There is a major shift in innovation occurring all around us. We see the results every day. We can interact with them in an easier, more intuitive way. They deliver insights about our health and our daily habits. All this can be categorized as a move towards Smart Everything – ubiquitous machine-assisted intelligence for the good of the planet and its inhabitants. While all this is true, there are some fundamental problems to be solved to get us there. That topic is the focus of this post. Read on to understand how the silent revolution is underway, and Semifore is at its epicenter.
Who is Semifore?
Answering this question requires us to step back a bit in the system engineering process. Today, a “system” is a blend of advanced software algorithms and hardware that implement those algorithms. It is quite clear that software now defines the user experience and those who can deliver the best version of that user experience will win. If you’re looking for an example of how this works, do some research on Apple’s acquisition of PA Semi. This was a key part of a seminal strategy where Apple decided iOS was its lead differentiator, and building a custom processor that would deliver that best experience was the way forward. The company acquired PA Semi, explained the new rules (the software defined the hardware architecture, not the other way) and history was made.
A short time after that decision, Apple surpassed Exxon Mobile as the most valuable company in the world. Today, its lead is unchallenged. So, what is the key technology that drove all this?
There are many. One that stands out is the critical interface between the dedicated hardware that implements the user experience and the software that controls that hardware. This hardware/software interface (HSI) is key to success of any Smart Everything project. The details of how to implement this interface are daunting. The complexity of what’s involved should give every design team pause. How can you get all this right, and not introduce subtle errors that could put future products out of reach?
This is a very real problem. If the HSI contains bugs that are released to the field, those bugs could manifest when a software upgrade is released. Or a new feature, one that is needed for competitive reasons, simply won’t work. The stakes are high. Getting the HSI right is a primary focus of Semifore.
What Semifore Does
When systems were simpler and custom-built processors were rare, the HSI was still complex and important, but easy to keep track of. Design teams would build spreadsheets to document the control/status registers (CSRs) involved in the process. The values contained in these registers were linked to specific aspects of the hardware’s performance. Once the protocol was specified, it became a matter of tracking the implementation so everyone followed that protocol.
Today, custom-built processors are everywhere, and the complexity of the HSI has exploded. Designs can contain half a million or more CSRs with over a million fields defining various parts of the communication protocol between software stacks and the hardware being controlled. Many of those home-grown spreadsheets have attempted to keep up, but the problem has become too large for do-it-yourself solutions.
The industry has responded to these developments with standards to help define how everything works in a robust and consistent way. While quite useful, each of these standards has its shortcomings. A true, robust executable specification for the HSI is still out of reach in the public standards realm.
Semifore addresses these challenges head-on. Its CSRSpec™ language delivers a robust description of the HSI. Its CSRCompiler™ reads this language, along with the industry standards and creates a correct-by-construction HSI, along with all the formats needed for things like validation, test and documentation. The whole team is in sync with a known-good HSI. This leaves a lot more time to create The Next Big Thing vs. worrying about if it will work.
You can learn more about Semifore on SemiWiki here.
A Customer’s View
Semifore recently published a white paper that details how a large system OEM addressed the challenges of building a robust HSI. The paper goes into detail on the challenges faced, the methodology employed, and the results achieved. I found the piece to be direct, informative, and grounded in reality. If you are struggling with HSI problems, I highly recommend taking a look. You can download a copy of the white paper here.
You will learn that the silent revolution is underway, and Semifore is at its epicenter.