embedded systems

Secure collaboration is a quiet trend at #52DAC

By Lou CoveyEditorial Director

While outsourcing software and design development is a common practice, the idea of putting your company’s crown jewels into the cloud for a freelancer to monkey with tends to drive sales of anti-emetics. Can you safely allow virtual strangers to access your server, or should you just suck it up and overwork your employees?

That has been a continuous conundrum of the Electronic Design Automation Industry (EDA) and its customers in the embedded software and semiconductor industries. Larger companies, like Synopsys and Intel either use internal security paradigms in the collaborative tools or work with some of the big players, like IBM and OpenText. The costs of those tools however don’t always fit in the budget for smaller companies and can be a hindrance to outsourcing companies.

What makes the whole issue more difficult is that while companies readily admit is is an important issue, not many are actually willing to talk about what they are doing about it.

At the Design Automation Conference in San Francisco this week, there was a noticeable presence of companies stating they actually do provide for secure collaboration  and were more than willing to tell you who they provided it for. One of the main players, OpenText, customers proudly proclaims their list of customers, including, in the electronics world, Alcatel-Lucent, Cirrus Logic and Renesas (see interview here).

Other players, like the recently funded Zentera, not so much. We visited Zentera’s booth at the Design Automation Conference and they were quite adamant about not saying anything substantial on the record, but their website touts a lot of partners, including Microsoft and Qualcomm.

Then you get into the realm of the EDA tool providers and the walls go up quickly. Mentor Graphics expressed surprise that one of their major customers, Qualcomm, was working with Zentera to provide secure collaboration. Synopsys and Cadence claim their own “cloud” solution, consisting of private servers stuffed in their headquarters building.

Dassault Systeme, on the other hand, was quite effusive about their Enovia collaborative platforms and focuses security according to roles, geography and hierarchy. Dassault is relatively new to the world of semiconductor design and is making a strong effort to differentiate itself from the “holy trinity” of Synopsys, Mentor Graphics and Cadence, and they have been miles ahead of the EDA industry on the issue of collaboration and security, simply because of their much broader range of customers including the mil-aerospace niches that require a standardized approach.

For third-party providers of design services these secure collaboration platforms can open doors for working with the most cutting-edge technologies that are often strapped for resources. Customers that want to integrate design environments from multiple sources can use them to integrate the external design teams into an all encompassing environment without giving up those aforementioned crown jewels. If the customer doesn’t want the additional expense, it might be worth the investment by outsourcers to adopt the collaboration platforms and work the cost into their services overall.

Outsourcing has become a zero sum game with benefits for many

This is the latest in our ongoing series of articles on outsourcing, benefits and downfalls. By Lou Covey Editorial Director

Outsourcing product design and manufacturing has become an international way of life despite the concern that it takes jobs world_of_outsourcingaway from one country in favor of another. As the practice has matured, it has become more of a zero-sum game as long as the participant realize it is best as a cooperative exercise.

The decision to outsource any part of a product lifecycle is not longer a matter of which country a company will choose, but which countries to choose. High precision work is still the realm of the United States with Western Europe a close second. Mass production of mid-quality products is an acceptable choice, even though costs are starting to rise. And Central Europe is rising as the choice for high-quality, low-cost software design.

In the end, companies have a much greater choice in how and where they choose to put together their products and services and it tends to result in jobs all around the world.

We spent some time talking to George Slawek, the managing partner of the software outsourcing company Eurocal Group , which features management , customer relations and sales in the United States, combined with software developers in Poland. We found he sees business as not either/or. He says Poland offers options not available elsewhere, but are not the be-all and end-all or options. You can listen to the 10 minute discussion here.

http://www.spreaker.com/user/footwashermedia.com/outsourcing-has-benefits-for-all

(Full-disclosure: Footwasher Media provides consultation to Eurocal Group on content and marketing strategy)

Solving the weakness of password protection

This is part one of a a two-part interview with Jack Wolosewicz, CTO of Eurocal Group and founder of Certus, a security technology firm.  We talk about the inherent weakness of passwords in relation to the growing use of streaming video.

Sponsored by Blaylock EngineeringEuroCal GroupMeBox Media and Busivid.

Connect Tech's Qseven at core of military VR system

Connect Tech, based in Ontario, Canada, designs and manufactures serial communication hardware and software for a range of industries, including communications, industrial automation, transportation, government, military, scientific, medical, educational, POS, and office automation. At DesignWest, they exhibited a military training system from Quantum3D, that was driven by custom single-board computer, built on Connect Tech's Qseven Carrier board with an Intel® Atom™ processor.  New Tech Press dropped by and had a bit of fun with the team.

