Upverter, electronic design-as-a-service

Read a recent article on TechCrunch about Upverter a cloud based service supporting electronic hardware design and development.  The ultimate intent is to provide a electronic design as a service  (EDaaS) offering that’s almost equivalent to electronic design automation (EDA) tools available on the market today.

EDA tools available

I am no EDA expert but currently, they have some basic electronic design, simulation and build tools available.  These allow a person or an organization to design, simulate and build real electronic circuits, boards etc. They even provided tools for motherboard routing and layout as well as services to have a circuit manufactured.  But this all came with a cloud oriented electronic design versioning system which seemed pretty slick.

The TechCrunch article had a video of a tour of the service (also available on their website).  I was especially impressed with the rollback-undo options on the electronic circuit design pallet.  Seeing an electronic circuit being designed in almost a line by line build was interesting to say the least.

Not sure if we are talking ASICs or FPGA design yet but they certainly have the platform to support these tools if and when they develop it.  However, simulation time and cost might go off the charts for circuits including custom designed ASICs and FPGAs.

Everything seems to execute in the cloud and any EDA specifications reside in the cloud under their control as well. However, they do offer some tools to import EDA information from other tools and provide a JSON file format export of the EDA information you provide.

EDA service pricing

Pricing seemed pretty reasonable $7/month for an individual part timer, $99/month for full time user and both these include 10 CPU hrs of simulation time and can work on public and private projects.  Other pricing options are available for bigger teams and/or more part and full timers on a project.  I didn’t see any information on more simulation time but I am sure these would be available.

And if you are just interested in working on public projects the price is FREE.

Open source electronic design

Now, I am no hardware design expert but having such a cloud based service and essentially free for public projects opens up a whole new dimension in hardware design. Open source electronic hardware wouldn’t be as easy to support/perform as open source software but the advantages seem similar.  Such as, open sourced PCIe card instrumentation, an open sourced X86 CPU, perhaps even an open sourced server.

For instance in data storage alone I could foresee open sourced circuitry to perform NAND wear leveling, data compression and/or protocol handling to name just a few.  Any of these might make it easier for companies and even individuals to create their own, hardware accelerated storage systems.

Unclear what IP licensing requirements would be for open sourced hardware. I am certainly no lawyer but something akin to GPL might be required to help create the ecosystem of open sourced electronic design.

A new renaissance of hardware innovation?

Innovation in hardware design has always been harder mostly because of the cost and time involved.  Now Upverter doesn’t seem to do much about the time involved but it can have a bearing on the cost’s associated with electronic design if they can scale up their service to provide more sophisticated EDA tools.

Nonetheless, the advantages of hardware innovation are many and include speeding up processing by orders of magnitude over what can often be done in software alone. (For more please see our posts on Better storage through hardwareCommodity hardware always loses and Commodity hardware debates heat up again). So anything which can make hardware innovation easier to accomplish is a good thing in my book.

Also having these sorts of tools available in the cloud opens up a whole array of educational opportunities never before available.  EDA tools were never cheap and if schools had access to some of these they were often limited to only a few select students.  So with cloud based service that’s essentially free for open sourced circuit design this should no longer be a problem.

Finally, I firmly believe having more hardware designers is a good thing, having the ability to contribute and collaborate on hardware design for free is a great thing and anything that makes it easier to innovate in electronic hardware design is an important step and deserves our support.

It appears that electronic design is undergoing a radical shift from an enterprise/organizational based endeavor back to something a single person can do from anywhere connected to the internet.  Some would say this is back to the roots of electronic design when this could all be done in a garage, with a soldering iron and some electronic componentry.


Photo Credit: 439 – Circuit Board Texture by Patrick Hoesly

Is cloud a leapfrog technology?

Mobile Phone with Money in Kenya by whiteafrican (cc) (from Flickr)
Mobile Phone with Money in Kenya by whiteafrican (cc) (from Flickr)

Read an article today about Safaricom creating a domestic cloud service offering outside Nairobi in Kenya (see Chasing the African Cloud).

But this got me to thinking that cloud services may be just like mobile phones in that developing countries can use it to skip over older technologies like wired phone lines and gain advantages of more recent technology that offers similar services, the mobile phone without the need to bother with the expense and time to build telephone wires across the land.

Leapfrogging IT infrastructure buildout

In the USA, cloud computing, cloud storage, and SAAS services based in the cloud are essentially taking the place of small business IT infrastructure services today.  Many small businesses skip over building their own IT infrastructures, absolutely necessary years ago for email, web services, back office processing, etc., and are moving directly to using cloud service providers for these capabilities.

In some cases, it’s even more than  just the IT infrastructure, as the application, data and processing services all can be supplied from SAAS providers.

Today, it’s entirely possible to run a complete, very large business without owning a stitch of IT infrastructure (other than desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile phones) by doing this

Developing countries can show us the way

Developing countries can do much the same for their economic activity. Rather than have their small businesses spend time building out homegrown IT infrastructure just lease it out from one or more domestic (or international) cloud service providers and skip the time, effort and cost of doing it your self.

Hanging out with Kenya Techies by whiteafrican (cc) (from Flickr)
Hanging out with Kenya Techies by whiteafrican (cc) (from Flickr)

Given this dynamic, cloud service vendors ought to be focusing more time and money on developing countries. They should adopt such services more rapidly because they don’t have the sunk costs in current, private IT infrastructure and applications.

China moves into the cloud

I probably should have caught on earlier.  Earlier this year I was at a vendor analyst meeting, having dinner with a colleague from the China Center for Information Industry Development (CCID) Consulting.  He mentioned that Cloud was one of a select set of technologies that China was focusing considerable state and industry resources on.   At the time, I just thought this was prudent thinking to keep up with industry trends. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the cloud could be a leap frog technology that would help them avoid a massive IT infrastructure build out in millions of small companies in their nation.

One can see that early adopter nations have understood that with the capabilities of mobile phones they can create a fully functioning telecommunications infrastructure almost overnight.  Much the same can be done with cloud computing, storage and services.

Now if they can only get WiMAX up and running to eliminate cabling their cities for internet access.