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Digital, Analog, Software, IP – Isn’t it all just the same?

Digital, Analog, Software, IP – Isn’t it all just the same?
by Daniel Payne on 04-25-2014 at 8:31 pm

Designing an SoC requires a team, and the engineers typically use lots of specialized EDA software and semiconductor IP to get the job done. Many have started to ask about how designing a chip is different than designing and managing a large software project, or how is analog design different than digital design in terms of managing the design process. To help clarify and contrast the similarities and differences between hardware and software design I had an email discussion with Vishal Moondhra, VP of Applications at Methodics,a company that has focused on semiconductor design management for analog, digital and SoC design teams since 2006.

Q&A

Q: How is digital, analog and software IP the same?

It’s an interesting question, one that can be answered at two different levels.
At the lowest level – that is the data/file level – all IP is the same. Its ultimately all just bits living in the file system that captures the design intent.
Then at the highest levels – the functional level – we see functionality move between the analog, digital, and software domains depending on the application. What used to be complex analog functionality yesterday is now implemented in software. The best example of this is probably the cellular baseband which has moved through all three domains. Initial implementations had large amounts of analog, later this was moved to complex AMS designs, while the state of the art LTE designs today are predominantly software. In fact many of the radio standards today are completely software defined (SDR) and can run on a common hardware implementation.

Q: How are digital, analog and software IP different?

That’s the important question – if we assume its all just data, or its all just functionality, we miss the most important part – how do designers implement their designs, and how does that implementation change what it means to be IP. If you try to compare the implementation, integration, or migration or each type of IP you would find they are all completely different. Some live as simple code files, others live as very complex binary data that describe the low level placement of polygons.
Understanding these differences is key to effective management of IP in each of the domains.

Q: What approaches have been tried to manage each domain?

Well the first approach for all has been simply ad-hoc management of the data, or highly specialized solutions – neither of which have been very successful.
The second approach taken by many was to fall back to the lowest level in which these are all the same – the file level.
At the file level people try to use traditional DM solutions (perforce / subversion) . While this manages the underlying data, the differences in the IP types mean that there is a lot of wasted effort trying to fit what is fundamentally a software methodology to analog and digital design.

Q: What DM approaches does Methodics recommend?

It actually goes beyond just DM to complete IP lifecycle management– and by IP I am not just talking about the traditional concept of IP (a well defined, configurable, reusable block), but any aspect of the design. Customers need to look at every part of the design from creation, validation, distribution, and integration to understand that the current status, what potential problems exist, and how they are best resolved.

The approach we take is one of adapting the best in class software approaches for DM, Defect Tracking, Release Management – and adding an IP abstraction layer. This ensures that customers data remains open, but that the hardware designers (analog and digital) can approach the design in a way that makes sense to them.
By maintaining a philosophy of Open Interfaces, Open Architecture, and Open Data – we have created a system that effortlessly adapts to the customers needs rather than forcing them into unnatural acts.

Q: Who is using Methodics today ?

We have a wide range of customersfrom our original Analog IP management in Virtuoso, to customers now working on very large complex digital and SoC projects.

Q: Does Methodics work with my existing EDA tool flow?

The short answer is “yes”.

We can help customers adopt best practices, and all of the Methodics products work out-of-the-box so customers are up an running quickly.
That said, our commitment to Open Interfaces, Open Architectures, and Open Data means that we can adapt to any existing flow.
Typically we see the smaller clients adopt our solutions with little or no changes, while the larger clients overlay their own business logic and technical requirements on top of our open solution.

Q: What is the learning curve like for your tools?

For the typical designer the tool is largely transparent. We have a few well defined entry and exit points – workspace creation, release generation, etc. Beyond this, the users work in the native environments they are used to.

Q: What benefits will I expect when using your approach?

The benefits are extremely wide ranging, and would probably merit a separate discussion on their own, but at a high level we deliver complete control over the design data, complete visibility into the IP lifecycle, and most importantly a significant reduction in the overall design effort and risk. if you think of all of the benefits that Agile Development has brought to software design, we are delivering similar value to the hardware design community.

Further Reading

lang: en_US

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