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Why use virtual platforms?

The embedded software contained in modern electronic products has evolved dramatically in recent years along three dimensions:

  • Scale: The use of embedded software operating on standardized hardware platforms has become increasingly common as the cost of IC hardware production increases. This has driven up the sheer volume of code required for each project, and the effort to produce it.
  • Complexity: Multi-core processor architectures have been continually improved, providing the necessary performance and capability to meet modern product requirements. However, coding these new processors has become exponentially more complex than previous generations.
  • Quality: Modern electronic product functionality and quality requirements continue to increase dramatically, suggesting a zero tolerance for post-production bugs. In addition, embedded software has become harder to change as a product moves into production.

In the past, embedded software development and verification was typically performed by running code on a prototype of the hardware platform until the project team was satisfied that a working system had been achieved. This solution is time-consuming, unreliable in terms of quality and hard to use, making it impractical for next generation embedded software development. Similarly to hardware verification 15 years ago, new thinking must be applied if high quality embedded software is to be produced in a timely fashion.

Virtual platforms offer an alternative to hardware prototypes. Software models of the key components in a processor platform are combined to form an executable sub-system. The models must have enough functionality to execute the code correctly, but retain a level of abstraction that provides the performance necessary for rigorous testing.

Typical Virtual Platforms make use of  “Instruction Accurate,” or IA, processor models together with abstractions of memory blocks and key peripherals. The virtual platforms need to be accurate enough that the software cannot tell it is not running on real hardware, and production binaries of the embedded software should be able to run unmodified. The virtual platforms may be connected to embedded software development tools to enable a comprehensive environment for the verification and analysis of code.

The advantages of Virtual Platforms include:

  • Early Development: Virtual Platforms can usually be made available far more quickly than their hardware equivalent, allowing for embedded software development to commence often months earlier than previously possible, shaving that same amount of time off a product’s time-to-market.
  • Visibility and Controllability: Hardware prototypes offer limited access to view internal registers and signals, and no opportunity to change or control the hardware or software execution. All nodes within well-constructed Virtual Platforms may be viewed and a range of controls applied during execution. This is essential to enable the powerful tooling necessary for effective verification.
  • Performance and Accessibility: Hardware platforms often have limited availability during early production stages, which restrict the amount of testing that can be performed. Virtual Platforms can be replicated on all available compute platforms, allowing concurrent use by individual members across large teams, or many test platforms operating in parallel. Furthermore, if constructed carefully, virtual platforms can execute faster than the actual final hardware, allowing extended testing cycles.

The construction of a virtual platform can vary greatly, and this can have a significant affect on their effectiveness. Imperas has the right technology and expertise to provide fast, effective development environments based on virtual platforms. Read more about why you should choose Imperas.