Anticipating the future of physical systems design

Mujtaba Hamid

Rising complexity, IP intensity and need for security of physical systems products requires a transformation in how to develop, manufacture and operate these systems. To meet time-to-market demands, software developers and hardware producers alike need optimized cloud + AI solutions that can provide higher levels of collaboration, higher protection and access to scalable computing resources, and the latest AI technologies. Additionally, government and industry require increasing validation of security and access controls to many physical systems that are key to commercial and national security.

In March, Microsoft announced the public preview of Azure Modeling and Simulation Workbench (Azure MSWB), a fully managed engineering environment that enables secure user collaboration while protecting data and IP via multi-layered security and access control solution.

While early use of Azure MSWB by United States Department of Defense, Defense Industrial Base (DIB) and commercial industry has centered around the modernization of secure, collaborative systems design, we envision a future secure, intelligent cloud gateway for the physical systems product lifecycle. A coherent, integrated, secure, and dynamic platform such as this will be essential to enable a seamless DevOps cycle for physical systems products. This is needed for further technology-driven advancements such as generative AI, which has already begun transforming digital software products.

Transforming the DevOps cycle for physical products

We have already seen the complete transformation of how digital software products and services are designed and built. As networking and compute capabilities became more reliable, accessible, and ubiquitous, software developers moved from a linear, siloed process with limited access to run-time data to a continuous DevOps cycle. The modern DevOps loop for software has been critical in better understanding how products are being used, rapidly iterating, and pushing updates to customers in near real-time.

Image MSWB PostLaunch Software Devops

A similar transformation is underway for the design and production of physical products. While nearly every physical product today is already born digitally (i.e., in a CAD system), physical product development still largely follows the linear model – even in instances where physical products have digital technology embedded within.

In design-time, hardware is designed to fulfill requirements. It undergoes simulation and testing before moving into the build and launch. Because of limited feedback in run-time, few companies have visibility into post-sale usage. This impacts a company’s proactive ability to provide any maintenance support or to improve products based on real-world data. Each of these steps uses proprietary tools that often don’t integrate or easily allow data sharing, making it difficult for engineers and product managers to coordinate upstream or downstream.

In the future, we envision that DevOps for physical products will connect design-time and run-time through cloud, edge, and connectivity capabilities across a common compute, data, and collaboration fabric.

Image MSWB PostLaunch PhysSys Devops

This transformation:

  1. Transforms design into a faster iterative loop by digitizing more of the process, which enables faster design, simulation, and tapping into cloud-native collaboration tools
  2. Creates an operational / run-time loop on the edge by capturing more data with IoT and leveraging it to optimize the operation of products across diverse use cases. These continuous streams of real-time data will allow for the monitoring and adjustment of products’ run-time parameters.
  3. Enables integration of the operational / run-time loop into a unified DevOps process by using the edge to calibrate simulations, making them dramatically more accurate – enabling much faster product design and testing.

This future state requires an integrated data, compute, and collaboration platform. Azure MSWB will be essential for facilitating the collaborative framework that supports DevOps for physical systems, while linking engineers and software developers as they work with different engineering apps.

Azure MSWB – design, simulate, collaborate

In development of both software and hardware, security and integrity of IP is critical. Already, Azure MSWB has been used by the US Department of Defense as the foundation for silicon design under the Rapid Assured Microelectronics Program (RAMP).  During phase 1 of the program, Azure MSWB enabled design teams to tapeout (handoff to manufacturing) multiple silicon designs in a matter of weeks.

For example, BAE Systems used Azure MSWB under a stringent Multi-Project Wafer deadline. Azure MSWB enabled physical implementation with commercial and customs EDAs and data management tools, allowing the creation of two chips in ten months – with three times faster runtimes –  that typically would have taken 12 to 18 months.

Raytheon discovered several benefits using Azure MSWB while collaborating across multiple customer and partner teams, including:

  • Faster compute runtimes with the ability to scale up quickly as needed with virtually no cap.​
  • Enablement of higher-level security classifications due to the secure cloud access.​
  • Successful design a state of the art SoC Chiplet, and see a path towards a “one stop shop” storefront model: Computer resources, CAD tools, PDKs, templates, support, using the latest CAD tools.

It was recently announced that Microsoft received a RAMP extension. In this phase 2 extension, the US Government will help grow the RAMP Platform – powered by Azure MSWB – by supporting proofs of concept and design activities for 15 DIB and government organizations, agencies, or laboratories.

As part of the execution of this extension, Microsoft signed and started the onboarding of 15 additional Defense Industrial Base (DIB) companies onto Azure MSWB.

