Design reaches out from the edge
Given the continuing constraints in the battery-life improvement and pressures to add new features and functions, engineers must change the way they design electronics systems to keep pace with future demands, according to ARM CEO Simon Segars.
The ARM CEO brought his company’s message of design efficiency and power optimization to his keynote address at CDNLive Silicon Valley 2015, saying, “Battery technology is pretty poor and doesn’t advance anywhere near what we’re able to achieve in semiconductors.”
Given not only the continued robust growth of mobile and IoT devices in the coming years but their impact on networking, “We need to evolve the way we design products and deliver silicon chips,” Segars told a packed auditorium at the Santa Clara Convention Center (March 10).
For design teams, the pressures across those segments are enormous and the stakes are high.
In mobile, for example, the smartphone is now effectively a remote control device for our lives—from controlling lighting, the TV, cameras, and the like, to hailing a cab, such as ride service Uber, Segars noted. And smart phones are increasingly creating sophisticated content, not just consuming it, which requires more performance, storage, and power than ever.
The rise of sensors within phones and sensor fusion within the larger IoT world (golf clubs that help you improve your swing based on sensor data) also create new design challenges, he said.
A new frontier of design challenges is emerging rapidly in the network, where the very proliferation of edge devices is stressing bandwidth, capacity, and storage needs, he said. It’s also forcing the industry to rethink what the network is fundamentally.
“The architecture of the network hasn’t changed for a long time. There is a lot of switching going on and funneling of data that goes on. But there essentially is a client device, there’s a network in the middle, and a computer and storage at the end of it—what we call the cloud. We think we can extend intelligence throughout it to turn it into what can be another platform of innovation,” said Segars.
In this vision, the distinction between network and cloud vanishes and is replaced by a continuum of computing.
“If you distribute compute and storage throughout the network, there’s a lot you can do,” Segars said.
For example, moving storage closer to the edge where data is captured or consumed can eliminate the need to shunt terabytes worth of data through the network. That effectively increases bandwidth and reduces latency. If evolved properly, this new network vision will become a platform for immense innovation in a way that the evolution of the system-on-chip has become a platform for innovation within systems, Segars said.
The executive just returned from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where there was much discussion of what 5G networks will look like. However that vision evolves, it is clear that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to enabling semiconductor, system, and software technologies, he noted.
For example, ARM positioned its most recent major announcement not solely as the debut of a new microprocessor architecture—the Cortex-A72—but as an IP suite designed to enable the next generation of smart devices.
In addition, this new platform “requires a range of semiconductor solutions. We’re going to need different amounts of processing and optimization and acceleration for networking, security, and storage,” Segars added.
“We need to get creative in how we build chips. Integrated development tools and methodologies are essential,” Segars said.
To that end, he praised the semiconductor ecosystem and highlighted his company’s longtime partnership with Cadence in particular:
“Good chip design starts with system design, so the work we’re doing on Palladium and fast models is really important to allow you get down to build the thing that’s going to best solve the technical problems you’re addressing.”
Segars added: “The improvement in IP, the work on the tools and flows, the evolution of software, of networking, and of the platform creates this ecosystem where we can turn this mobile device from something that’s great today to something that’s amazing in the future.”