It only took 7 months to launch the first commercial digital simulator in China. Shanghai Hejian Industrial Software Group Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as HejianSoft) showed the world what "EDA’s China Speed" is. And when we have further learned the original intention and mission of HejianSoft's entry into the simulator industry, we have to admire HejianSoft's passion and responsibility for the EDA business.
Bottlenecks of Digital Simulation in China
In recent years, along with the innovation and breakthrough of China's information and communication (ICT) product and technology and the rapid growth of the market, the scale of demand for chip products and the level of application requirements have been continuing to grow. At the same time, China’s investment in the chip industry has been continuously increasing as well. Under this new era of industrial development opportunities, Chinese chip companies are also facing pressures and challenges in seeking breakthroughs in core technologies and applications. Tools represented by EDA have become the driving force for the rapid development of the chip industry and demand for major breakthroughs.
Among them, the simulator has always been one of the key EDA products, and it is a fierce battleground of the EDA industry as well. However, the digital simulator market is basically dominated by three leading EDA giants. Although Chinese companies have been trying their best in the field of EDA in recent years, as far as digital simulators are concerned, upto now there are only some open source software or small digital-to-analog simulators used in analog design available. The real China made commercial digital simulators have not yet come to the world.
This is mainly caused by three key technology barriers in the development of digital simulators.
Liu Jingjun, HejianSoft vice president of product research and development, mentioned that the digital simulator is an extremely complex system, involving three key technologies. First, SystemVerilog is a very complex language set, with its standard alone having more than 1,700 pages. It needs to be fully integrated, and accurately parsed in order to support the key technology of SystemVerilog. Second, SystemVerilog, as a set of hardware description language and hardware verification language, is different from conventional computer programming languages. In addition to processing the control flow logic, it also needs to deal with the propagation of the data flow, and the scale and complexity of the data flow have increased multiple times over the last years. For example, if a medium-scale SoC uses a simulator to compile the generated executable files and data, it may easily amount to 10 GB in size, while the Linux kernel itself is less than 100MB. This requests for compilers with high-capacity and high-performance capability for the simulator. Third, the simulation speed. The simulation takes the longest time in the entire verification process. Therefore, the faster the simulation speed, the better, which requires continuous optimization of the simulation performance.
Faced with the multiple challenges of digital simulator development, how can emerging EDA manufacturers meet the challenges? Liu Jingjun believes that in the initial stage, a commercial digital simulator can be quickly developed based on part of the commercial license or open source technology, combined with the key technologies of independent research and development, in order to accelerate the formation of effective interaction with customers, and concurrently invest in research and development for innovative architectural design, and to gradually find a breakthrough, and then to improve the corresponding functions.
More importantly, the breakthrough of digital simulator technology must first be based on domestic customers. Liu Jingjun emphasized that domestic customers have to face worldwide competition and cannot be limited to domestic substitutions alone. Therefore, in order to help the domestic customers achieve their goals and develop their world class products, simulators must also be of world top-level, and shall also be able to realize large-capacity and high-performance, so as to help customers make verifications faster and find design bugs easier. Moreover, with China's national efforts to develop the integrated circuit industry and the application of 5G+AIoT, a large number of domestic AI chip, automobile chip and other manufacturers have born, and they also have unique design demands. Therefore, based on local needs, that is, to keep close to the actual needs of Chinese customers, HejianSoft has been trying to solve their main concerns, by first achieving partial breakthroughs, and then gradually improving the functions of the simulator, this is one way to change the situation drastically.
As the domestic EDA industry continues to heat up, the influx of a large amount of funds and talents has also brought new momentum to the breakthrough of digital simulators. Liu Jingjun said straightforwardly that EDA development requires decades of experiences. The most important thing for the development of digital simulators is to organize a team of experts with many years of rich engineering experiences. They shall not only have successful experiences, but also failed experiences.
How HejianSoft’s Simulator Development Was Made So Fast?
HejianSoft’s core team members are composed of outstanding people from leading international companies and domestic innovation sectors. HejianSoft ranks first among domestic EDA companies as far as global top-level talents are concerned. HejianSoft has already launched its first commercial digital simulator UniVista Simulator (UVS) with its own intellectual property rights in October.
Liu Jingjun told us that on the one hand, the unique advantage of HejianSoft lies in the team of experts and engineers who have accumulated more than 20 years of rich development experiences in digital simulators, whether it is front-end language feature support or back-end native compiler implementation. And for simulation performance tuning for different design types such as CPU, GPU, communication chips etc. HejianSoft has also participated in the development of EDA tools for world's leading customers. Therefore, it provides strong support to HejianSoft, enabling the company to possess sufficient analysis ability, design ability and productization ability, and can avoid many detours. Moreover, because these R&D personnel have worked together for more than ten years, the cooperation between each other is very pleasant and fruitful. There are no cooperation problems related to personal identity, cultural background, personality, etc., therefore they can devote themselves entirely to EDA development.
