made a foray into high-tech?
Right, so where are the silicon chip innovators from India? Sorry, I dd not even hear a word that you said? Can you speak out a little louder? It seems there are none! Rather, there has been very little to no development in India, barring the work that is done by the MNCs. Correct?
One friend told me that Bangalore is a place that can be Silicon Valley. Really? How?? With the presence of MNCs, he said! Well, Silicon Valley in the US does not have MNCs from other countries, are there? Let’s see! Some companies with bases in Silicon Valley, listed on Wikipedia, include Adobe, AMD, Apple, Applied Materials, Cisco, Facebook, Google, HP, Intel, Juniper, KLA-Tencor, LSI, Marvell, Maxim, Nvidia, SanDisk, Xilinx, etc.
Now, most of these firms have setups in Bangalore, but isn’t that part of the companies’ expansion plans? Also, I have emails and requests from a whole lot of youngsters asking me: ‘Sir, please advice me which company should I join?’ Very, very few have asked me: ‘Sir, I have this idea. Is it worth exploring?’
Let’s face the truth. We, as a nation, so far, have not been one to take up challenges and do something new. The ones who do, or are inclined to do so, are working in one of the many MNCs – either in India or overseas.
So, how many budding entrepreneurs are there in India, who are willing to take the risk and plunge into serious R&D?
It really takes a lot to even conceive a Silicon Valley. It takes people of great vision to build something of a Silicon Valley, and not the presence of MNCs.
Just look at Hsinchu, in Taiwan, or even Shenzhen, in China. Specifically, look up Shenzhen Hi-Tech Industrial Park and the Hsinchu Science Park to get some ideas.
Xilinx Inc. has announced of its 20nm All Programmable UltraScale portfolio with product documentation and Vivado Design Suite support.
Neeraj Varma, director-Sales, India, Xilinx, said: “We are enabling All Programmable and smarter systems. We are using smart IP. We are aligning to produce smarter systems. We are helping customers to differentiate their products faster.
“In future, we will go with concurrent nodes with FPGAs, SoCs and 3D ICs. As per our estimates, 28nm will have a very long life. We shipped the 20nm device in early Nov. 2013. It complements 28nm or new high-performance architectures. 16nm complements 20nm with FinFET, multiprocessing, memory.”
Strategy execution has kept Xilinx a generation ahead. As of Dec. 2013, its 20nm portfolio is available to customers. There are two major announcements from Xilinx.
* Xilinx 20nm All Programmable UltraScale portfolio now available with ASIC-class architecture and ASIC-strength design solution.
* Xiilinx doubles industry’s highest capacity device to 4.4 mn logic, delivering density adantage, a full generation ahead.
KINTEX UltraSCALE – XCKU035, 040, 060, 075, 100, 115.
VIRTEX UltraSCALE – XCVU065, 080, 095, 125, 145, 160.
There is a family migration path. There is scalability for derivative applications. You can leverage PCB investment across platforms. It is future-proof with migration path to 16nm. For making these happen, Xilinx is using the TSMC 20SoC.
Varma added, “We have increased the logic cells in Kintex and Virtex, and added 100G Ethenet blocks and 150G Interlaken blocks.”
The second announcement – highest density in FPGAs in industry. The XCVU440 is the largest in the industry by 4X, a full generation ahead, and uses 50M equivalent ASIC gates. Xilinx is delivering an ASIC-class advantage through silicon, tools and methodology.
There is UltraSCALE ASIC-class architecture, and ASIC-class capabilities. There is also the Vivado ASIC-strength design suite.
UltraFAST is the design methodology. UltraSCALE will support networking, digital video and wireless.
Interconnect bottlenecks impede next generation performance.
* Routing delay dominates overall delay.
* Clock skew consumes more timing margin.
* Sub-optimal CLB packing reduces performance and utilization.
Varma added: “We have solved these issues – as UltraSCALE re-architects the core. There is 90 percent utilization now with maximum performance. We added next-generation routing, ASIC-like clocking – have clocks by segment, and logic cell packing.
