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Secure Border Computing Standards

Secure Border Computing Standards
by Paul McLellan on 05-13-2014 at 3:30 pm

 There are two separate classes of problem when trying to create a de facto standard in an industry like the fabless/foundry ecosystem. This is what Zentera is doing with secure border computing, allowing fabless semiconductor companies, foundries, EDA and IP companies to be able to work together in ways that enable collaborations with their IP but without compromising security or other policies.

Successful chip development depends on being able to freely work with EDA, fab process information, IP, design groups, perhaps design services companies and so on. EDA may need source code to support chip development, the design team may need RTL for the IP, and everyone needs PDKs from the foundry and so on.

The big challenge of a state-of-the-art design (let’s say 10/14/16nm right now) is that all the parts have to come together at the same time. It is not possible for IP development to be done using the final PDKs since they change regularly. It is probably possible to only develop 90% of an EDA tool before engaging with the major customers since there are no real test cases. So it is necessary for EDA and IP suppliers to engage with the fabless companies in a secure way using the secure border environment. It is the last mile of development that cannot be done in isolation.

The first problem a company like Zentera faces is that the technology needs to work correctly. There is no point in trying to get the ecosystem to standardize on your security technology if it is not, in fact, secure, or if it has performance problems, or if it is too hard to use. Getting the technology right is the first step.

The second problem is persuading enough of the ecosystem to adopt the solution that it achieves critical mass. There is also a chicken-and-egg problem or rather something more like the electric car problem. If every manufacturer has their own charging plug design then the creation of a charging infrastructure is going to be very slow. Even though they compete, it is in Tesla’s interest that the Nissan Leaf use the same system. In the same way, the first adopters of Zentera’s technology have to persuade everyone else to adopt it for it to be really useful, not just collaborators but competitors too.

In practice, what needs to happen is that one or more large companies adopt the solution: a large fabless semiconductor company or a leading foundry. They are important enough as a customer or partner that they can specify it as a requirement. In fact, this is what has been going on up until the present time with home-brewed incompatible solutions in each major company. But that is a very wasteful approach, resulting in a lot of duplication. If the major players all adopt the same solution, then everything becomes simpler because there is only one interface for the minor players to use (and it needs to be emphasized that they don’t need to acquire Zentera’s technology themselves, they can simply make use of it at the foundries and fabless companies. And the major players can buy instead of make, which should be cheaper since the cost of development is amortized across the whole industry not just one company.

Rumor has it one of the largest fabless semiconductor companies in the world has just formally engaged with Zentera for their secure border computing hub. Hopefully by DAC it will be possible to announce who it is.

The diagram above shows how Zentera ties everything together. Note that the logos on the diagram do not imply all those companies are customers, or that they endorse the approach, it is just a lot easier to make things clear using the names of companies we all know.

Zentera will be showing the technology at DAC at the start of June. They will be in booth 526. Or if you want to schedule a more in-depth meeting then there is a signup form here.

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