Project Kuiper Uses NICE DCV to Securely, Remotely Access EDA Software for Satellite Development
Amazon’s Project Kuiper aims to bridge the digital divide by providing fast, affordable broadband to unserved and underserved communities around the world through a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites. Amazon is designing and building the Project Kuiper satellites in house, and its engineers must design, test, and verify each part before the company can deploy the satellite constellation.
The Project Kuiper team uses electronic design automation (EDA) software to facilitate the complex design process for application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) that it will install on the satellites. The team splits its work between being on premises and remote. It needs not only a robust cloud solution provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS) to run the EDA software but also a secure desktop streaming solution to facilitate remote access. Project Kuiper uses NICE DCV—a high-performance remote display protocol—to securely access high-performing cloud-based software and compute capabilities to remotely design, test, and verify ASIC chips for its satellites.
NICE DCV gives us access to a high-quality graphical interface to design and verify these complex chips."
Senior ASIC Verification Engineer, Project Kuiper
Designing Complex Chips Remotely
Amazon started Project Kuiper in 2019, and in 2020 the Federal Communications Commission granted Project Kuiper permission to launch a constellation of 3,236 satellites. The team has grown quickly since then to more than 1,000 employees, many of whom work remotely, which adds logistical challenges to an already complex satellite design process. Project Kuiper is building its satellites in house, including everything from antennae to satellite positioning systems to space-to-space and space-to-ground communications. The ASICs that will be in the satellites have to be rigorously designed and tested. “We’re running very complex design emulation tools to simulate the chips,” says Robson Pereira, senior ASIC verification engineer at Project Kuiper. “Before we can fabricate them, we have to fully verify that the chips will work under virtually any circumstance. Once we launch the satellites, we can’t go repair them.”
With employees working remotely, Project Kuiper needed its engineers to be able to collaborate on intensive design processes in the cloud while avoiding provisioning specialized hardware for everyone at home. To facilitate the remote design process, Project Kuiper runs EDA software on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), which provides secure and resizable compute capacity for virtually any workload. Using Amazon EC2, engineers write code, design transistor networks, visualize transistor layouts, and trace complex waveforms—all part of the process of designing chips with billions of transistors. The engineers access their Amazon EC2 instances using NICE DCV, which streams the pixels from the instances to the user’s local machine. “NICE DCV gives us access to a high-quality graphical interface to design and verify these complex chips,” says Pereira.
Innovating Securely and Cost Effectively Using NICE DCV
For 2 years, engineers across Project Kuiper have used NICE DCV continuously. Everyone involved in designing the ASICs uses NICE DCV to share data. NICE DCV is installed directly on the Amazon EC2 instances that are running the EDA solutions, so it doesn’t require any additional server resources to run. Unlike many third-party solutions, NICE DCV does not require a software license when the server component of the service is run on an Amazon EC2 instance. Therefore, Project Kuiper can optimize costs because it pays for only the Amazon EC2 resources that it uses and no licensing fees. Because it is part of the AWS environment, NICE DCV is also a simpler infrastructure for the IT team to manage, and AWS provides support for the service. “If you’re using AWS, using NICE DCV especially makes sense in terms of support,” says Pereira. “On AWS, we file a ticket for support, and AWS has access to the tools. If you install a competitor tool, you need additional support for that tool from the vendor.”
Project Kuiper also benefits from using AWS in security. NICE DCV secures both the pixels that are streamed and any user inputs—such as keystrokes—using the Transport Layer Security protocol. Using NICE DCV on AWS provides an additional layer of security because the service was designed internally and is part of the same environment. Security is especially important for the project because it needs to be compliant with many government regulations. “The entire project runs on a secure network that the rest of Amazon doesn’t have access to,” says Pereira. “NICE DCV meets our requirements for secure access to the restricted network.”
Using NICE DCV, Project Kuiper has efficiently performed intense research and design work remotely. Engineers working remotely do not need to have local machines with a lot of compute power, and team members spread across various locations have access to the same project tools and data. The team has been able to finish designing several types of chips already exclusively using NICE DCV. “Project Kuiper is a very intense project with lots of challenges and lots of innovation,” says Pereira. “When we innovate at a high speed, we need constant corrections. It’s a cycle of trial, error, and improvement to reach the highest possible standards. In that context, in our fast-paced environment with everyone looking for the best possible solution, using NICE DCV helps us fulfill the goals of this project.”
Launching the First Prototype Satellites
As the project continues to develop, Project Kuiper’s ASIC team will keep pace with the upgrades to NICE DCV. The team plans to use the new GPU-assisted streaming option in NICE DCV to process high-definition layouts for designers, which could help improve their productivity. “It’s great to see a strong player like NICE DCV because there aren’t many solid solutions in the market for remote desktop protocols,” says Pereira.
The ASIC team will soon see the fruits of its work. Project Kuiper plans to launch its prototype satellites, KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2, by the end of 2022. “Using NICE DCV gives us full access to powerful cloud solutions that help us launch this product with high confidence,” says Pereira.
About Project Kuiper
Project Kuiper is an Amazon initiative to provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world using a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites.
Benefits of AWS
- Securely streams complex graphics solutions
- Optimizes costs by using NICE DCV on Amazon EC2 at no added cost
- Designs and tests chips with billions of transistors
- Facilitates remote work without supplying expensive hardware to each employee
AWS Services Used
NICE DCV is a high-performance remote display protocol that provides customers with a secure way to deliver remote desktops and application streaming from any cloud or data center to any device, over varying network conditions.
Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) is a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. It is designed to make web-scale cloud computing easier for developers.
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