“Block-level innovations optimize critical paths for massive bandwidth and processing. We are going to support DDR4, and there will be a lot more security features.”
The Vivado design suite accelerates productivity. Analytical placer solves the interconnect issue.
UltraSCALE apps include:
VIRTEX: 400G OTN switching, 400G transponder, 400G MAC-to-Interlaken bridge, 2x100G Muxponder, ASIC prototyping.
KINTEX: 4×4 mixed mode radio, 100G traffic manager NIC, super high-vision processing, 256-channel ultrasound, 48-channel T/R radar processing.
FPGAs serve highly diverse applications. Tailored devices are serving diverging market needs. According to Vince Hu, VP Product & Corporate Marketing, Altera Corp., next-generation portfolio involves an ideal mix of process technologies.
There is greater diversity and capabilities for the broadest range of applications. Finally, Altera has added the 55nm EmbFlash that extends Altera’s tailored approach. Hu was speaking at the 13th Globalpress Electronics Summit being held in Santa Cruz, USA.
Addressing needs of higher-volume systems is key. Industrial and automotive systems tend to be cost sensitive, low power and limited in broad areas. There is an increased pressure to innovate leading to a strong demand for programmable solutions with enhanced features. Altera is expanding the capabilities of non-volatile programmable logic devices (PLDs).
Altera is also bolstering high-volume system solutions. TSMC leading-edge embedded flash technology is a device tailored for high-volume applications. It adds more functionality to non-volatile PLDs. It also re-inforces Altera’s commitment to high-volume applications.
In addressing power/performance challenges, 20SoC is said to be the quickest path to next-generation process. It is tailored for a range of performance and bandwidth-critical applications. There is up to 60 percent lower power vs. 28nm. One of the latest results with 20SoC process is the first 32Gbps transceivers that are operating in 20nm silicon.
Currently, high-end applications are pushing the envelope. Intel’s 14nm tri-gate is said to be a game changer for FPGAs. Tri-gate
surrounds channel on the three sides. It increases channel performance and reduces power. Tri-gate is a proven, second- generation technology. The 14nm tri-gate maintains the Moore’s Law.
Driving toward 400G OTN systems
Altera has acquired OTN IP provider TPACK. It accelerates the company’s OTN roadmap and builds on the Avalon acquisition in 2010. OTN IP, combined with high-performance silicon, positions Altera for continued growth in the high-end networking market.
Tailored devices are now serving diverging market needs. It is an extension of Altera’s tailored approach. There are even greater diversity and capabilities, serving the broadest range of applications. A mixture of application-specific IP provides even greater tailored solutions. Altera is mixing the advanced FinFET process, traditional HKMG planar process and embedded flash technology.
Xilinx Inc. has announced solutions for significant and growing gaps in ASIC and ASSP offerings targeting next-generation smarter networks and data centers. It has been acquiring and developing a SmartCORE IP portfolio and a critical mass of application specialists and services that leverage Xilinx’s All Programmable FPGAs, SoCs, and 3D ICs.
To find out more about how are Xilinx’s solutions targeting growing ASIC and ASSP gaps for next-gen smarter networks and data centers, I spoke with Neeraj Varma, director, Sales-India, Xilinx. He said: “Over the past several years, Xilinx has been making a transition from the leading FPGA vendor to a provider of All Programmable Solutions for Smarter Systems. With its All Programmable 7 Series FPGAS, All Programmable SoCs and the VivadoTM Design Suite, Xilinx now offers a comprehensive set of solutions that provide end-to-end system implementation.
“Through strategic acquisitions, investments in silicon products and IP development, Xilinx has started to replace entire ASSPs and ASICs in the communications market by offering a complete IP cores portfolio which allows customers to design Smarter Systems for networking, communications and data center applications.
