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  • Cloud-Based Emulation

    At the risk of attracting contempt from terminology purists, I think most of us would agree that emulation is a great way to prototype a hardware design before you commit to building, especially when you need to test system software together with that prototype. But setting up your own emulation resource isnít for everyone. The big systems come with eye-watering costs and are primarily targeted to ASIC design. If your objective is FPGA-based design or small ASIC designs, emulation solutions can be less expensive but if you have a limited budget or if you need flexible access to handle peak verification loads, capital and maintenance costs can still be a significant concern.
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    Thatís where cloud-based emulation becomes an interesting alternative, in this case with Aldec. You donít have to worry about the hardware or setup or maintenance because you can now access their hardware emulation system (HES) through Amazonís rather well-known cloud services (AWS). After you have got your access credentials, you transfer design files to Amazonís Simple Storage Service (S3), then in Amazonís Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) you use an Amazon Machine Instance (AMI), configured by Aldec, to do design setup and synchronize files to the HES server. Then you start testbench simulation running on the AMI instance synced with emulation running on the HES server.

    I wasnít quite sure how exactly this works until I checked out Krzysztof Szczurís blog (heís the verification products manager at Aldec). The HES server in this cloud configuration sits at Aldecís facility and communicates with the cloud-based AMI instances through a secure VPN. You as a designer communicate with the AMI through secure SSH. You might wonder if security in this configuration is enough to protect your design crown jewels. Take heart Ė if some of big EDAís big customers can feel comfortable working in the cloud (sorry, I donít have names), you probably can too.

    And Iím guessing other cloud-based emulations work in the same way. After all, neither Amazon nor other emulation vendors are likely to want to deal with the cost and maintenance hassle of emulation boxes sitting in an Amazon datacenter (and come to that Ė which datacenter?). The simplest way to manage this is to secure VPN back to the emulation supplier who can more effectively manage and maintain that emulation hub.

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    Aldecís platform in this case is built on a Linux CentOS 7 based AMI, preconfigured for HES, supporting S3 storage and running in an EC2 instance supporting 4 CPUs and 16GB of RAM. In the AMI instance, they have their HES-DVM software providing automated synthesis, partitioning and mapping onto the target FPGAs on the HES board. Also included are Riviera-PRO, their HDL simulator and co-emulation support / simulation acceleration, support for SystemC and TLM libraries, UVM libraries and AXI transactors and monitors. Iím not clear if they also include QEMU support for virtual prototyping but I see no reason why this shouldnít be possible.

    On the emulation end of the solution they provide access to their HES7XV1380BP board (supporting up to 8M ASIC Gates). Since this is in their facility, again I see no reason why they wouldnít over time expand support to more of their board options.

    This concept of cloud-based access to EDA applications is taking off. Cadence recently touted access to implementation solutions in the cloud, as well as access to emulation in the cloud. Itís been a long time coming, gated at least as much by design house concerns over security as finding a workable business model to meet both EDA vendor and customer needs. Especially in these cases where specialized hardware must be part of the solution, elastic compute is needed to handle peak demand and affordability is essential to enable the current explosion of systems innovation, solutions of this type can only become more popular. You can learn more about Aldecís HES solution HERE.