Published on March 18th, 2009
Creating one of today's high-end ASIC / ASSP / SoC designs is a phenomenally difficult task. Life for system architects and design engineers is hard enough already, so anything that makes it easier has to be a good thing.
One of the "pain-in-the-rear-end" tasks is IP selection ... actually, before that we have IP location, by which I mean tracking down which vendors have the IP one needs ... then you have to compare the various offerings to see which most suits your requirements (differentiating factors for otherwise functionally identical IP blocks might include something as fundamental as the quality of that IP's documentation, for example).
The problem is that you can end up spending (some might say wasting) excruciating amounts of time trying to track down "who does what" on the IP front. Wouldn't it be nice if you could simply "put out a call" and have anyone with suitable IP come knocking on your door to explain how their IP will help you complete your design faster and with less risk?
Well, the folks at IPextreme (the company known for "bringing famous IP to system-on-chip designers around the world"), have just announced a rather cool business model innovation for the semiconductor IP industry.
Known as the Constellations program, this provides the business level infrastructure for enabling an open community of independent semiconductor IP companies to collaborate at the sales level by sharing sales intelligence and market wisdom to provide a virtual world-wide sales footprint.
Figure 1. Constellations is a managed sales collaboration program for IP companies.
As the folks at IPextreme told me: Constellations is aimed at solving a problem that has long troubled the semiconductor IP community – small companies with good technology lack the global sales footprint to compete against larger competitors, and are therefore at a structural disadvantage that results in an oligarchic industry structure that rewards the large players at the expense of the small ones."
Good grief ... an "oligarchic industry structure," ... that certainly sent me scurrying for my dictionary! But what does this really mean (in terms we can all understand)? Well, when you are kicking off a new design, you will typically have a "known-good" vendor for at least some of the IP ... perhaps a microprocessor core that you used on a previous project.
So, you call up the vendor of this IP core to chat, and during the course of the conversation your contact asks: "Are you looking for any other IP?" So you reel off a list of functions in which you are interested, and your contact responds by saying: "OK, well we can supply you with xxx, yyy, and zzz."
Now, assuming that this IP company is a member of the Constellations program, your contact would continue: "We don't offer rrr, sss, or ttt, but leave this with me because I know someone who does..."
Your contact then submits these IP opportunities into the Constellations database, from whence they they are routed to the sales teams of the relevant member companies. These sales teams then contact you to explain why they offer the best solution with regard to your particular IP requirements. When one of these referred sales is subsequently registered by a member company, a royalty is paid back into the program and shared with the submitting member company.
Chatting to the member IP companies, they say that this is unique business model with regard to the IP market and that it provides a great solution from their perspective. It doesn't take a lot of time or effort for an IP vendor to join the Constellations program, and it also doesn't cost very much (membership is only $5K ... and remember that this is the IP company who pays to be a member, not you, the SoC designer).
In turn, the IP company only has to pay their royalty / "finder's fee" to the originating IP company when they close the deal to sell you the IP.
By this means, the Constellations program effectively gives member IP vendors virtual extensions of their sales forces on the front end and brings in leads they might otherwise miss. As one member company told me, as opposed to "more feet on the street," this gives us "more eyes in the sky."
In addition to IPextreme, initial members of the Constellation program include:
CAST, Inc: "We have a broad range of solid IP products – and proven expertise in everything from processors to interfaces to multimedia and encryption – but sometimes our customers need additional IP or services," said Hal Barbour, president of CAST, Inc. "We're excited to offer customers even more complete solutions through the innovative Constellations program."
NXP Semiconductor: "The Constellations program will create unique opportunities in the semiconductor industry and we are pleased to be a part of this initiative," said Bart De Loore, Vice President and Corporate IP & Architecture Manager, NXP Semiconductors. "NXP has valuable IP, such as the CoolFlux DSP & BSP cores, that we can now offer to the industry as part of this program."
Sidense: "Over the past year, we have seen a significant increase of interest in our low-cost, field-programmable, secure and reliable embedded one-time programmable IP for a wide variety of on-chip data and code storage, key encryption, and analog trimming/sensor calibration applications," stated Xerxes Wania, Sidense President and CEO. "IPextreme's Constellations Program gives us a great opportunity to reach a large number of embedded memory users and to engage these potential customers at a very reasonable cost."
Tiempo: "Tiempo asynchronous and delay-insensitive design technology represents the next breakthrough for ultra-low power, green semiconductor devices," said Serge Maginot, CEO of Tiempo S.A.S, "Constellations is an innovative way to provide global visibility for our microcontroller and crypto-processor IP products that are designed in this disruptive technology."
So... if you are a chip architect / designer, the next time you are looking around for IP, it might be worth your while to inquire as to whether your IP vendor is a member of the Constellations program. Alternatively, if you are an IP vendor and would like to know more about the Constellations program, please visit:
Clive (Max) Maxfield is author of “Bebop to the Boolean Boogie (An Unconventional Guide to Electronics)” and “The Design Warrior’s Guide to FPGAs (Devices, Tools, and Flows)”, Max is also the co-author of “How Computers Do Math” (ISBN: 0471732788) featuring the pedagogical and phantasmagorical virtual DIY Calculator. In addition to being a hero, trendsetter, and leader of fashion, Max is widely regarded as being an expert in all aspects of computing and electronics (at least by his mother). Max was once referred to as “an industry notable” and a “semiconductor design expert” by someone famous who wasn’t prompted, coerced, or remunerated in any way.
2009 Resolution: For those who are interested, with regard to Max's New Year's Resolution to walk 1,000 miles in 2009 ... as of March 17 he's walked 265.4 miles, so there are only 734.6 more miles to go!