Industry is setting on standards for hardware components as well as for non-proprietary middleware: It saves time, money and workforce to work within well-known scopes. This also applies to the tools used for developing embedded systems applications, says Stefan Skarin (in picture), CEO of IAR Systems: "Customers who standardize their tool chain not only effectively reduce their costs – they also boost their opportunities in terms of next generation technologies." He expands on this in an interview with MCU Designline.
MCU Designline: “Standardization” is the major buzz word heard from IAR Systems these days. What is it exactly?
: Standardization, of course, can be found on various levels. For a compiler, for example, you need to fulfill the respective C and C++ standards. But we at IAR Systems talk about more here. Let
me give you an example based on the railroad in the US in the 19th century: After a long battle between up to seven different gauges, the 5 inch gauge succeeded. This is the analogy to C and C++. Now you have a very fundamental but still very basic compatibility. Your trains might be completely different, you
need special personal for each train and maintenance might be very specialized.
Now we are talking tool chains. Using the same tool chain for all MCU architectures would greatly reduce cost for training, maintenance and would simplify the procurement process for our customers.
MCU DL: Why the “procurement process”?
: Many of our customers simply underestimate how many software tool licenses they actually hold in their different offices. When they think they have around 30, in reality they might have rather 100. As soon as they standardize on us as their tool provider we help them to better manage their
world-wide used licenses, to keep them up-to-date on latest architectures and give them product roadmap control.
But this not only results in optimized software budgets, but also increases their flexibility when they are looking for ways to reduce their COGS. Reducing hardware costs is one of the keys to real return on investment. Our compilers and debuggers help to shrink the code so less RAM and Flash memory is required, to accelerate it so smaller MCUs are needed and to optimize the hardware’s power consumption so smaller batteries can be employed. So if our customer decides to switch to another MCU, we give them the freedom to do so.
MCU DL: But why should a company explicitly standardize on IAR Systems’ tool chain?
Stefan Skarin: IAR Systems is the only company that could offer a broad enough range of architectures to allow for a real standardization. There are no gaps left for relevant architectures and the portfolio of ARM architectures is supported completely. Customers can move freely between 8-, 16-, and 32-bit projects and develop their application without focusing too much on the underlying Hardware. Beside the technical advantage it also increases the bargaining power of our customers significantly if they are free to choose the best value offer from various chipmakers.
MCU DL: Is there no dependency on the MCU at all?
If you stay within the same ARM core there is almost no dependency. But we got evidence from customers that even if you change MCU architecture completely, 70 to 90 percent of the code just needs to get recompiled.
MCU DL: That’s it?
Stefan Skarin: No, this is just the foundation. Now we talk about quality, market share, cost and us as a company. Standardization can only succeed with a huge installed base. IAR Systems sells more than 10.000 licenses per year. This guarantees a huge eco system, a liquid support system and availability of human resources, e.g. with trained IAR developers. IAR Systems is renowned for the quality of its compilers: a robust product with the strongest standard compliance in combination with smallest footprint and high speed. IAR is also pioneering tools for power efficient software development.
Furthermore, our customers are almost unlimited in their hardware choice. Take our flagship IAR Embedded Workbench: This set of development tools for building and debugging embedded system applications using assembler, C and C++ is available for almost all ARM architectures as well as MCUs from Atmel, Freescale, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments and Renesas. With this broad offering at hand, customers are free to invent and develop the most sophisticated applications on whatever architecture they choose. No other tool chain can offer this freedom.
MCU DL: So by choosing only one software tool provider companies can gain flexibility?
: Absolutely. As there is no lock in for companies on a special MCU, they can minimize their financial and technological risks. For example, they easily can migrate to a different architecture without the need of extra training for the development team. Being a leader in this business we can guarantee for sustainable services and we are especially known for offering our customers the most sophisticated technical support. This results in a fast time to market and a product roadmap our
customers actually can control.
MCU DL: Does this freedom in hardware choice affect the development of future applications?
Sure it does as: By standardizing on IAR Systems companies set free financial resources and creative power to develop next generation products. Presently, OEMs and system developers strive to develop energy efficient devices. With our Power Debugging technology designers can analyze their code, easily identify consumption peaks and accordingly optimize their code. We keep track with our software tools to make sure the developer has all at hand what he needs to develop future-proof products. In close cooperation with chip makers we manage to offer tools even before the chip is available on the market. Having the right tools at hand when needed helps our customers to accelerate their products’ time to market – and to gain a genuine competitive edge.