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Issue 4, 2012

Standards Column
OpenStand: Measuring up in Design Automation Standards

Since the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) and other like-minded Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) publicly introduced the principles of Modern Standards Paradigm, OpenStand, in late August 2012, I have been thinking about how closely the electronic design automation (EDA) community follows these principles. Here is my take on it – some perspectives are based on recent activities and others are historical.

  • Respectful Cooperation: Accellera Systems Initiative (Accellera) is an SDO focused on developing standards for the EDA and semiconductor intellectual property (IP) industries. It collaborates with IEEE-SA to further ratify its standards by the global community, respecting each other's processes and intellectual property rights (IPR). In fact, one of the driving principles at Accellera has been to cooperate with IEEE-SA to promote its standards globally. When many activities under Accellera reach a certain level of maturity, they are turned into a formal Project Authorization Request (PAR), leading to formation of a technical working group (WG) under IEEE-SA and eventual ratification by the IEEE-SA Standards Board. Table 1 summarizes various standards that originated in Accellera and were ratified by IEEE-SA (some multiple times).

    Table 1: Popular standards in EDA
    Table 1: Popular standards in EDA

    It would be unfair to say that Accellera is the only SDO that cooperates with IEEE-SA. If you are familiar with the history of Accellera, you will also recognize that SystemC™, IP-XACT™ and IP Quality standards originated in the Open System C Initiative (OSCI), SPIRIT Consortium, and Virtual Sockets Initiative Alliance (VSIA). Respectful collaboration is one of the guiding principles that brought these organizations to merge with Accellera in forming a stronger community to develop standards for the whole user community.

    Table 1 also clearly indicates that some standards, such as VHDL (IEEE 1076™), started out in IEEE-SA and, in fact, pre-date the formation of any SDOs in the industry. Similarly, some standards efforts currently under way in Accellera have not progressed far enough to be taken through the IEEE-SA process.

  • Adherence to fundamentals: These fundamental principles are Due Process, Broad Consensus, Transparency, Balance and Openness. Accellera, as well as IEEE-SA, are broadly recognized as the "open and inclusive" organizations for developing EDA and IP standards for the past two decades. In particular, the alignment between their Operating Procedures and IPR policies makes even the company lawyers happy; they have to review only one set of policies and get membership in two world-class organizations!

    Accellera follows principles similar to those used under IEEE-SA's Corporate Program. Essentially, this means one company, one vote. Imagine the difficulty a small company could face in SDO participation in the absence of such a rule. In fact, we often see many small companies becoming Corporate Members to stay on par with larger companies and ensure that larger companies will not drive standards in a direction that locks the smaller companies out of the market. Standards do create a level playing field, and SDOs adhering to fundamental principles enable that.

    The balance and transparency in SDO membership as well as in its activities are also important for the success of the standards and the semiconductor industry. Chip design and verification involves so many tools and IPs – hundreds, by some accounts. Given that, interoperability is a key issue, leading to the need for the creation of standards by a broad community. Only when the standard meets the requirements of the user and the vendor community effectively is it adopted broadly; this, in turn, leads to business opportunities for vendors, creating multiple competitive alternatives for the users. It's a good cycle as it expands the industry. Want an example? You don't need to go too far, just look at what SystemVerilog has done for the design and verification community.

  • Collective Empowerment: The SDOs are causing collective empowerment for the community through standards that are chosen and defined based on technical merit, as judged by the contributed expertise of each participant. It is easy to take someone's contribution and rubber-stamp it as a standard. However, a standard that has gone through thorough review by the broad industry and has withstood criticism by many participants appeals to the entire community. In turn, the community demands that such a standard be implemented and supported by the vendors. It also serves as the building block for further innovation.

    The low power standard, UPF, is a great example. As mobile devices demanded better energy/power management, power intent across the entire design and verification flow had to be specified in a consistent and comprehensive manner. The user community initiated public discussion in 2005 to address the problem in the form of an open format. Without reliving the history, suffice to say that six contributors put aside their differences and agreed to collaborate under Accellera and created the Unified Power Format (UPF). After an intensive six month effort under Accellera, it was brought to the IEEE-SA under the 1801 WG and the larger community came forward with requirements and contributions. Eventually, those who were favoring a closed, and proprietary and single-vendor controlled format, joined the UPF development bowing to the power of Collective Empowerment. In turn, this unification has not only benefited the user community, but it has lead to the tool vendors providing innovative software and IP vendors providing an increasing number of power-aware semiconductor IPs. In a fragmented world, this outcome was just not possible!

    Availability and Voluntary Adoption: At the risk of repeating information from the last article, let's bring back the discussion of the System C and IP-XACT standards to show how well our industry has dealt with these principles. The GET IEEE™ program for design automation standards, funded by Accellera, provides unrestricted, global access to the entire community to these standards at no charge. Combining no cost with the high quality of these standards has resulted in rapid voluntary adoption of tools and IPs that implement and adhere to these standards. As additional design automation standards are ratified by the IEEE-SA, Accellera plans to sponsor them for inclusion in the GET IEEE Program.

    Table 1: Popular standards in EDA

    Standards have played a significant role in the success and maturity of the EDA and semiconductor IP industries. Even before we had the formal definition of OpenStand, we have followed the principles of the Modern Standards Paradigm. Historically, we have been successful at building consensus-based standards and we continue to deploy the principles in many of our standards development efforts today. I fully expect we will continue to support these principles in the future as well.

More Information

IEEE Standards Association

About the Author
Yatin Trivedi is the director of Standards and Interoperability Programs at Synopsys. He represents Synopsys on the Standards Board and the Standards Education Committee (SEC) of the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA), the Education Activities Board (EAB) of IEEE, the Board of Directors of IEEE Industry Standards and Technology Organization (IEEE-ISTO), and the Board of Directors of Accellera. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Standards Education Committee eZine, vice chair of Design Automation Standards Committee (DASC), member of IEEE-SA's NesCom, AudCom and ICCom governance committees, and member of the Corporate Advisory Group (CAG). He manages interoperability initiatives as part of the corporate marketing strategic alliances group and works closely with the Synopsys University program.

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