NetSpeed: An Innovative Way of Designing Systems-on-Chips
System-on-chip technology is overtaking the microprocessor as the engine that drives the exciting new electronic technology that we have come to love and depend upon.Everything from latest smartphone to automotive electronics to high-performance computing and a myriad of devices on the network all relies on a little chip referred to as an SoC. Founded in 2011 by Sundari Mitra (CEO & semiconductor industry veteran) and Sailesh Kumar (CTO & network algorithm wizard), NetSpeed Systems, a supplier of network-on-chip IP, has pioneered some out-of-the-box approaches that make it much faster and easier for electronics manufacturers to design SoCs for the next generation of innovative products.
Consider, for example, that the entire contents of a computer motherboard, including its microprocessor, can now be replaced by a SoC, a single small chip. The building blocks of a SoC are modules of low-level instructions in softwarereferred to as semiconductor intellectual property or for short, IP. These IPs building blocks communicate with each other via a network on the chip, which is a microcosm of the same kind of network that interconnects devices in homes and offices. NetSpeed provides the network used on the SoC, called a NoC (network-on-chip). Having moved toward standardization, today's manufacturerspurchase silicon proven IPs from established players and consolidate them to create diverse products for their respective market segments.One would think that this has made the designing process easier. However, as the complexity of designs has increased, the challenge of integrating a large and growing number of IPs becomes overwhelming.
While there has been tremendous advancement in tech products, surprisingly, there has been very little progress in the tools available to the architects and engineers who design SoCs. NetSpeed changes this with its solution that unifies the development process right from definition and architecture of the product to the final chip tape-out. The Silicon Valley headquartered company provides a SoC architecture synthesis platform that takes system level requirements and builds mathematical models that let system designers explore various possible solutions. It then generates integrated IP that satisfies the specifications as defined by the system architect. NetSpeed's approach enables system designers to iterate the entire architecture within hours (sometimes minutes), instead of week or months. Equally important, NetSpeed provides visibility and continuity throughout development from design to system tape-out, i.e. when the chips are manufactured, and thus ensures the chips are built correctly on the first attempt.
Addressing Industry's Hottest Painpoints
The SoC design process has traditionally been somewhat error-prone, iterative, time-consuming and reactive. But with the complexity and stringent performance requirements of today's designs, the industry is at a tipping point and a new approach is needed. One of the biggest challenges for next generation designs is the explosion of network data and thedemand for bandwidth.Demand for network bandwidth is expected to grow by a factor of five by 2018, according to a new report conducted by ACG Research. Much of this demand will be for video content, so not only will end-user devices such as smartphones need to keep pace, but so will the servers that provide the content, and ultimately the SoCs in the data-centers and end-user devices. Moreover, NetSpeed has created a set of tools designed to createthe best type of NoC for a given SoC, one that balances power with performance. Once performance and power are optimized, the next challengeis ensuring memory does not become the bottleneck, since every agent hooked up on SoC attempts to access memory as fast as possible with the lowest latency. NetSpeed addresses the hot issue of memory performance in SoC design with Gemini, its cache-coherent NoC, which creates a deadlock-free interconnect. In addition to Gemini, NetSpeed offers its OrionIP to help customers connect the various IP blocks in designs that do not require cache-coherency. Both Gemini and Orion come with NetSpeed's NocStudio architecture exploration platform offers SoC designers powerful analysis and simulation tools.
A NoC in Every SoC
"Besides guiding our people, my job is to ensure that every individual is passionate about NetSpeed's success. The team is responsible enough to manage themselves and their deliverables," asserts a proud Sundari. Understanding that each NetSpeeder has different talents and perspectives, the company gives its engineers the opportunity to wear many hats: work on hardware, software, verification, RTL or modelling, and grow in whichever direction they wish to.
"We treat our freshers as the talented rock stars they are, instead of differentiating them from experienced persons. Instead of training them with bogus work, we place more quality checks in place to avoid mistakes. We grow their responsibilities over time," adds Anush. "NetSpeeders are driven by the core values, namely innovation, cooperation and challenging the status quo," said Sundari, "and they are obsessed with seeing their products integrating into as many chips as possible."
Over the past three years, NetSpeed has doubled its employee count, filed multiple patents, and expanded its global footprint to serve customers across the U.S. and Asia, with plans to open offices in Europe next year.Taking such long strides, the company seems to have the perfect momentum to achieve its vision a 'NoC in Every SoC'.