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Arm puts virtual hardware in the cloud so you won't have to wait for the actual chips

Developers, start your engines

Arm is putting virtual models of its chip designs in the cloud so developers can write and test applications before the physical hardware gets into their hands.

The Arm Virtual Hardware offering is part of new product portfolio called "ARM Total Solutions for IoT." Cringe-worthy marketing jargon aside, Arm wants to give developers a head-start in coding for Internet of Things applications, like cars, robots and refrigerators.

Here's how it works.

Arm licenses chip designs and intellectual property for chips used in devices ranging from battery-operated devices to cars and servers. Once Arm releases the building blocks for chips to silicon partners, it will also make a virtual representation of the chip stack available to developers in the cloud.

Developers can then start writing, testing and debugging applications and test them on simulated hardware. Historically everything happened in sequence, with ARM releasing chip design IP to silicon providers, and there was a three-year wait before development of apps could begin.

Now, chip design and software development can happen almost in parallel, Mohamed Awad, vice president of IoT and Embedded at Arm, told The Register.

"It represents a new way for software developers to innovate and develop for all those diverse devices, but they can do so in the cloud without hardware," Awad said.

This is the first time Arm is offering virtual hardware, and it'll initially be for IoT, Awad said.

The Virtual Hardware will initially be available for the Corstone-300 subsystem from Arm SoC partners, incorporating the Arm Cortex M55 AI processor and Arm Ethos U55 microNPU.

Awad declined to say whether something similar would be available for mobile chip designs, and he highlighted why it needed to first be in IoT.

The overwhelming number and diversity of IoT chips makes it costly and challenging to test and deploy software, and virtual hardware provides a better model on which to program. Compare that to mobile phones, which replicates one chip design over a number of devices.

Testing software on virtual hardware isn't new, with examples being flight simulation and wind-tunnel testing in engineering applications.

Arm is relying on a modern development methodology called DevOps, an iterative software cycle so developers can track performance improvements, the quality of code, and achieve a level of comfort for code across a range of devices, all while the chip is being developed. The iterative and collaborative DevOps methodology is used by Amazon, Facebook and Google to quickly deploy code to test new features in their products.

"Arm Virtual Hardware allows them to do that in the cloud ... as opposed to what they had to do before which was just have a massive hardware farm and run flash on those devices every time they had to make the code change," Awad said.

Amazon used Arm Virtual Hardware to test Alexa features on a myriad of devices, Awad said. Amazon gave its wake word recognition software to multiple vendors for use in devices like fridges and thermostat. Amazon used Arm Virtual Hardware to virtually test the code and it's performance without deploy hundreds of hardware units using that feature.

The company also announced Project Centauri as part of ARM Total Solutions for IoT, which is an effort to find a common language on which devices, chips and cloud services can interface and talk. ®

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