Differentiated FPGAs Provide Security in Today’s Hyperconnected World

We live in a hyperconnected world that is constantly redefining how people communicate, congregate, collaborate and share information globally and instantaneously. As ground-breaking innovation drives new paradigms in hyperconnectivity, many new business opportunities are created that offer enormous growth potential but are also accompanied by difficult technological and infrastructure challenges that require innovative solutions. These challenges range from protecting intellectual property (IP), ensuring security and combatting cybercrime to complying with eco-friendly standards and delivering higher system reliability.

"FPGAs…offer the fastest way to integrate a specific design into a single device."

Technology companies developing products for the hyperconnected world typically rely on application-specific standard products (ASSPs), application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), or field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) to incorporate required functionalities into one or more highly-integrated devices. ASSPs are difficult to find in off-the-shelf solutions that encompass all required functions, and ASICs suffer from high cost and long design cycle times, especially as the industry moves toward smaller geometries.

FPGAs, on the other hand, offer the fastest way to integrate a specific design into a single device. They have come a long way in the past two decades with regard to integration capabilities, size and built-in functions such as complex I/Os, memories, CPUs and DSPs. The cost of FPGAs is traditionally higher than ASSPs or traditional ASICs, but they provide huge advantages for supporting and facilitating system field upgradability, design flexibility and faster time-to-market. Today’s FPGAs provide an outstanding solution for system architects, and promise to offer a significantly better overall total cost of ownership (TCO) as compared to ASICs in many next-generation designs. Current solutions from the major FPGA suppliers boast excellent innovation, and include advanced built-in functions such as math blocks, high speed serial interfaces, embedded memories and various CPU/DSP cores once only available in ASIC-based component designs.

The latest FPGAs also are unique in their ability to provide built-in features and differentiated capabilities for today’s hyperconnected systems in communications, industrial, aerospace and defense applications. These system designs need improved security, low overall power consumption, high levels of reliability and application-specific system integration targeted to the end user. Each of these elements is critical for next-generation hyperconnected system designs and can be delivered with FPGAs that incorporate them all into a single, highly integrated device:

Security: A major challenge in today’s increasingly hyperconnected world is how to protect new designs from cloning, reverse engineering or tampering. FPGAs can help achieve these objectives through the inclusion of special features that address security needs all the way down to the device level. One of the most important is a physically unclonable function (PUF) from which the Private Key in the Public/Private Key scheme can be derived in order to implement Machine-to-Machine (M2M) authentication using Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). Other key FPGA features include cryptographic accelerators, a random number generator, hardware firewalls to protect CPU/DSP cores and Differential Power Analysis (DPA) countermeasures. Together, these features allow the system architect to layer in the security that is needed throughout the system.
Low Power: In the last two decades, many advanced CPUs and MCUs have architected various power-saving modes to address the power consumption issues caused by higher frequencies and higher integrations. Only the most advanced FPGAs have been architected properly to provide similar advanced low-power capabilities while supporting higher-frequency devices. And, only recently have FPGAs become available that address the leakage problems of earlier SRAM-based solutions, and provide access to low-power modes for additional power-saving capabilities. Customers now have access to power-saving features and low-power modes implemented in non-volatile memory-based FPGAs for the first time.
High Reliability: Many commercial aviation, military systems and space vehicles are required to meet size weight and power (SWaP) targets in accordance with strict budget and extend operational product life objectives. Military systems also must operate flawlessly after and often over prolonged periods of storage, and industrial systems must comply with safety standards while medical systems similarly need the highest possible reliability. The latest flash-based FPGAs increase reliability compared to past SRAM-based generations by providing immunity to single event upsets (SEUs) that change configuration SRAM contents. This eliminates the possibility of design corruption and removes the most common system failure mode, while removing the SRAM-based FPGAs’ need for SEU mitigation.
System Integration: Integration of an embedded processor core removes the need for a soft processor core to be created in the FPGA fabric and negates the speed and size penalties of this approach. The same is true of tightly coupling peripherals and subsystems, such as memory controllers, analog blocks, DSPs and high-speed I/Os. With non-volatile FPGAs, designers do not need separate memory to hold the device configuration. Integrating FPGAs with other components, such as microprocessors, memory devices and DDR memory interfaces, reduces the component count on a board and improves the overall system reliability.

An example of the latest FPGAs designed and differentiated specifically for hyperconnected system applications is Microsemi’s SmartFusion2® System on Chip (SoC) FPGA, which addresses the full range of security, low power, reliability and system-level integration requirements in a single device.

With the industry’s most complete set of design and data security features, SmartFusion2 SoC FPGAs are designed to serve as a robust root-of-trust device with secure key storage capability, and include a variety of other important features that protect today’s hyperconnected systems from cloning, tampering or other malicious attacks. For more information, explore SmartFusion2® SoC FPGA and IGLOO2® FPGAs from Microsemi here: www.microsemi.com/products/fpga-soc/fpga-and-soc.

Written By: Paul Pickle
President and COO – Microsemi

Paul Pickle was appointed president and chief operating officer (COO) of Microsemi Corporation in November 2013 and is responsible for overseeing all company operations, marketing and sales, as well as its research and development efforts. He also plays a key leadership role in defining the strategic direction for the company. Prior to this position, Mr. Pickle served as executive vice president, leading business operations of the company’s Integrated Circuits group, where he played an integral role in the planning and execution of Microsemi’s transformation to a high value-add integrated circuit supplier.

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