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Fourth-Annual Embedded Developers Survey Measures Readiness To Adopt Multicore


Multicore programmability concerns continue; developers look to
virtualized programming environments for insight, faster development

SAN JOSE, Calif. and AUSTIN, Texas .- An informal study of more than 200 embedded developers attending last month’s Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) indicates that programmability challenges and the prospects of longer development cycles might be affecting the adoption rate of embedded multicore technology. Conducted by embedded industry leaders Freescale Semiconductor and Virtutech, Inc., the study’s results also found that more engineers are looking to adopt virtualized software development (VSD) platforms for deeper insight into multicore architectures that make their jobs less complex and more predictable.

“The findings indicate that engineers recognize multicore’s performance advantages but are also aware that moving to the technology can impact time to market due to programming challenges,” said Rich Schnur, PowerQUICC™ Solution Architect for Freescale. “The market appears ready for a new generation of embedded multicore platforms that deliver the performance expected from a multicore architecture while simplifying and speeding up software development. Freescale expects that our Multicore Communications Platform and its enablement environment will ease our customers’ transition to multicore.”

Extended development cycles topped the list of developers’ embedded multicore challenges, with 50 percent of respondents rating this issue as their number one multicore challenge. Making existing code work in multicore environments was also a top issue according to 25 percent of respondents. And ensuring they get the full performance out of multicore chips was noted by 11 percent of respondents.

The survey also indicated adoption in greater numbers of virtual programming environments, as engineers recognize that VSD platforms enable better software quality and faster time to market. Forty-two percent of respondents stated that they are currently using a VSD platform or are planning to in the future, and almost half of respondents (48 percent) said they are willing to adopt a VSD platform or would consider it (43 percent) to accelerate the development process.

Better software quality was considered to be the most important benefit from employing virtual models by more than a third (32 percent) of all respondents.

“Engineers acknowledge that virtualized programming environments can provide necessary insight into multicore architectures to improve quality and make their jobs easier,” said Michel Genard, vice president of marketing, Virtutech, Inc. “They understand the specific issues, such as determinism and lack of control, and are willing to use a virtual platform to address those issues. All these requirements and expectations are either already fulfilled with Virtutech’s Simics solution or being worked through with Virtutech’s recent standardization initiative.”

Freescale and Virtutech have been working closely together to create a fast and accurate hybrid virtualized programming environment supporting Freescale’s Multicore Communications Platform that can dynamically switch between a functional model and a cycle-accurate model for real performance prediction and experimentation with code partitioning. These types of collaborations among multicore solution vendors will undoubtedly help ease the adoption of multicore architectures.

The study found that longer development cycles may stem from difficulties with current software development environments such as lack of performance tuning (41 percent) and advanced debug support (38 percent), specifically debugging issues of “breakpoints don’t freeze system” (33 percent), lack of determinism, (23 percent), thread locking (22 percent) and tools having a single processor bias (21 percent).

Interestingly, 44 percent of respondents stated their job function as software developer/architect while only 20 percent listed themselves as hardware developers, emphasizing that moving to multicore is not necessarily a hardware concern – it’s more about software development and enablement. To that end, of all the respondents, almost half (45 percent) said they would use virtual models for their target hardware processor or device, if available.

Virtutech and Freescale Semiconductor canvassed the floor at the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose, Calif., on April 15-16, surveying more than 200 show participants on a range of issues. This is the fourth annual survey conducted by Virtutech and the first in which Freescale participated.

To help designers of embedded systems address multicore application issues, Virtutech, Freescale, Wind River and Mentor Graphics are sponsoring the live E-cast “Multicore Migration: The Challenges of Migrating to a Multicore Design” on May 20, 2008, at 2:00 p.m. EDT, with moderator Jerry Gipper, editorial director with OpenSystems Publishing. The E-cast will further examine issues in multicore implementation and will provide designers important guidance on how to best migrate their applications to take full advantage of what multicore processors have to offer. Topics will include real world implementation and choosing amongst different technology options, multicore and power consumption, debugging multicore applications using full system simulation, and designs for easing multicore application migration challenges.


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