NXP Semiconductors N.V. has kicked off what could be the start of a new trend in the computer chipmaking industry, announcing that it’s moving the vast majority of its electronics design automation workloads to Amazon Web Services Inc.’s public cloud platform.
The company said today it has selected AWS as its preferred cloud provider. By moving its EDA workloads to Amazon’s cloud, NXP will gain increased efficiency and more compute power that should help it to design a new generation of faster and more powerful computer chips for the automotive, industrial “internet of things,” mobile and communications infrastructure sectors.
According to Amazon, NXP has already seen benefits that include enhanced collaboration and increased EDA throughput since moving to AWS, while reducing costs and gaining more time to focus on actual design, rather than managing compute resources.
More interesting, though, are the expected long-term benefits of moving such a compute-heavy workload as EDA to the cloud. NXP says it believes it will be able to achieve some important process improvements that will revolutionize the way it designs and tests its central processing units.
As the company explains, each new chip design is put through extensive testing and validation before it’s manufactured to ensure it is functionally safe and secure and delivers the expected performance. This work includes front-end design workflows such as performance simulation and verification, as well as back-end workloads around timing and power analysis, design rule checks and other applications necessary to prepare a new chip for production.
Previously, NXP, like other chipmakers, had always done this on-premises in internal data centers with a fixed compute capacity. But because of the increasing complexity of newer chips, it means these processes can take many months or even years to complete, and they call for the accurate forecasting and installation of new compute infrastructure.
As a result, it makes sense for NXP to move to the cloud, where it can tap into AWS’ advanced infrastructure and the scale and agility it needs to advance multiple chip design and testing projects at the same time. The move will enable it to run dozens of performance simulations in parallel, resulting in faster overall design times.
Shifting to the cloud also enables NXP to leverage key AWS analytics and machine learning services that can aid its research and development efforts. For instance, NXP is already using Amazon QuickSight, a machine learning-powered business intelligence service, to boost workflow efficiencies. By rapidly translating the results from one step of testing into modifications for another, it can reduce the time it takes to iterate on chip designs, NXP said.
The company also makes use of Amazon SageMaker, a service that’s used to build, train and deploy machine learning models in the cloud and at the edge, to optimize the way it structures compute, storage and third-party software application licenses.
NXP also benefits from the wide range of specialized instances available on AWS that allow it to achieve the perfect balance of price/performance for its EDA workflows.
Constellation Research Inc. analyst Holger Mueller told SiliconANGLE the key advantage of cloud platforms such as AWS is that they allow “commercial elasticity” for enterprises.
“In the roller-coaster bound semiconductor industry it makes sense to evaluate capital spending demand, so it’s a smart idea by NXP to move its EDA workloads to the cloud,” Mueller said. “EDA is early in the value chain for semiconductor makers, and not all design work leads to actual chips that are made.”
Charles King, an analyst with Pund IT Inc., said moving its EDA workloads to Amazon could provide compelling value to relatively smaller silicon player compared with the biggest ones such as Intel Corp. “Offloading compute and storage to a cloud vendor should reduce capital expenditures, and may also result in the company reducing IT headcount,” King said. “It wouldn’t be surprising if other vendors in NXP’s class are contemplating similar moves, though I doubt major semiconductor players will follow suit.”
NXP Semiconductors Chief Information Officer Olli Hyyppa said cloud-based EDA is necessary to accelerate semiconductor innovation and get new designs to market faster.
“AWS gives us the best scale, global presence, and selection of compute and storage options, with continuous improvements in price performance, that we need,” he said. “This will give precious time back to our design engineers to focus on innovation and lead the transformation of the semiconductor industry.”