Verifying The Pieces

The real challenge will be in the assembly of block and subsystems, not in the creation of them.

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It’s not uncommon to hear engineers express disbelief these days that a complex device actually works. This is both a sign of amazing advancement in system-level design, as well as a scary revelation that’s surfacing from all parts of the design world.

What’s behind this uncertainty is the growing complexity of devices, which has moved design well beyond the comprehension of a single engineer—no matter how good they are or how many pieces they understand—and increasingly even beyond the capabilities of a team of engineers. There are simply too many parts, too many interactions, and too many lines of code to understand it all.

It doesn’t help, either, that IP, subsystems and abstractions are black boxes. No matter how much we try to get comfortable with black-box technology, it still creates an element of doubt that the final product will work as planned. The engineering community is very comfortable with things they understand. They’re far less comfortable taking someone else’s word that it works.

Perhaps even more daunting is the verification piece. With roughly 50% to 70% of the design NRE still in verification—both software and hardware—there is a lot of pressure to reduce costs and cut time to market. Verification is the single biggest target for achieving both. But there also is more to verify, which forces verification teams to rely more on pre-verified IP and software written by other teams who often don’t speak the same language, both from a technology standpoint and literally.

How it all works together is at best an educated guess, and as devices continue to grow in complexity so do the question marks. This isn’t going to get any easier, either, particularly as blocks of IP and software give way to complete subsystems and chips. While this all works better in theory, it also moves the pieces further from the individual engineering teams and re-introduces a virtual silo behavior.

The one link across all of this will be verification. But it remains to be seen just how complete that verification will be, what skills will be necessary for verification teams, and whether the complex products created by an ecosystem really can work flawlessly—particularly in light of some recent failures by some of the most successful IDMs.

—Ed Sperling


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