“Xilinx is calling this set of IP cores, SmartCORE IP, because they are the critical application-specific building blocks needed to develop smarter networking and communications systems. We are responding to market need and that need has accelerated recently as the viability of ASICs and more recently ASSPs have been severely challenged. Xilinx is a generation ahead in SoC and tools and its leadership at 28nm borne out with revenue ramp.”
Developing SmartCORE IP portfolio
What is meant by Xilinx acquiring and developing a SmartCORE IP portfolio and a critical mass of application specialists and services?
According to him, 28nm design process devices require a new and a different set of tools to exploit all the capabilities. That was one of the reasons for Xilinx to invest heavily in resources and time to come up with the Vivado Design Suite, to be able to support the large designs and get them into production with minimal effort and ease.
Vivado supports the growing use of IP blocks to reduce the complexity of the designs which are very critical in the implementation of complex networking and communications systems. This is one of the main reasons Xilinx spent years to develop strategic partnerships and making acquisitions such as Omiino (OTN IP solutions), Modelware (Traffic Management and Packet processing IP solutions), Sarance (Ethernet and Interlaken IP solutions) and Modesat (Microwave and Eband backhaul IP solutions) to offer a comprehensive set of IP cores to design Smarter Systems for networking, communications and data centre applications.
How are the solutions going to address the challenges with ASICs and ASSPs?
He said that ASICs and ASSPs targeting the communications, networking, and data center equipment markets have been disappearing at a surprisingly rapid pace due to many factors, including escalating IC-design costs and the need for much greater levels of intelligence and adaptability—all driven by wide variance in application and device requirements.
Additionally, the equipment markets no longer accept “me too” equipment design, which means that ASSP-based equipment design has almost vanished due to limited flexibility. These growing gaps are pervasive across all markets.These challenges, coupled with the rapidly increasing design costs and lengthy design cycles for both ASICs and ASSPs have created significant solution gaps for equipment design teams.
ASSPs and ASICs are either too late to market to meet OEM or operator requirements, are significantly overdesigned to satisfy the superset requirements of many diverse customers, are not a good fit for specific target applications, and/or provide limited ability for customers to differentiate their end products. Equipment vendors face many or all of these gaps when attempting to use the solutions offered by ASIC and ASSP vendors.
Singapore based Plunify claims that chip design companies can design faster and better using cloud computing. Stressing on the company’s go-to-market strategy, Plunify’s founder, Harn Hua Ng, said the Plunify partners with tool vendors, their distributors and complementary sales representatives.
Since pay-as-you-go business models are rare in the semiconductor industry, we went through several steps, of which the first was to better understand the market, the available tools and stake-holders:
* How is the market reacting to cloud computing and licensing schemes?
* What are current tool capabilities with regards to multiple CPUs/servers? Which parts of the chip design workflow can best take advantage of scalable, parallel features?
* What tools are more suitable for a cloud environment?
With these in mind, the next step was to build the cloud platform and the application clients to address immediate concerns – security, accessibility and cost.
“Then, we partner with tool vendors, their distributors and sales reps to bring our solutions to end-users. Companies of different sizes
view the advantages of cloud computing differently, so solutions need to be customized accordingly. Some see Plunify as solving longer term IT problems of scaling and provisioning; while others use us as an immediate way to speed up their design workflows. We are still in the process of learning about the market.”
How can the on-demand cloud computing platform dramatically accelerate chip design workflows? According to Harn Hua Ng, one immediate benefit is an almost instantaneous fulfillment of peak demand IT requirements, for example, a urgent request to do 100 synthesis builds to fix a problem due yesterday. Or if the problem cannot be fixed, at least the design team will find out in a day rather than potentially in three months’ worth of runtime without a cloud solution. The longer term acceleration is a gradual parallelization of the design workflow.
Currently, chip designers tend to visualize the design workflow as a chain of mostly serial steps with many dependencies, just because many steps can be time-consuming (both in terms of runtime and time taken to analyze intermediate results).
With an on-demand compute platform, designers can have more room to experiment and to optimize, more readily incorporating agile practices in hardware development.