Learn more at element14.com

Teen robotics team learns realities of high-tech product development

By Lou CoveyNew Tech Press Editorial Director

The FIRST national robotics championship brings together teams from high schools and high school districts from all over the US to solve a particular set of challenges every year.  At this year's competition in St. Louis, Missouri, the week of April 23, the teams will work cooperatively in a series of 3-on-3 basketball games using homegrown robots, mostly student designed.

One of the veteran groups, Team 100 from the Sequoia Union High School District in San Mateo County, California is going to the competition as a "wild card" participant.  The team has had a long experience in the competition going back to 1995 (national champion.)  In the path toward their current creation, the team found that what the basic design provided was not sufficient for the task.

Woodside High School junior Andrew Blatner, part of the electronics engineering crew for Team 100, said the standard CAN bus (controller area network) that the teams use in their projects was insufficient to deal with the communication between motor controllers.  The team attempted to use a workaround that converted the ethernet signals.  "That still didn't solve all the problems we were having in competition so we switched to direct communication to individual controllers."

Team advisor Laura Rhodes said another problem was a limitation on the number of inputs the project needed, so one of the team members, Ethan Anderson, Woodside High School senior, brought up the idea of using an Arduino development board to expand the available number of inputs.  Anderson had some experience using Arduino in personal home projects and several advisors had additional input based on their experience.

A remarkable aspect of the project is how it mirrored problem solving efforts experienced by professional product development teams, as in the software phase of the project.  Connor Wake, Sequoia High School senior and part of the software sub-team, said several new aspects of the competition created unique software control issues.  The team decided early on to switch from National Instruments Labview to Wind River C++ to handle the use of cameras, motor controls for shooting the ball at different angles and speeds and to control intakes to avoid jamming.  New team members had to be trained in the use of the tools and legacy code integrated.

What was unusual in the project development was the lack of "walls" between the sub teams. Wake spoke in detail of the various mechanical aspects of the robot, and Anderson demonstrated more than a working knowledge of the software difficulties.

Rhodes said the goals of Team 100 students have always been to acquire real–life skills and gain hands-on engineering experience. Originally, the team consisted of solely of Woodside High School students, but in 2003, a large group of students from Carlmont High School, a neighboring district school, joined the team, soon becoming a permanent addition. During recent seasons, Sequoia High School students have also been added to the roster, creating the current tri-school team. The team's primary sponsor is DreamWorks P.D.I.

Read more at element14.com

Nabto offers development help for their worldwide firewall

Security in the "Internet of Things" is becoming a major issue in embedded, portable device industry and the tiny Danish company of Nabto is helping customers take a step toward securing new devices.  At DesignWest, Nabto was talking about the Nabduino, a Arduino-based development board with their tiny (less than one meg) webserver IP that can place your device behind the corporate firewall...anywhere in the world.  New Tech Press dropped by to chat with them.

Screaming Circuits finds silver lining in economic downturn

The economic downturn has had an upside for some industry segments. PCB prototyping service Screaming Circuits has seen business climb steadily since it's founding in 2003 as more companies have cut back staff and resources, stretching engineering staffs beyond their own capabilities. Screaming Circuits recently formed a relationship with Newark/element14 to offer their services to the element14 community. In this interview with Duane Benson, director of marketing and sales, Benson elaborates on the growing prototyping market in the PCB industry as well as the challenges and needs of their customer base.

Icon Labs addresses the security of the Internet of things

Embedded security was one of the many different tracks offered at the 2012 Design West Conference in San Jose bringing forth a wide variety of companies focused on securing the Internet of things.  One of the more unusual and possibly unique companies was Icon Labs that provides embedded firewalls, protection from the Black Hat world directly on your mobile devices, as well as the embedded internet in general.  New Tech Press sat down with Icon's president, Alan Grau, to find out more about this approach to data security.

Automating embedded software testing with Electric Cloud

The 2012 UBM Survey showed that, for the first time, QA engineers are becoming a significant portion of embedded software teams, and there is less concern about the quality of debugging tools for those teams,  However, the size of those teams is, in general, dropping and concern for tool quality is still number one, all of which makes hitting schedules on time the greatest challenge for those teams. According to Dax Harfang at Electric Cloud, those pressures are even greater in hardware-centric companies who would rather not make a large investment in software QA, especially smaller companies that may be using resources around the world.  Farhang stated that "homegrown" approaches are hard to manage, can be very slow, and often lack documentation that a distributed team can access.  "Development teams need to address "back end" software production processes to save time, improve product quality and deliver software to market faster."  New Tech Press talked with Harfang about meeting automating embedded test at the 2012 Design West Conference in San Jose.

Nabto offers small-footprint IP for portable webserver

On my annual visit to the Embedded Systems Conference searching for interesting companies, I found these guys: Nabto.  This Danish company was, in essence, the only interesting company on the exhibit floor, and not just for their technology but for their lack of hyperbole about who they were and what they did.  Bravo.

This is an unsponsored report courtesy of New Tech Press