Cloud makes hardware acceleration more accessible

By Chris Edwards |  1 Comment  |  Posted: July 5, 2018
Topics/Categories: Blog - EDA, Embedded, IP  |  Tags: , , , , , ,  | Organizations: , ,

At this year’s Design Automation Conference (DAC), Cadence Design Systems and Mentor, a Siemens business, publicly announced they had put hardware emulators in the cloud to make it easier for customers to access accelerated verification. The moves may help promote the use of other forms of hardware acceleration dedicated to EDA tasks.

During a session at the conference to describe to users how its cloud service operates, Jean-Marie Brunet, marketing director of Mentor’s emulation business, said the company has done extensive planning for the service: “We worked with Amazon for over a year on this.”

Among the concerns were how long it would take to send design data to the emulator. ”If it takes a couple of days to send to the box and it take three hours to run, that’s not a good value proposition,” Brunet said, adding the ability to compile the RTL for emulation close to the emulator itself is important.

First experiments

Rajesh Shah, CEO of IP designer Softnautics, said the company was keen to experiment with cloud-based emulation and seized on the opportunity to test Mentor’s offering. “We would like to have design in the cloud and enable customers to build systems or subsystems in the the cloud.”

Shah said experiments that involved stimuli from a C testbench demonstrated that the data transfers could take place quickly, with about 3Gbyte of results and other data transferred back in about five minutes.

Brunet said: “It took us a while to put this together but it’s in place. It’s the same flow you are running today. Except you have no idea where the box is.”

In practice, there will be some effect from geographical location. Response times, Brunet said, “will be related to the amount of hardware in a geographical region. Go across a region you may have some degradation in latency”.

Although one of the applications of cloud-based emulation is to absorb peak demand towards the end of a project, the capacity available online will limit how much peak demand the service can absorb. Brunet said, at least in the early days of the service, Mentor would look to establish a more consistent baseline usage with customers and “enable peak usage once a baseline has been established”.

Security assurances

The rollout of services like emulation in the cloud are beginning to demonstrate that EDA users are becoming more comfortable with the idea of sending design data to third-party server farms. Mentor worked with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to try to demonstrate that data would be protected.

“We had a lot of questions from the field: is this secure? When you see Department of Defense and national security certificates: you can say ‘that is OK’,” Brunet claimed. “It’s very secure.”

David Pellerin, head of worldwide business development for high-performance computing at AWS, said: “You’ve got to have security. We work with third party auditors to demonstrate that. Large enterprises now understand that they can operate in a more secure manner than with legacy infrastructure.”

Although, Pellerin acknowledged the concerns over security, he said: “We’ve gone past that now.” What is happening now is that EDA users are beginning to see the end of the road for much of their internal infrastructure.”

Pellerin added: “The pattern we have seen in EDA is to similar to other computer-aided engineering areas. You have a dedicated data center with various servers of different vintages. It’s not really flexible. You can’t have different resources available during short bursts. The difference when we move to cloud is you can create that same environment but it’s now flexible and scalable. I can scale up and I can scale down. We have been seeing tremendous productivity in areas such as drug discovery and proteomics. And now in EDA.”

In an interview with TDF at DAC, Metrics Technologies president and CEO Doug Letcher, said he perceives the same shift in attitude among users to putting more design data into the cloud. “What we’re seeing is that, often, engineers in the field have this opinion ‘this is awesome but management won’t let me do it’. But the management people now see it as being strategic to IT.

“Companies have mandates to not build data centres on their own,” Letcher added. “Engineers in the field haven’t caught up with the change in attitude in management. One vice president at a relatively large semiconductor company said ‘we’ve moved our financial, customer support and legal data into the cloud. Am I really that worried about the RTL?”

Acceleration options

Having started with a software-based simulator that runs on cloud servers, Metrics is now beginning to look at offering hardware-based acceleration. Shortly before the conference, the company announced its intention to merge with Montana Systems, which is developing a simulation accelerator for SystemVerilog workloads. Letcher said he sees a major advantage to putting acceleration into the cloud as a service instead of selling the necessary hardware to customers. They will be able to access the accelerator by selecting a different option and then running the testbench as normal.

“Emulation takes some time to port. Our target is maybe five to twenty times faster than software-based simulation but it’s zero effort,” Letcher said. “And it takes away the idea that I have to buy a box upfront. Over the course of next year we will be putting that product together.”

At the other end of the convenience scale for logic verification is the deployment of field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) into the cloud through services such as F1 from AWS. In his keynote at DAC, UC Berkeley Professor David Patterson said he saw the availability of these cloud-based FPGAs as being part of a rapid prototyping flow for a new wave of designs. Though they have to be specifically compiled for an FPGA platform, as with existing virtual-prototyping boxes, the ability to rent the hardware for short periods of time could be instrumental in moving to more agile design techniques.

“It takes months for chips to come back from the fab. So how do you do iteration? You can use simulation at the C++ level but those are still pretty slow,” Patterson said. “The next step is FPGAs. For some people they don’t want the hassle of buying FPGAs and setting up a lab. But you don’t have to do that: FPGAs are in the cloud. You can rent cloud service. It’s a remarkable opportunity.”

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