Software’s Domination Continues

By Richard A. Quinnell

Welcome to the Summer edition of Embedded Intel® Solutions. This issue features many software-related topics, including security, digital rights management, and optimization. Even many of the hardware design topics have a software focus. Two articles examine the use of software modeling for hardware debug and system integration.

This focus on software is not deliberate. It is the result of selecting from the many submissions the publication receives those topics that appear to have the broadest range of applicability and that address current and compelling issues. The publication does not drive specific topics; it responds to the industry’s emphasis.

For now, that emphasis remains dominated by software issues. It is easy to see why. Intel and its partners have done an excellent job of creating the chips and boards that system developers need. In addition, many large-market applications have a base set of hardware needs. The chips and board designs, to gain the advantages of high-volume manufacturing, contain a full set of functions for these markets. As a result, the hardware design varies only slightly from one system to another.

Most of the innovative system features and attributes in these markets, therefore, come in the form of the applications programs that developers create. Software is most often how companies add their unique value to the common base platforms. As a result, software design issues dominate the concerns of the industry.

There is another reason that software design gets the lion’s share of attention. Hardware design, once complete, tends to remain fairly stable. In addition, once deployed, hardware remains essentially unchanged. Software, on the other hand, remains fluid both throughout development and after field deployment. Because software upgrades are readily implemented, companies often offer enhancements (or corrections) for existing installations in order to maintain customer satisfaction.

The problem is, while hardware fails without proper maintenance software seems to fail because of maintenance. Software has become so complex that even seemingly minor changes can have catastrophic consequences to system operation. To prevent such calamities, system developers have to use special care in their development and testing of software modifications.

This need for caution and the magnitude of the penalty for errors are large factors in the importance given to software issues by the industry. It is critical to system success that software issues be resolved quickly and reliably. Many experts peg the fraction of time spent in designing and debugging software at more than 75% of the total development effort.

This is not to say that hardware design is unimportant. It is just that many of the hardware design issues have already been addressed by the chip and board providers. Software represents the largest expanse of unknown territory in modern system design.

It is true, however, that the view from the trenches may be different from the view in the pressroom. To a great extent, publications such as this one depend on industry representatives to convey the concerns and needs of designers. They, too, may have a different perspective that that of those actually facing and solving design challenges.

Acknowledging that difference in viewpoint, Embedded Intel® Solutions is open to suggestions from the readership. What are your design concerns? Where do you need additional insight and information? What is it you want to know more about? Let us know. This publication is intended to serve your needs and we want to do that as well as we can.

Take the time to drop us a note or visit our booth at tradeshows. Let us know what you want to see more of, and what we should cut back. Software dominates this issue. Let your voices be heard so that your concerns dominate the next one.