Trends Emerge in the Multicore Market

An interview with Matt Volckmann, Senior Analyst, Venture Development Corp. (VDC), www.vdc-corp.com

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Matt Volckmann--via e-mail--about emerging trends in the embedded- development market. Although our conversation started at a high level, it quickly focused on trends in multicore platforms.

[JB] What are the "big picture" trends in both embedded hardware and software systems?

[Matt] There are plenty of trends that we're seeing in the embedded software market. Without more specifics, it's hard to really summarize. But some of the key trends that we observe are:

Increasing device complexity

  • Greater amount of software code per device
  • Move away from devices running with no formal operating system (OS)
  • Transition to more complex hardware architectures (including more complex chips, multiprocessor, etc.)
Growing competitive pressures in the embedded software market
  • Increased adoption of open-source OSs (namely Linux) and development environments (GCC/GDB, Eclipse)
  • More competitive pricing around OS royalties and tools
  • Greater need for vendors to offer integrated solutions high up the value chain and tailored for particular vertical markets
[JB] How about the trend toward embedded multicore platforms?

[Matt] VDC considers any configuration with more than one processor core on the same silicon to be multicore, and this would include Intel dual/quad core multicore processors as well as other multicore architectures like those found on some SoC. We define multiprocessor architectures with more than one processor on separate silicon as just multiprocessor. Both of these segments can be further defined as either symmetric or asymmetric processing. At this point, VDC believes that most of the multicore activity in the embedded device market is related to SoC architectures rather than use of configurations like Intel's multicore chips, but this may become a larger percentage of this market, as the penetration of dual core chips in the embedded market potentially increases.

In our recent industry brief titled, "Multi-core Components and Tools," we indicated that 8.4% of respondents were using a multicore architecture on their current project. When we asked those currently using a single-processor architecture what architecture they would be using within the next two years, 14.3% of respondents reported that they expected to be using a multi-core processor architecture.

We believe the move to multi-core processing will be more of an evolutionary change than a revolutionary change. There are still many challenges that manufacturers will face in moving to multi-core hardware environments. In the brief, we stated:

"Based on industry perceptions, embedded software manufacturers have been developing multi-core systems for a number of years. From the silicon/IP provider's perspective, the evolution to multi-core architectures represents an alternative approach to increased performance per watt than the continuous ratcheting up the clock for single-processor designs."

"However, just because the hardware and software have been available from silicon and software providers does not mean that it has been easy for developers to incorporate multiple processors into their designs and application development with the currently available software support. To the contrary, most market participants agree that the focus on comprehensive software support--offering new high-level development tools and training on adapting to multi-core architectures-- must be addressed if OEMs are to be successful in innovating future device development based on multi-core architectures, while minimizing costs and time in migrating their prior investments in legacy software."

[JB] Your point about the need for high-level software-development tools for multicore platforms is well taken. This is probably why Intel has devoted a great deal of energy to create a software community for its multicore processors: http://softwarecommunity.intel.com/isn/home.

Matt Volckmann is a senior analyst with Venture Development Corporation. He has over six years experience in technology research and strategy consulting. Prior to joining VDC in 2004, he worked as a consultant for TMNG Strategy and as an industry analyst with Hurwitz Group. Matt holds a BS in Economics from Bates College.