ARM spreading its wings beyond core competency
By Anthony Cataldo, EE Times
November 24, 2003 (11:59 a.m. EST)
SAN JOSE, Calif. The company whose name is almost synonymous with 32-bit embedded processors is out to prove it can do more than spin licensable cores for the chip industry. ARM Ltd. said last week that it will start licensing software for Java-based smart cards. It separately said it had donated transaction-level models for its ARM11 core to the Open SystemC Initiative.
The underlying message of these seemingly unrelated moves is that ARM no longer views itself strictly as a purveyor of processor cores.
The strategy is not unlike the one Intel Corp. pursued after it became the pre-eminent supplier of X86 processors for PCs. By the early 1990s, Intel had realized it couldn't keep up its heady pace of growth unless it cleared a path for making PCs easier to build, faster and more reliable. So it created standards like PCI and AGP to remove standing obstacles.
ARM is similarly trying to blaze a trail to more lucrative market s. Its decision to license software for smart cards seems odd at first glance, since the market for 32-bit processors in such cards is small, especially compared with ARM's more familiar market of processors for cell phones. ARM admitted it doesn't expect a bonanza by getting more involved in smart cards but said such involvement could eventually open the door to other markets.
For two years, security has been steadily climbing to the top of ARM's technology agenda. The company has two security processor cores in its portfolio, one of which includes an on-board Java accelerator.
The Secure JavaCard middleware that the company is now offering is intended to run on top of those cores as a virtual machine. Developed with Smart Card Solutions, the software is meant to provide OEMs with a standard bridge from the application to the hardware so that they don't have to develop one themselves.
To ARM, it's better that one com-pany provide a standard software layer and spread the cost across m any licensees, as it has done with processor cores. "Middleware development is resource-consuming and costly," said Dominique Lutz, secure segment manager for ARM (Cambridge, England).
ARM thinks hack-proof processor cores will be the gateway for other applications down the road, such as pay-TV, wireless LANs and even automotive braking systems.
Another indication of ARM's broadening scope is its keen interest in the chip design process. Last week, the company said it had worked with Cadence Design Systems and STMicroelectronics to provide system-level verification models of its ARM11 cores written in SystemC. The models,which the partners jointly donated to the Open SystemC Initiative, will address the complexity of sub-100-nanometer chip design, ARM said.
The move follows other partnership announcements in recent months that involved such design tool vendors as Cadence, Synopsys, Summit Design and Axis Systems.