Cloud-based chip design for national security achieves key milestones

Continued US leadership in emerging technology requires a sustainable supply of advanced chips to power innovation from artificial intelligence to quantum computing. The CHIPS and Science Act, passed last year, aims to boost domestic research and manufacturing capacity for critical microelectronics. To support this ambitious effort, the US Department of Defense (DoD) launched the Rapid Assured Microelectronics Prototypes (RAMP) using the Advanced Commercial Capabilities program, an effort to accelerate the secure, sustainable development of microelectronics for defense technologies.

As part of this effort, three new state-of-the-art chips were developed using the RAMP secure design capability developed by Microsoft within the Azure Government cloud environment to ensure compliance with DoD supply chain requirements. This achievement is a key milestone that marks the first time such chips were designed in the cloud and transmitted via the cloud to chip foundries for manufacture. This process rapidly accelerates the time to market for critical microelectronic components and represents a significant milestone in secure cloud-based microelectronic design and manufacturing. It is also extendable to the commercial design environment in Azure, accelerating the goals of the CHIPS Act to enable a sustainable domestic supply chain for semiconductors.

DoD originally awarded RAMP in September 2020 through the Strategic & Spectrum Missions Advanced Resilient Trusted Systems, managed by National Security Technology Accelerator, with the follow-on prototype RAMP PHASE II awarded in August 2021.

These components are foundational to the security of new and emerging technologies. RAMP demonstrates just-in-time, scalable, on-demand compute and storage infrastructure, enabling significant reductions in simulation time.

Microsoft’s RAMP platform shows how the application of cloud technologies can meet stringent security, protection and compliance requirements while at the same time significantly shortening chip time to market, bringing benefits in security, innovation and scale.

At a commercial level, the microelectronics industry uses Azure to accelerate and improve the design process for chip manufacturing. Customers routinely use Azure’s infrastructure solutions to optimize design turnaround times, such as high-performance virtual machines and storage, as well as platform solutions that are custom built for silicon design workloads.

In this RAMP demonstration, BAE Systems and Raytheon Technologies demonstrated state-of-the-art, cloud-based design capabilities on the RAMP platform, in collaboration with foundry, IP and electronic design automation partners.

As Katie Sobolewski, BAE R3 product line director, noted, “RAMP helped us meet our design tape-out dates by deploying a tailored cluster of hardware to accelerate our design simulations in hours. Normally, the addition of new on-premises hardware can take months. Access to Azure’s performant compute enabled three times faster runtimes, ultimately ensuring we met our aggressive schedule.”

Built on top of proven rapid and secure cloud-based design capabilities, the RAMP solution implements innovative technologies in support of the DoD’s Microelectronics Quantified Assurance (MQA) framework. MQA is an evidence-backed risk assessment system that gathers data, from design to manufacturing, to assess the reliability and security of DoD designs.

“We’re leading a technology breakthrough in microelectronics with Microsoft and our industry partners to enable an onshore semiconductor foundry with a state-of-the-art trusted design,” said Van Andrews, vice president of Department 22 at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business. “The application of MQA in this program uncovered several opportunities to assure the security of our design. The integration of MQA with Microsoft is a differentiating capability that strengthens the resilience of microelectronics. In addition, easy onboarding and the simplified interface improve efficiency for users.”

In addition to Microsoft’s Azure cloud technologies, the RAMP demonstration used industry leading microelectronics commercial technologies to develop end-to-end design solutions. The RAMP partners include: Ansys, Inc., BAE Systems, Battelle Memorial Institute, Cadence Design Systems, Cliosoft, Cycuity, Flex-Logix, Inc., GlobalFoundries, Intel Corporation, Raytheon Technologies, Siemens EDA, Synopsys, Inc., and Zero ASIC Corporation. These partnerships spanned commercial and government ecosystems enabling the DoD to leverage the best microelectronics development capabilities available.

Microsoft continues to push ahead in advancing secure design and development of critical physical systems for our infrastructure, such as semiconductors and microelectronics. The successful handover of these BAE and Raytheon designs to manufacturing, as part of the RAMP demonstration program, is a major milestone for the industry, as well as the silicon and defense of the industrial base ecosystem. While the current RAMP program focus now shifts to secure manufacturing, we can now scale the demonstrated secure design capabilities for defense and commercial engineering design projects.

Microsoft and its RAMP commercial industry team partners will continue to bring their combined expertise and experience to transform critical missions, programs, and technologies for DoD.

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