Plans Vs. Planning

ESL is going mainstream as lines blur between physical and virtual, and as development environment interactions increase.


The end of the year is a good time to look back at what’s happened over the past year, and look ahead to what might happen in the coming one. Two quotes that help my thought process when thinking about the might be coming, “Change is the law of life.” from Kennedy, and “Plans are nothing, but planning is indispensable” from Eisenhower.

From my perspective, 2013 has been a good year for ESL acceptance and adoption. I’ve worked with many customers who have deployed successful system-level design flows for everything from pure software virtual prototyping to architectural analysis.  While I wouldn’t say system-level design has become ubiquitous, it has become an accepted practice that is a considered when planning a project. Even when ESL is not used, the questions and issues that would be best addressed through system-level design are thought through and used to gauge the risk of skipping a system-level analysis.

The leading drivers for the proliferation of system-level design have been:

  • Increased requirements to start software development before appropriate hardware would be available:
  • Extensive analysis requirements of complex system tradeoffs.
  • Expansion of the availability of models that support system level design.

These are not new factors, but I believe the design requirements and capabilities offered by system-level design have matured to a point that ESL has become a mainstream component of the design process.

In light of where we are and with the expectation that design processes and techniques will continue to change, what can we begin to plan for in the coming year?

There are two areas I see that could lead to significant changes in our system level design processes. First is a blurring of the boundary between what is virtual and what is a physical. Virtual simulation models are fast enough to enable true application development and application tuning. In some cases the virtual system is faster than the target physical hardware will be. The performance of the virtual system provides the feasibility to have the virtual and physical world interact in more meaningful ways than have been traditionally possible. Hardware-in-the-loop (HWIL) has been used in some areas for many years. Over the coming year and years I expect the use models and interaction between ESL and HWIL to be an active area of investment and innovation.

Second is an increased trend to interacting development environments. Different disciplines have different needs, and different tools have evolved to address these specific needs. While some are still trying, the industry has realized that no single tool will be able to address the requirements of every domain. Leveraging the strengths of the tools in each targeted domain can provide a tremendous benefit to designers. Similar to the blurring of the virtual-physical boundaries, the boundaries between tools and domains will continue to be blurred by increases in the interaction, responsiveness and capabilities available when the disparate disciplines can leverage information from other domains.

I believe 2014 will be an exciting year.  I’m sure there will be many changes in system-level design tools and techniques. While my plans may not be worth much, planning for the possibilities helps me understand and incorporate the changes.

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