This level of collaboration is an early indicator of how advanced systems development – such as space, air, ground, and other electronic systems – will be transformed through cloud + AI platforms. In the coming years, companies and countries will have the ability to collaborate across companies, countries, and classification domains securely with full visibility into the integrity of their data.

For example, any company designing and building military aircraft will be able to securely coordinate with subcontractors and end customers, while ensuring security and sovereignty of sensitive components, subsystems, and system designs.

This kind of sophisticated, multi-party design is both possible – using Azure MSWB –  and essential for mission customers to achieve their mission objectives.

Creating a secure cloud gateway for physical systems

Together with our partners, a vision for the future is emerging and centers around a secure cloud gateway through which national investments – including end-to-end microelectronics design – can occur.

A secure cloud gateway – like Azure MSWB – is a key platform for the safe and effective delivery of cloud services. This platform enables smooth and secure exchange of data between different computing environments, such as on-premises infrastructure and multiple cloud services. Additionally, as a secure cloud gateway, Azure MSWB uses sophisticated security measures to handle, filter, and monitor the traffic between these environments, ensuring that data transfers are both protected from threats and compliant with policies.

More specifically, Azure MSWB can support the semiconductor R&D and manufacturing sectors, in particular, by facilitating safe and efficient cloud interactions that are vital for the sensitive data and intellectual property involved in this industry. Furthermore, in alignment with the CHIPS Act initiatives, Azure MSWB will enhance national security and economic competitiveness by protecting the technological infrastructure of the US semiconductor and other critical industries.

Azure MSWB also supports the CHIPS for America’s vision by strengthening the US role in technological innovation and ensuring that the R&D ecosystem is resilient and secure against emerging threats. By using cloud-native security models, Azure MSWB reduces risks and improves the performance of the cloud services utilized within the semiconductor sector and beyond, helping to maintain a reliable and secure supply chain.

By expanding beyond design into manufacturing and operations Azure MSWB helps to ensure provenance and efficiency of the physical supply chain. The natural next step in the process will build on lessons learned through the DoD RAMP program to enable scale for a wide variety of physical products – e.g. enable chip manufacturing atop a hyperscale cloud.

Azure MSWB enables both government and industry to collaborate and innovate securely while protecting everyone’s IP. Just as important, Azure MSWB facilitates a more open environment of collaboration by providing the security necessary for new resources – such as a GitHub equivalent for physical design – to be launched and used at scale. This environment, in turn, increases the value that can be derived from applying AI across a large and diverse data set – accelerating insights and informing design, build and improvements.

Azure MSWB also plays a pivotal role in addressing workplace shortages and enhancing educational programs by enabling remote access to crucial resources, centralizing security management, and automating key security processes. Further, Azure MSWB allows organizations to tap into a global talent pool and operate efficiently with fewer on-site personnel, thereby mitigating the impact of localized workforce shortages. It also simplifies IT operations through robust, centralized security management across cloud services and on-premises environments, reducing the need for large, specialized IT teams and automating routine security tasks to compensate for the shortage of cybersecurity professionals.

A platform such as MSWB can also be leveraged for workforce development by providing access to advanced educational tools and fostering collaborative opportunities. By facilitating secure, remote access to a variety of cloud-based resources and industry-standard technologies, these gateways enable educational institutions to extend learning beyond traditional campus boundaries. This not only enriches the learning environment but also prepares students for the technological demands of the modern workforce, effectively bridging the gap between current industry needs and academic offerings. This can be particularly motivating for students in fields like data science, engineering, and digital arts, where large-scale computing resources are a necessity.

Looking ahead to generative AI

For digital software products, generative AI is being adopted for scenarios ranging from code entry – GitHub Copilot, productivity applications – Microsoft 365 Copilot and security – Microsoft Copilot for Security, with new scenarios rapidly emerging. As physical systems design evolves towards a software-like DevOps paradigm, similar opportunities abound for using generative AI to accelerate, reduce cost of, and secure physical systems lifecycles. Last November, our industry partner Synopsys announced Copilot for EDA. Transformative application of generative AI for physical systems will require a secure, collaborative, scalable data and compute platform, such as the one Azure MSWB alongside Azure and Azure OpenAI provide.

Learn more

Azure MSWB is now in public preview (request here) and we are bringing the service to more regions. We’ll have global availability by the end of the summer 2024 with Azure MSWB being deployed in the Sweden region in May ’24 and deployed in the APAC region later this summer.

If you’d like to stay up to date on news and announcements about our secure collaboration cloud solutions for engineering systems and modeling, we invite you to sign up here for the latest, or you can speak to our technical specialists by requesting an outreach here.

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