IoT & Embedded Technology Blog

Overcoming Local Hardware Constraints Via the Cloud

by Brendan Bradley | 11/13/2023

The COVID-19 pandemic introduced numerous complications for embedded projects, resulting in severe delays in production times. Government-mandated lockdowns and similar company policies resulted in many engineering teams suddenly working remotely from home. With no contingency plan in place for such an unprecedented set of circumstances, many distributed teams were left with little to no local access to the physical hardware they required to continue development of their projects. Faced with this issue, organizations were forced to either shell out the cash to supply enough hardware to enable their engineering teams to continue development, or shelve projects for the time being. An emerging solution from the commercial marketplace may help alleviate the pressures of current and future hardware constraints, allowing engineering teams to more effectively utilize distributed teams while also taking advantage of several additional benefits.

A growing number of hardware manufacturers are beginning to offer access to their hardware offerings through the cloud. These solutions can be classified into two categories: silicon-in-the-cloud platforms, and hardware simulations in the cloud. The former enables pre-production access to actual hardware via a cloud-native environment, whereas the latter offers cloud-native access to virtual forms of target hardware.

Both of these solutions are offered to developers by silicon providers in an attempt to influence purchasing decision by offering developer organizations of all sizes a unique set of advantages. Cash-strapped tech startups can focus on innovation without having to allocate funds towards acquiring hardware that may not be effectively available in lower quantities. For larger firms, access to cloud-hosted simulated versions of upcoming hardware releases may allow them to begin transitioning their devices to the newest designs earlier, allowing them to gain a competitive edge over competitors and bring products to market faster.

Despite these potential benefits, developing on cloud-hosted hardware does not come without its considerations. Communication between device components and the execution of software may not mirror that performed once physical hardware is introduced, resulting in latency complications for certain time-sensitive, real-time response use cases. Further complications may arise as standards and regulations begin to catch up to these offerings from the commercial market, particularly among safety-critical markets sensitive to security.

One such example released in October 2021 comes from British semiconductor design firm Arm (NASDAQ: ARM). Through its Arm Virtual Hardware (AVH) solution, the company offers IoT developers access to virtual, cloud-native versions of its Corstone and Cortex-M processors. Other vendors including Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) and Texas Instruments (NASDAQ: TXN) offer capabilities for cloud-native access to their portfolios of hardware products at varied stages of commercial readiness.

Other companies are also working on transitioning their portfolios towards addressing this market demand. Japan-based semiconductor manufacturer Renesas Electronics (TYO: 6723) is planning for the Q1 2024 release of a cloud-native solution that will provide automotive engineers with a virtual environment for developing, debugging, and evaluating application software. Through this solution, developers will gain access to virtual forms of Renesas’ next-gen system-on-chip (SoC) and microcontroller unit (MCU) hardware far before access to commercial or even prototype versions of these devices is available.

To learn more about the growing market for development solutions in the cloud and the vendors that are leading the charge, check out VDC’s upcoming report, Cloud-native IoT Development Solutions.