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ReLiSys – Licensing IP in SoC Architectures

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Fitting all the capabilities of a full-scale computer system within the tiny confines of a single chip, SoCs or Systems-on-a-Chip have played a key role in the rise of today’s connected world, originally as daring concepts, later as technical challenges inspiring big leaps forward in computer engineering, and now – with recent advances in miniaturizing and packaging technologies – as the actual backbone of much of our current IT infrastructure from mobile phones to the embedded devices constituting much of the IoT.

Xilinx’ Zynq® UltraScale+ architecture is a popular choice for many of the prime areas of application for these tiny, but versatile systems, such as on-board systems in automotive use. Its popularity stems, in particular, from the ability to tailor the system to each use case’s specific needs in the field, as configurable hardware like FPGAs afford a level of flexibility not attainable with monolithic out-of-the-box systems.

Motivation

Any system that is designed to be reprogrammable or reconfigurable in the field – be they cutting-edge FPGA SoCs or any other open-ended system of this nature – creates unique challenges for security and licensing purposes. Each addition or reconfiguration adds often sensitive hardware IP into the system, while it also changes its make-up and properties, in other words: its identity. Protecting and controlling that IP needs a licensing system pliant enough to accommodate the changes, but without any compromise regarding its security.

With this in mind, the ReLiSys project intends to produce a licensing use case and model for dynamic and heterogeneous systems using the Zynq UltraScale+ architecture. Its purpose is to mirror the flexibility of the reprogrammable hardware with an equally field-programmable license reconfiguration manager and to test the resulting system for other potential applications that demand similar levels of adjustability.

Objectives and Approach

The ReLiSys project was designed around a focused three-track approach to guarantee effective progress towards a working solution that is ready for active use as well as potential application to other use cases.

The conceptual framework is defined in its first track, which is dedicated to producing a viable use case and licensing model for heterogeneous SoCs. Particular attention is paid to integrating Wibu-Systems CodeMeter technology with the Zynq UltraScale+ architecture as the gatekeeper for checking the reconfigurable hardware IP against the relevant licensing policies to keep control over whether, where, on which SoCs, and how often certain hardware IP can be used legitimately. This is achieved in the project’s second track, which revolves around developing a dedicated license reconfiguration manager and reconfiguration storage to add to the CodeMeter technology. This solution would then check and clear or block any changes to the SoC depending on the license policies.

Innovations and Prospects

With the third track of the project dedicated to exploring possible prospects for porting its results, specifically in the form of the reconfiguration manager, to other use cases or SoC scenarios, the ReLiSys project is set up with practical utility in mind. It intends to produce a working ReLiSys prototype as a proof of concept for the solution and test case to check the feasibility of the approach for different applications or even other architectures, bringing the trusted security of a reliable licensing system to the increasingly relevant field of field-programmable embedded systems.