Sunday, March 22, 2015

Is Shift Left just a marketing gimmick?

This year DVCON in US was a huge success hosting close to 1200+ visitors busy connecting, sharing & learning! With UVM adoption rate stabilizing, this year the talk of the event was ‘Shift Left’ – a discussion kicked off as a keynote  by Aart J. De Geus, CEO of Synopsys. The reason for the generated interest is because there are gurus preaching it to be the next big thing and then there are pundits predicting it to be a mere marketing buzzword. In reality, both are correct!

The term 'Shift Left' is considerably new and is interesting enough to create a buzz around the industry. Without the buzz there is no awareness and without awareness, no adoption! However, the phenomenon i.e. squeezing the development cycle aka 'Shift left' for faster time to market has been there for more than a decade.

In the 90s, hundreds of team members worked relentlessly to tape out 1 chip in years & were flown to destinations like Hawaii for celebrating it. Today this is no more heard because every organization or for that matter even the captive centres itself are taping out multiple chips per year. The celebration got squeezed to a lunch/dinner - probably indicating a 'Shift Left' in celebrations too :)

Back in the 90s, the product was HE centric and the so called ASIC design cycle was fairly simple owing to its sequential nature where next stage starts once earlier is done. The industry saw this as an opportunity and started working towards tools & flows that can help bring in efficiency by parallelizing the efforts. Introduction to constrained random verification lead the verification efforts to be parallel to RTL thereby stepping left. Early RTL releases to implementation team helped parallelizing the efforts towards floor planning, placement, die size estimation and package design etc. Reuse of IPs, VIPs, flow, methodologies etc gave further push enabling optimized design cycle. These efforts helped in bringing the first level of the now called 'Shift Left' in the design cycle.

In the later part of the last decade, 2 observations were evident to the industry -
1. The product is no longer HW alone and instead a conglomeration of HW & SW with the later adding further delays to the overall product development cycle.
2. Efficiency achieved out of parallelism is limited by the longest pole of the divided tasks. In ASIC design cycle, Verification happens to be gating further squeeze in the cycle.

This became the next focus area and today given that the solutions have reached some level of maturity the buzz word that we call ‘Shift Left’ finally found an identity! The key ideas that enable this shift left include –

- Formal APPS enabling faster targeted verification of defined facets in any design. The static nature of the solution wrapped up in form of APPS has tickled the interest in the design community to contribute to verification productivity by cleaning up the design before mainstream verification starts. This leads to another buzzword DFV - ‘Design for Verification’.

- FPGA prototyping has always been there but each organization was spending time & efforts to define & develop the prototyping board. Today off the shelf solutions give the desired jump start to the prototyping process enabling early SW development once the RTL is mature.

- To improve the speed of verification, hardware accelerators aka emulation platforms were introduced and these solutions opened up gates for early software development even before the RTL freeze milestone.

- Improvement in speed with higher level of abstraction was evident when the industry moved from Gate level to RTL. The next move was planned with transaction level modelling. While high level synthesis is yet to witness mass adoption, its extension resulted in Virtual prototyping platform enabling architecture exploration, HW SW partitioning and early SW development even before the RTL design/integration starts.

In summary, the process of product development cycle is getting refined by the day. The industry is busy weeding out inefficiencies in the flow, automating everything possible to improve predictability and bringing in the required collaboration across the stakeholders for realizing better, faster & cheaper products. Yes, some call it the great SHIFT LEFT!


  1. Wow wonderful information. Thanks for given idea for good content for their journals and articles. The online journalism is working for college students.