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Deeper Dive – Is IP reuse good or bad?

To buy or to reuse, that is the question. Caroline Hayes, Senior Editor asked four industry experts, Carsten Elgert (EC), Product Marketing Director, IPG (IP Group), Cadence, Tom Feist (TF), Senior Marketing Director, Design Methodology, Xilinx, Dave Tokic (DT), Senior Director, Partner Ecosystems and Alliances, Xilinx, and Warren Savage (WS), President and CEO, IPextreme about the pros and cons of IP reuse versus third party IP.

What are the advantages and disadvantages when integrating or re-using existing IP?

WS: This is sort of analogous to asking what are the advantages/disadvantages of living a healthy lifestyle? The disadvantages are few, the advantages myriad. But in essence it’s all about practicality. If you can re-use a piece of technology, that means that you don’t have to spend money developing something different which includes a huge cost of verification. Today’s chips are simply too large to functionally verify every gate. A part of the every chip verification strategy assumes that pre-existing IP has already had its verification during its development and if it is silicon-proven, this only decreases the risk of any latent defects that may be discovered. The only reason to not to reuse an IP is that the IP itself is lacking in some ways that make the case to not reuse it but rather create a new IP.

strong>TF: Improved productivity. Reuse can have disadvantages when using older IP on new technologies, it is not always possible to target the newer features of a device with old IP.

DT: IP reuse is all about improving productivity and can result in significantly shrinking the design time especially with configurable IP. Challenges come from when the IP itself needs to be modified from the original, which then requires additional design and verification time. Verification in general could be more challenging, as most IP is verified in isolation and not in the context of the system. For example, if the IP is being used in a way the provider didn’t “think of” in their verification process, it may have bugs that are discovered during that integration verification phase that then needs to be reflected back to determining which IP has the issue and correcting/verifying that IP.

CE: The benefits of using your own IP in-house are that you know what the IP is doing and can use it again – it is also not available as third party IP, for differentiation. The disadvantage is that it is rarely documented allowing it to be used in different departments. The same engineers know what they are taking when they reuse their IP, but to properly document it, to make the product, can be time-consuming for a neighboring department. It is also the case that unwanted behavior is not verified. However, it is cheaper and it works.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using third party IP?

WS: The advantages of using third party IP is usually related to that company being a domain expert in a certain field. By using IP from that company, you are in fact licensing expertise from this company and putting it to use in an effective way. Think of it like going to dinner at a 4-star Michelin rated restaurant. The ingredients may be ordinary but how they are assembled are far more exceptional than something the ordinary person can achieve on their own.

TF: Xilinx cannot cover all areas. Having a third party ecosystem allows us to increase the reach to customers. We have qualification processes in place to ensure the quality of the IP is up to the required standard.

DT: Xilinx and its ecosystem provide more than 600 cores across all markets, with over 130 IP providers in our Alliance Program. These partners not only provide more “fundamental” standards-based IP, but also provide a very rich set of domain and application-specific IP that would be difficult for Xilinx to develop and support. This allows Xilinx technology to be more easily and quickly adopted in 100’s of applications. Some of the challenges come in terms of consistency of deliverables, quality, and business models. Xilinx has a mature process of partner qualification and also work with the partner to expose IP quality metrics when we promote a partner IP product that helps customers make smarter decisions on choosing a provider or IP core.

EC: Third party IP means there is no rewriting. Without it, it could take hundreds of man-years to develop a function that is not major selling point for a design. Third party IP is compatible as well as bug-free/limited bugs. It is like spending hundreds of hours redesigning the steering wheel of a car – it is not a differentiating selling point of the vehicle.

Is third party IP a justifiable risk in terms of cost and/or compatibility?

DT: The third party IP ecosystem for ASIC and programmable technologies has been around for decades. There are many respected and high quality providers out there, from smaller specialized IP core partners such as Xylon, OmniTek, Northwest Logic, and PLDA to name a few, up to the industry giants like ARM and Synopsys generating $100M’s in annual revenue. But ultimately the customer is responsible for determining the system, cost, and schedule requirements, evaluating IP options, and make the “build vs. buy” decision.

EC: I would reformulate that question: Can [the industry] live without IP? Then, the risk is justifiable.

How important are industry standards in IP integration? What else would you like to see?

TF: IP standards are very important. For example, Xilinx is on the IEEE P 1735 working group for IP security. This is very important to protect customer, 3rd party and Xilinx IP throughout flows that may contain 3rd party EDA tools and still allow everyone to interoperate on the IP. We hope to see the 2.0 revision of this standard ratified this year so all tool vendors and Xilinx can adopt it and make IP truly portable, yet protected.

DT: Another example is AMBA AXI4, where Xilinx worked closely with ARM to define this high speed interconnect standard to be optimized for integrating IP on both ASIC and programmable logic platforms.

WS: Today, not so much. There has been considerable discussion on this topic for the last 15 years and various industry initiatives have come and gone over the years on this. The most successful one to date has been IP-XACT. There is massive level of IP reuse today and the lack of standards has not slowed that. I am seeing that the way the industry is handling this problem is through the deployment of pre-integrated subsystems that include both a collection of IP blocks and the embedded software that drives it. I think that within another five years, the idea of “Lego-like” construction tools will die as they do nothing to solve the verification problem associated with such constructions.

Have you any statistics you can share on the value or TAM (Total Available Market) for EDA IP?
WS: I assume you mean IP? Which I like to point out is distinctive from EDA. True, many EDA players are adopting an IP strategy but that is primarily because the growth in IP and the stagnation of the EDA markets are forcing those players to find new growth areas. Sustained double-digit growth is hard to ignore.

To the TAM (total available market) question, a lot of market research says the market is around $2billion today. I have long postulated that the real IP market is at least twice the size of the stated market, sort of like the “dark matter” theories in astrophysics. But even this ignores considerable amounts of patent licensing, embedded software licensing and such which dwarf the $2billion number.

TF: According to EDAC Semiconductor IP revenue totaled $486million, a 4.2% increase compared to Q4 2012 and four-quarters moving average increased 9.6%.

EC: For interface IP, I can see a market for interface IP – sharing no processor, no ARM, to grow 20% to $400million [Analyst IP Nest].

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