Thursday, December 6, 2012

FPGA design heads to the cloud!

Singapore based Plunify claims that chip design companies can design faster and better using cloud computing. Stressing on the company's go-to-market strategy, Plunify’s founder, Harn Hua Ng, said the Plunify partners with tool vendors, their distributors and complementary sales representatives.

Since pay-as-you-go business models are rare in the semiconductor industry, Plunify went through several steps, of which the first was to better understand the market, the available tools and stake-holders.

* How is the market reacting to cloud computing and licensing schemes?
* What are current tool capabilities with regards to multiple CPUs/servers? Which parts of the chip design workflow can best take advantage of scalable, parallel features?
* What tools are more suitable for a cloud environment?

With these in mind, the next step was to build the cloud platform and the application clients to address immediate concerns - security, accessibility and cost.

"Then, we partner with tool vendors, their distributors and sales reps to bring our solutions to end-users. Companies of different sizes view the advantages of cloud computing differently, so solutions need to be customized accordingly. Some see Plunify as solving longer term IT problems of scaling and provisioning; while others use us as an immediate way to speed up their design workflows. We are still in the process of learning about the market," he added.

How can the on-demand cloud computing platform dramatically accelerate chip design workflows According to Harn Hua Ng, one immediate benefit is an almost instantaneous fulfillment of peak demand IT requirements, for example, a urgent request to do 100 synthesis builds to fix a problem due yesterday. Or if the problem cannot be fixed, at least the design team will find out in a day rather than potentially in 3 months' worth of runtime without a cloud solution. The longer term acceleration is a gradual parallelization of the design workflow.

Currently, chip designers tend to visualize the design workflow as a chain of mostly serial steps with many dependencies, just because many steps can be time-consuming (both in terms of runtime and time taken to analyze intermediate results).

With an on-demand compute platform, designers can have more room to experiment and to optimize, more readily incorporating agile practices in hardware development.

Cloud-enabling FPGA tools
Does this feature place Plunify on par with say, Xilinx and Altera? Ng said that since Plunify partners with Xilinx and Altera to 'cloud-enable' their tools, Plunify is actually enhancing their capabilities for end-users.

What are the customization, automation and management capabilities on a secure, scalable platform preloaded with chip design software tools? These terms imply the following:

 While the platform must be easy to use, end-users must also have a scripting interface, like our Tcl API, so they can develop their own flows.

Automation: Different tools and flows must be integrated such that data and control can progress through various different stages with as much few mouse-clicks and script commands possible.

Management: The platform must help stake-holders and end-users estimate, keep track of and monitor usage, as well as indicating the amount of cost savings achieved (or not achieved) at every point.

Cloud computing is said to be a great way of letting folks run iterations in parallel, largely because of its elasticity and scalability. It removes the need to plan in advance for capacity; every provisioned cloud resource has the same processing features as a local resource, and every cloud resource can be completely de-allocated after use.

Lastly, does Plunify promote itself as a semicon company or a cloud computing company?

Ng said: "We see ourselves as a bit of both--combining knowhow from both industries to accelerate chip design. Firstly, we understand semiconductor chip design and its challenges. Secondly, we see cloud computing's value in tackling resource bottlenecks and under-utilization.

"These challenges are becoming more and more complex, so we want to help end-users solve design problems starting by boosting their CAD and IT capabilities."

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