Dennis Brophy is one of the ‘go to’ guys in the standards world. It’s not just the clout he has as Director of Strategic Business Development at Mentor Graphics. Brophy has been a key mover within standards-setter Accellera for some time and is one of the public faces behind its drive to expand the DVCon verification conference series worldwide.
So it's always a good time to find out where Dennis sees some of the main drive in standards going right now (though, yes, with some Mentor emphasis) and broader trends in delivering valuable and practical content. The headline is power… though the game's also afoot in test.
Toward energy-proportional systems
In power, peace may have broken out over the rival UPF and CPF power formats as Accellera and Si2 seek to converge the two formats, but there is still plenty to do.
“We have a couple of interesting things going through [the standards and pre-standardization process] right now on the low power side,” Brophy says. “One thing we’re looking at is how to use standards to create energy proportional systems.
“So we know we can run things really fast. We can burn up a quad-core or a dual-core and get these calculations done really quickly. But what if you don’t need things to happen that fast – say 10 minutes or longer will do. You can pretty quickly see how this kind of approach could be important for the Internet of Things.
“It’s not that you don’t need to do some things superfast, it’s that once you say that for everything you’re tuning up the frequency so high that the energy consumption and heat dissipation are soaring. And for the Internet of Things, the power budgets have to be tiny.”
Big data for system-level power analysis
The second activity, even more at a pre-standardization phase, focuses on trying to harness the masses of information that emulation can provide and then using it to achieve better, earlier planning for energy consumption.
“We’ve been talking for a while about better system-level power modeling: How do you know what’s consuming all your energy?” says Brophy.
“This is early days but we’re already working off of, first, our own interaction with Apache [Design] blending our emulation capabilities with their focus on power analysis. In that, we already generate tons of information and we can now do that at the software level, so you can see how analysis can dive down into the apps and the software control.
“Then, we’re working with Cadence [Design Systems] on ideas that follow on from that because you realize that the next big issue becomes, ‘OK but how do I move all this data around.’ And the steps were taking with Cadence right now are about getting a debug data API in place. Ut’s very early work – we’re still at the stage where you have to determine if it could go into an existing IEEE standard of become standalone. But it’s something we need to push for.”
Promoting portable stimulus via Accellera
Mentor’s other big standards activity right now is about promoting the idea of portable stimulus, inspired by the company’s Questa InFact intelligent testbench technology.
“I’m really biased here, obviously. But we’re seeing that if you define a way of describing stimulus that is portable up and down the chain - from software down to gates - you get massive benefits in productivity. You’re talking about getting to coverage closure overnight, about eight hours. But while that’s great in product terms, when it comes to this kind of technology, everybody wants a standard,” says Brophy.
“Take VHDL and Verilog and ask the front-end guys. Those are defensible standards and they can choose from multiple competitive implementations around them. If we’re going to drive adoption, part of that involves doing something similar for portable stimulus.”
To that end, Mentor again recently linked up with Cadence – another key emulation player - and the two companies submitted a joint Accellera standards proposal based on a blending of their offerings for the portable stimulus area.
“We think we’ve something that will survive the standardization process at Accellera, and go on as an active IEEE standards project over the next few years. You’re going to be hearing a lot more from us about that very soon,” says Brophy.
The world of standards has become much more open to such discussions as Accellera’s DVCon has expanded worldwide, with China expected to host its inaugural edition next year and events in India and Germany now well established.
“DAC is a great conference but, with the best will in the world, no non-US company is going to send huge numbers of people over for it. And we had a similar issue with DVCon. I think the other thing with DAC is that there’s still some people who see it as the academician’s heaven despite all the really hard work done with the Designer Track,” says Brophy.
“The reality is that there is a huge verification practice in India. Massive numbers of people who use the tools are there. Massive numbers of people who are advancing how the applications develop are there. And they want a practical event to take place locally. Same for Europe. Same for China. So you have to go to them.”
Looking at how the recent DVCon Europe in Munich played out, you can quickly see what Brophy means. The two-day event offered a huge amount of usable war stories, tuned for their relevance to the local audience (and, as such, in no way diluting what attendees might expect at the upcoming established US edition in February).
At the same time, those discussions also served to get more companies involved in the standards process, both for new ones and either streamlining or debugging those that already exist.
And of course, all of that keeps Dennis Brophy’s profile high (as well as cramming the diary). But with this agenda and another new role as chair of the IEEE Standards Association’s IoT Steering Committee, it’s fair enough for him to say, “Hey, busy is good.”