An informal study of more than 200 embedded developers attending the recent Embedded Systems Conference in Silicon Valley 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, the study's results also found that more engineers are looking to adopt virtualised software development (VSD) platforms for deeper insight into multicore architectures that make their jobs less complex and more predictable.
"The findings indicate that engineers recognise 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."
Extended development cycles topped the list of developers' embedded multicore challenges, with 50% of respondents rating this issue as their number one multicore challenge. Making existing code function in multicore environments was also a top issue according to 25% of respondents. And ensuring they get the full performance out of multicore chips was noted by 11% of respondents.
The survey also indicated adoption in greater numbers of virtual programming environments, as engineers recognise that VSD platforms enable better software quality and faster time to market. 42% of respondents stated that they are currently using a VSD platform or are planning to in the future, and almost half of respondents (48%) said they are willing to adopt a VSD platform or would consider it (43%) to accelerate the development process.
Better software quality was considered to be the most important benefit from employing virtual models by almost a third (32%) of all respondents.
"Engineers acknowledge that virtualised 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. "They understand the specific issues, such as determinism and lack of control, and are willing to use a virtual platform to address those issues."
Freescale and Virtutech have been working closely together to create a fast and accurate hybrid virtualised 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%) and advanced debug support (38%), specifically debugging issues of 'breakpoints do not freeze system' (33%), lack of determinism, (23%), thread locking (22%) and tools having a single processor bias (21%).
Interestingly, 44% of respondents stated their job function as software developer/architect while only 20% listed themselves as hardware developers, emphasising that moving to multicore is not necessarily a hardware concern - it is more about software development and enablement. To that end, of all the respondents, almost half (45%) said they would use virtual models for their target hardware processor or device, if available.