Development of simulator not only involves development experiences. Practical engineering experiences are also critical. Sun Xiaoyang, HejianSoft vice president of product engineering, mentioned that development of EDA tools is a large project, especially the simulator is an extremely complex tool. It has to deal with different standards and different application scenarios, therefore an engineering team with deep implementation and testing experiences is required to understand the customer’s products and their requirements, to quickly find out the problems and to put forward suggestions for improvement, and to feedback to the R&D team in time, and consequently the R&D team can iterate the algorithms quickly based on the feedback from the engineering. HejianSoft’s engineering team and R&D team have many years of cooperation, and hence they are very familiar with the industry, customers, tools, etc., and they can cooperate seamlessly with each other with positive interactions.
On the other hand, driven by needs both at the national and industry levels, the engineering team of HejianSoft with its keen insight and analysis capabilities, has been fully utilizing the development results of state-of-the-art multi-core processors and distributed computing to quickly integrate some open source, as well as commercial technology, so as to make reasonable modifications and optimizations, and then to build a flexible and extensible simulator, which has laid a late-comer advantage in the improvement of performance and capacity.
HejianSoft also understands that it is impossible to develop a proprietary simulator overnight. Only technological innovation can help break through the market monopoly by the giants, and only step-by-step technological breakthroughs and long-term, down-to-earth efforts in development can ultimately lead to success. Sun Xiaoyang emphasized that the release of the first digital simulator was just the beginning of HejianSoft’s efforts in development of simulators, because domestic semiconductor customers need the best full-process tools to develop their own products, if they want to win in global competition. HejianSoft also has high ambitions and believes that in terms of technology, it must be able to match or even surpass the world's top products in order to have a chance in the market at global scale, showing its due responsibility and ambitions.
With superior performance, greater capacity, and greater improvement in simulation quality and efficiency, HejianSoft's digital simulator will undoubtedly trigger a new wave of interests in the market.
Responding to Development Trend, Planning for Long-term
It can be said that HejiaSoft's digital simulator is not only a small step forward for Hejian, but also a big step forward to domestic digital simulators.
A good start means half the success. After getting a good start to the simulator business, HejianSoft has gained confidence and even more ambitions in its business plan. But the HejianSoft team, which has grown up after years of hard work in the market, knows that only by solving the more essential problems of customers and developing more disruptive technologies can the company as a latecomer move to the top.
In terms of product planning, HejianSoft will take a new "upgrade" path. Sun Xiaoyang mentioned that through close cooperation with major domestic customers, HejianSoft will continue to adapt to new environment and to optimize its products and gradually to introduce innovative, fully self-developed architectures in stages to achieve the world's leading position in performance and capacity, while in the process of enriching and improving the functions of digital simulators. The digital simulator has become a major driving engine for HejianSoft’s verification products of EDA families. HejianSoft will focus on building a full-process EDA product line for chip verification, supporting customers' more challenging and diversified needs in digital verification, helping customers to step faster in the verification process, and comprehensively improving domestic EDA verification tools’ level of ability.
Sun Xiaoyang has also put forward his own opinions on the impact of cloudification and AI transformation on the simulator development. Cloudification means that more computing power will be used to improve the performance of the simulator. And AI can demonstrate its strengths in data-driven aspects .as well. But it should be made clear that cloudification is more driven by the business model, which is conducive to the deployment of computing power for specific customers or the smoothing of the peaks and valleys on the simulator, and AI has its good and bad points as well. Regardless of whether it is AI-based or cloud-based, HejianSoft’s core business is still to build good simulators and to achieve breakthroughs in technology and applications, so as to provide a foundation for cloud-based and AI-based simulation tools. Based on the core business of simulator development, HejianSoft will also embrace new business models, new technologies, and expand to other application scenarios.
Long-term development ideology is also HejianSoft’s another unique philosophy of entrepreneurship. Obviously, China's EDA industry has entered a rapid growth phase, and a steady supply of excellent, fresh driving force is the basis for a steady growth. The development of the EDA industry must be coupled with talent training with universities and cooperation for cutting-edge technologies, and HejianSoft with its rich human resources, also fully acknowledges this. Sun Xiaoyang pointed out that since the official operation of the company a half year ago, it has carried out in-depth discussions and cooperation with many domestic universities in the areas of joint talent training and verification of new technology research. In the following years, HejianSoft will increase investment, carry out more joint scientific research projects, and attract more talents.
With the development principles of "Founded for Unification, Created for Future", HejianSoft has taken a gratifying step in the field of digital simulators. In the future, it will continue to maintain its leading advantages and strengths and continue to contribute to the glorious path of China's EDA industry development.
About the Author
Mark Chen is a China based freelance IC designer, IT and web developer, and writer in technology, personal and family stories, world affairs, and other topics. He served GE Alstom, Siemens and other multinationals in his earlier career. His current career focuses on IC technology and business, incl silicon IP core design, IC technology authoring, IC and industry portal development and IC technology development reporting. For details refer to his personal site http://markchen.int.eu.org/ , his site of IC expertise http://angeliamodem.eu.org/ and his IC business site under http://www.angelia.eu.org/.