FireMarshal: Making HW/SW Co-Design Reproducible and Reliable


Reproducibility in the sciences is critical to reliable inquiry, but is often easier said than done. In the computer architecture community, research may require modifying systems from low-level circuits to operating systems and high-level applications. All of these moving parts make reproducible experiments on full-stack systems challenging to design. Furthermore, the computing ecosystem evolves quickly, leading to rapidly obsolete artifacts. This is especially true in the realm of software where applications are often updated on a monthly, or even daily, cadence. In this paper we introduce FireMarshal, a software workload management tool for RISC-V based full-stack hardware development and research. FireMarshal automates workload generation (constructing boot binaries and filesystem images), development (with functional simulation), and evaluation (with cycle-exact RTL simulation). It also ensures, to the extent possible, that the exact same software runs deterministically across all phases of development, providing confidence in correctness and accuracy while minimizing time spent on slow and expensive RTL-level simulation. To ease workload specification, FireMarshal provides sane defaults for common components like firmware and operating systems, freeing users to focus only on project-specific components. Beyond reproducibility, FireMarshal enables continued development of workloads through the use of inheritance, where new workloads can be derived from established and continually updated base workloads. Users communicate their designs through the use of simple JSON configuration files that can be easily version controlled, reused, and shared. In this paper, we describe the design of FireMarshal along with the associated software management methodology for architectural research and development.

In Proceedings of the 2021 IEEE International Symposium on Performance Analysis of Systems and Software (ISPASS'21), Virtual On-Line Meeting, March 2021