A renaissance in the emulation sector is near

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Hardware emulation was designed in the mid-1980s by a few pioneers who identified an opportunity for field programmable gate-arrays (FPGAs) as a new type of device. They envisioned building prototypes of digital designs by interconnecting multiple FPGAs in large arrays before the actual silicon was returned by the foundry. Two companies emerged with working solutions, Quickturn Design Systems and IKOS Systems, giving birth to a new industry.

For the first 10 years, hardware emulation remained a niche business with an uncertain future. While the concept was promising, the actual implementation was a minefield of problems – and its deployment a nightmare – requiring technical experts with multiple degrees in various disciplines.

It took years to improve and ease the deployment. From the start, brilliant engineers have designed solutions to alleviate problems through software enhancements and / or hardware architectural innovations.

Fast forward. The hardware emulation market is booming today, driven by advanced systems offered by the three leading electronics design automation (EDA) vendors, Synopsys, Cadence and Mentor, a Siemens company. A look at the revenue generated by hardware emulation products from 1995 onwards offers some models for predicting the future. See Table I.

The graph reveals four peaks in income, the last still in the making.

The first peak occurred in the mid-1990s when the two dominant players Quickturn Design Systems and IKOS Systems released new versions of their FPGA-based emulators and new startups entered the market. Among them, Meta System, a company in France which launched an emulator based on a custom architecture. All players have increased revenues cumulatively. In the following years, a long series of patent litigation among emulation players and market consolidation weakened spending on emulation products.

The dot.com euphoria leading up to the year 2000 sparked activity in the electronics industry, resulting in emulation revenues that recorded a second peak. When the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, emulation revenues collapsed. In 2002, only two established players, Cadence and Mentor Graphics, and the startup Emulation Verification Engineering (EVE) were competing for the company. In the years that followed, the market remained stable. Internal reorganizations following consolidations, late launches of new products and a sluggish market contributed to the lack of growth.

In the second half of the first decade of 2000, two trends changed the design landscape. As the size of hardware designs grew to the point of overwhelming the ability of Hardware Description Language (HDL) simulators, the explosion of embedded software content in system-on-chip (SoC) designs demanded faster-than-ever verification engines. HDL simulators. The next generation of designs consisted of hardware platforms layered on top of embedded software content. Hardware emulation became the only solution to meet the demand posed by the two trends, resulting in impressive revenue growth until 2013.

In the following years, two independent events contributed to the decline in emulation revenues. The acquisition of EVE by Synopsys slowed the dynamics of its market and the late introduction of new emulators by the other two suppliers accelerated the overall decline in emulation revenues.

Never inactive and driven by confidence in technology, the three suppliers have invested in their emulation activities, reorganized their business units and developed new products. Three years later, one or two years apart, all three are launching new emulation platforms. The market has started to experience remarkable new revenue growth.

Today emulation technology is a necessity for modern design verification / validation in most verticals markets, from processors / graphics to communication, networking, storage, wireless and automotive . The emerging fields of 5G and artificial intelligence (AI) could not progress without hardware emulation. Embodied by the creation of autonomous vehicles, the automotive industry invented the New Expression of Systems (SoS) system to include the convergence of technologies from various industries such as electronics, mechanics and thermal. SoS designs require hardware emulation.

A breakthrough occurred with the adoption of virtualization, which is the ability to model a real-world environment through an equivalent software-based configuration. Via virtualization, a modern emulation platform can be used effectively. Indeed, it is the only solution for comprehensive validation at the hardware / software system level, including power / performance verification and validation. It can estimate the power consumption of an SoC design running real world applications rather than running ad hoc testbeds. Its uniqueness lies in its ability to validate power / performance tradeoffs by running cutting-edge Machine Learning (ML) / AI frameworks or payloads such as Café with MLPerf benchmarks.

After a few decades that recorded higher revenues than software-based simulation systems, revenues from hardware-assisted verification platforms – including emulators and FPGA-based prototypes – are now at the top of the list. verification engines.

The trend will continue and never fall. In fact, it’s reasonable to predict that by the end of 2019, when Q3 / Q4 2019 revenue is released by the Electronic System Design (ESD) Alliance, hardware-assisted verification revenue will exceed $ 600 million. of dollars.

In the years to come, emulation technology and products will continue to evolve and improve, and deployment will extend beyond the traditional boundaries of the electronics industry. The result will ensure that annual revenues ultimately reach $ 1 billion.

– Jean-Marie Brunet is senior marketing director for the Mentor Emulation division, Mentor, a Siemens company, and Lauro Rizzatti is director at Rizzatti Marketing Consulting.


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