The US Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) ran a “Cyber Grand Challenge” in 2016, where automated cyber-attack and cyber-defense systems were pitted against each other to drive progress in autonomous cyber-security. The competition was run on physical computers (obviously), but Simics was used in a parallel flow to check that competitors’ programs were not trying to undermine the infrastructure of the competition rather than compete fairly inside the rules of the competition.
This “vetting” system was explained in a paper from 2018, and I have a blog post up on my Intel Blog about how Simics was used. Overall, the system that was built was very impressive – following the execution of software in a detailed manner to detect if it was trying to break out of the operating system sandbox in which it ran.
The researchers also connected Simics to the HexRays* IDA Pro* Debugger, including the enabling of Simics reverse execution from IDA. It is an excellent example of what you can do given extensible and programmable platforms like Simics (and IDA). In the presentation, the researchers end with a nice slide about “Bring Your Own Simics” 🙂
Running Simics inside a container is a topic that has come up several times in recent years. In a two-part Intel Developer Zone blog post, my colleague Mambwe Mumbwa and I discuss both some background on container technology, how and how well Simics can run inside of containers, and what you can with containerized Simicses. Overall, containers offer a very good alternative to virtual machines for running programs like Simics, and the tool ecosystem opens up some exciting new ways to manage Simics installations and simulation instances.
Update: this post was extended to link to both part 1 and part 2 of the blog.
This year’s Design and Verification Conference and Exhibition (DVCon Europe) takes place on October 24 and 25 (2018). DVCon Europe has turned into the best conference for virtual platform topics, and this year is no exception. There are some good talks coming!
Bengt Werner was one of the first people to work on the simulator that would become Simics, way back in 1992. On my Intel Blog, I published an interview with Bengt a while back where we discuss the early days of Simics and the original product vision and use cases.
I have a new blog post up at the Intel Developer Zone, this time about the Simics “fulprompt”. Every software team has its legends about spectacular mistakes, crazy users, and customer calls with strange questions. The Simics “fulprompt” is one example of this from the early days of Simics. It was a prompt that appeared where no prompt would normally appear, right in the middle of executing an instruction. As such, it was an ugly hack… and for Swedes who were around in the 1990s, the only name for a ugly hack is a fulhack.
Injecting faults into systems and subjecting them to extreme situations at or beyond their nominal operating conditions is an important part of making sure they keep working even when things go bad. It was realized very early in the history of Simics (and the same observation had been made by other virtual platform and simulator providers) that using a virtual platform makes it much easier to provide cheap, reliable, and repeatable fault injection for software testing. In an Intel Developer Zone (IDZ) blog post, I describe some early cases of fault injection with Simics.
I have just released a new blog post on my Intel Developer Zone blog, about how Simics runs large huge workloads. I look back at the kinds of workloads that ran on Simics back in 1998 when the product first went commercial, and then look at some current examples running on Simics. This is the first post in a series intended to celebrate 20 years of Simics as a commercial product.
I will be presenting an Exhibitor Forum talk at the Embedded World in Nürnberg next week, about how to get to Agile and small batches for embedded. Using simulation to get around the annoying hard aspect of hardware.
Over time, Intel and other processor core designers add more and more instructions to the cores in our machines. A good question is how quickly and easily new instructions added to an Instruction-Set Architecture (ISA) actually gets employed by software to improve performance and add new capabilities. Considering that our operating systems and programs are generally backwards-compatible, and run on all kind of hardware, can they actually take advantage of new instructions?
I have posted a two-part blog post to the public Intel Developer Zone blog, about the “Small Batches Principle” and how simulation helps us achieve it for complicated hardware-software systems. I found the idea of the “small batch” a very good way to frame my thinking about what it is that simulation really brings to system development. The key idea I want to get at is this:
[…] the small batches principle: it is better to do work in small batches than big leaps. Small batches permit us to deliver results faster, with higher quality and less stress.
Integration is hard, that is well-known. For computer chip and system-on-chip design, integration has to be done pre-silicon in order to find integration issues early so that designs can be updated without expensive silicon re-spins. Such integration involves a lot of pieces and many cross-connections, and in order to do integration pre-silicon, we need a virtual platform.
I have just published a piece about the Intel Excite project on my Software Evangelist blog at the Intel Developer Zone. The Excite project is using a combination of of symbolic execution, fuzzing, and concrete testing to find vulnerabilities in UEFI code, in particular in SMM. By combining symbolic and concrete techniques plus fuzzing, Excite achieves better performance and effect than using either technique alone.
In the early 1990s, “PC graphics” was almost an oxymoron. If you wanted to do real graphics, you bought a “real machine”, most likely a Silicon Graphics workstation. At the PC price-point, fast hardware-accelerated 3D graphics wasn’t doable… until it suddenly was, thanks to Moore’s law. 3dfx was the first company to create fast 3D graphics for PC gamers. To get off the ground and get funded, 3dfx had to prove that their ideas were workable – and that proof came in the shape of a simulator. They used the simulator to demo their ideas, try out different design points, develop software pre-silicon, and validate the silicon once it arrived. Read the full story on my Intel blog, “How Simulation Started a Billion-Dollar Company”, found at the Intel Developer Zone blogs.
I have a two-part series (one, two) on testing posted on my Software Evangelist blog on the Intel Developer Zone. This is a long piece where I get back to the interesting question of how you test things and the fact that testing is not just the same as development. I call the posts Mindset and Toolset
It is really sad that the European Space Agency (ESA) lost their Schiaparelli lander last year, as we will miss out on a lot of Mars science. From a software engineering and testing perspective, the story of why the landing failed rather instructive, though. It gets down to how software can be written and tested to deal with unexpected inputs in unexpected circumstances. I wrote a piece about this on my blog at the Intel Developer Zone.
Simics and other simulation solutions are a great way to add more variation to your software testing. I have just documented a nice case of this on my blog at the Intel Developer Zone (IDZ), where the Simics team found a bug in how Xen deals with MPX instructions when using VT-x. Thanks to running on Simics, where scenarios not available in current hardware are easy to set up.
My first blog post as a software evangelist at Intel was published last week. In it, I tell the story of how our development teams used Simics to test the software behavior (UEFI, in particular) when a server is configured with several terabytes of RAM. Without having said server in physical form – just as a simulation. And running that simulation on a small host with just 256 GB of RAM. I.e., the host RAM is just a small fraction of the target. That’s the kind of things that you can do with Simics – the framework has a lot of smarts in it.
It was rather interesting to realize that just the OS page tables for this kind of system occupies gigabytes of RAM… but that just underscores just how gigantic six terabytes of memory really is.
I love bug and debug stories in general. Bugs are a fun and interesting part of software engineering, programming, and systems development. Stories that involve running Simics on Simics to find bugs are a particular category that is fascinating, as it shows how to apply serious software technology to solve problems related to said serious software technology. On the Intel Software and Services blog, I just posted a story about just that: debugging a Linux kernel bug provoked by Simics, by running Simics on a small network of machines inside of Simics. See https://blogs.intel.com/evangelists/2016/05/30/finding-kernel-1-2-3-bug-running-wind-river-simics-simics/ for the full story.
I have posted my first blog post to the Intel Software and Services blog channel. The Intel Software and Services blog is one channel in the Intel corporate blog you find at https://blogs.intel.com/. Other bloggers on the Software and Services channel write about security, UEFI, cloud, graphics, open source software, and other topics. Intel has a large software development community, and we produce quite a bit of software – and we do write about the innovations that come out of Intel that rely on software.
On my part, I will be posting more materials on simulation at Intel, as part of my role as a simulation evangelist on the Software and Service blog channel.