Opinion: Throw cheap CPU cycles, not costly coder attention, at targets of rising complexity.
A hardware manifestation of a software bug, for example the Pentium FDIV
is so rare that people can still remember that specific incident more
than 10 years ago
. In contrast, imagine saying "that Windows bug
in 1994" (or, for
that matter, "that Unix bug in 1994") and having anyone know exactly
what you meant.
But complex semiconductors "are basically all software until you
fabricate them," observed Susan Marie Kunz, founder and CEO of
Solidware Technologies in Boulder, Colo., during a conversation we had last week. It seems odd, she said, that semiconductor quality stays abreast
of rising complexity
while enterprise platform and application
software struggles to keep up.
Closing that gap is the goal of Solidwares debut product, Splat,
introduced today and available for trial download from the companys
site at www.solidw.com
. The companys
vision for the product, Kunz said, is to elevate software quality with
the same strategies of aggressive automation, task prioritization and
cost-effective risk reduction that she and her colleagues bring from
their prior experience in semiconductors.
Growth of complexity and scale, Kunz said, "is emerging
on the software side
with open source and other developments that
leave you not quite sure of code quality; modules increasingly arent
designed initially to work together, so use cases arent
comprehensive," she observed.
The problem of software complexity is compounded, Kunz added (and I
emphatically agree), by the industrys rapid uptake of multithreaded
hardware platforms and software strategies
. "When you introduce
multithreading, a lot of code will break," she said. "You dont have to
make that move, but all the new CPU architectures
if you dont use it,
performance will definitely be impacted. The companies that make their
code work well in a multithreaded environment will definitely have an
advantage over those that dont -- but its definitely a risk, from a
defect point of view."
A concurrent growth of complexity, she said, comes with the
move from 32- to 64-bit systems
. One application, she said, went
from less than a CPU-year to more than 500 CPU-years of testing
required to achieve comparable coverage.
Too many software testing tools, Kunz said, fail to live up to their
potential because its up to coders to keep track of the opportunities
to use them. A tool may automate the performance of the test itself,
but identification of when and what to test is no simple thing.
"Theres no reason why a person should have to say, Oh, I messed
, I have to run Purify
If I know you did that, and I know you have Purify, that should kick
off automatically," Kunz urged. "We ask customers, What would make
your life easier? They so often say, Just tell me when I touch my
code, what could I have broken?"
I absolutely agree with that goal, and I hope that readers of this
column will share with me their assessments of how close Solidwares
Splat comes to achieving it -- and what else theyre using toward that
Tell me what youre afraid of breaking at firstname.lastname@example.org.