Virtual Prototyping and the IoT: A Q&A with Carbon Design Systems

A designer of high-performance verification and system integration products highlights the virtual prototyping/IoT relationship and explains the more prominent part pre-built virtual prototypes now play.

Editor’s note: Our thanks Bill Neifert, chief technology officer of Carbon Design Systems and a Carbon co-founder who recently offered his insights on a number of questions.

EECatalog: How much embedded design activity are you seeing for IoT?

Bill-Neifert_webBill Neifert, Carbon Design Systems: IoT is an intriguing space since exactly what this means varies from source to source. Regardless though, the fundamental premise of IoT is taking a device and placing it on the Internet. While this seems simple enough at first, it introduces substantial design complexity along with a lot of additional potential. Any device connected to the Internet needs to be able to interact securely, which requires a good amount of design effort and proper design practices. In addition, since connected features are seen as a means for differentiation, it’s common for the connected capabilities to be leveraged to integrate other features such as remote controllability and notification. All of this complexity drives a need for additional embedded development.

EECatalog: How can IoT designers take advantage of virtual prototyping, especially when security is a consideration?

Neifert, Carbon Design Systems: Virtual prototypes add value to IoT development in multiple ways. Since IoT devices typically are more consumer-focused, time to market is often a key way to differentiate. Virtual prototypes are able to pull in design schedules by parallelizing the hardware and software design efforts. In addition, since security plays a big role in IoT, accurate virtual prototypes can help ensure that all of the system’s corner cases have been validated early in the design.

EECatalog: What trends are you seeing that will affect embedded designers in 2015?

Neifert, Carbon Design Systems: The primary trend that will continue to affect embedded designers in 2015 is the mass migration of designs to the ARM architecture. ARM has long been the dominant player in the mobile space. In the past few years though, it has achieved significant penetration into other market verticals. We’ve seen strong adoption of ARM processors in a number of areas, winning design starts away from both internal offerings as well as other processor IP vendors. We’re seeing this trend reflected in our own customer base. A year ago, the majority of our virtual prototypes were used in SoC designs focused on the mobile space. While mobile is still a widely used application, in just the past 12 months, we’ve seen new ARM-based design starts in servers, base-stations, storage, sensors and industrial applications. In many cases, this is the first time that the design team is using ARM IP. If you’re an embedded designer and your current project isn’t using an ARM processor, there’s a good chance that you’ll use one on your next project.

EECatalog: How has virtual prototyping changed the way in which embedded designers work?

Neifert, Carbon Design Systems: In the past few years, multicore designs have become far more prevalent. Although this puts a lot more power into the hands of the designer, it also introduces substantial complexity from both the hardware and software design perspective. Virtual prototypes empower designers with the tools to handle this complexity. Accurate virtual prototypes enable architects to ensure that the performance goals of the chips used to drive embedded designs are being met. Validation and verification engineers are leveraging virtual prototypes to ensure that the interactions between system software and the hardware being designed are correct. Finally, firmware and software engineers are able to leverage the early availability, speed and visibility of virtual prototypes to design software earlier and debug problems that would take much longer to isolate in real hardware. There’s no way for real silicon or even hardware prototypes to match the visibility and debuggability, which is standard in a virtual prototype.

Recently, pre-built virtual prototypes such as Carbon Performance Analysis Kits (CPAKs) have been playing a much larger role in the embedded design process. These pre-validated systems come complete with all of the hardware and software models needed to be productive. Designers are typically up and running within minutes of download. The system serves as a great starting point to accurately model the performance of the embedded design long before it is built. Since pre-built virtual prototypes support both 100 percent accurate execution as well as 100 MIPS performance, they can be used by all of the design teams in an embedded design. They enable embedded designers to spend less time creating a virtual prototype and more time using that virtual prototype to be productive.

anne_fisherAnne Fisher is managing editor of Her experience has included opportunities to cover a wide range of embedded solutions in the PICMG ecosystem as well as other technologies. Anne enjoys bringing embedded designers and developers solutions to technology challenges as described by their peers as well as insight and analysis from industry leaders. She can be reached at

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