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Blog Review – Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday, March 27th, 2017

How AI can be used for medical breakthroughs; What’s wired and what’s not; A new compiler from ARM targets functional safety; Industry 4.0 update

A personal history lesson from Paul McLellan, Cadence Design Systems, as he charts the evolution from the beginning of the company, via the author’s career and various milestones with different companies and the trials of DAC over the decades.

Post Embedded World, ARM announced the ARM Compiler 6. Tony Smith, ARM, looks at its role for functional safety and autonomous vehicles.

A review of industrial IoT at Embedded World 2017 is the focus for Andrew Patterson’s blog. Mentor Graphics had several demonstrations for Industry 4.0. He explains the nature of Industry 4.0 and where it is going, the role of OPC-UA (Open Platform Communication – Unified Architecture) and support from Mentor.

What’s wired and what’s wireless, asks David Andeen, Maxim Integrated. His blog looks at vehicle sub-systems and wired communications standards, building automation and wired interface design and a link to an informative tutorial.

There are few philosophical questions posed in the blogs that I review, but this week throws up an interesting one from Philippe Laufer, Dassault Systemes. The quandary is does science drive design, or does design drive science? Topically posted ahead of the Age of Experience event in Milan next month, the answer relies on size and data storage, influenced by both design and science.

Security issues for medical devices are considered by David West, Icon Labs. He looks at the threats and security requirements that engineers must consider.

A worthy competition is announced on the Intel blog – the Artificial Intelligence Kaggle competition to combat cervical cancer. Focused on screening, the competition with MobileODT, using its optical diagnostic devices and software, challenges Kagglers to develop an algorithm that classifies a cervix type, for referrals for treatment. The first prize is $50,000 and there is a $20,000 prize for best Intel tools usage. “We aim to challenge developers, data scientists and students to develop AI algorithms to help solve real-world challenges in industries including medical and health care,” said Doug Fisher, senior vice president and general manager of the Software and Services Group at Intel.

Caroline Hayes, Senior Editor

Tech Travelogue June 2017 – Moore-Metcalf, IOT Chasm, Mechanical Design and 5G

Thursday, August 31st, 2017
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EDA in the Age of the System

Monday, July 31st, 2017

Learn from other industries to gain a system’s perspective was the reoccurring theme of Garysmith EDA analyst Laurie Balch’s pre-DAC address.

By John Blyler, Editor-in-Chief, ESDE

Once again, the system took center stage at the recent Design Automation Conference (DAC), an event focused on the software tools required to developed semiconductor system-on-chip (SOC) devices. These software tools typically fall under the heading of electronic design automation (EDA).

As per tradition, DAC kicked-off with a Sunday night “state of the industry” address by the analysts at GarySmith EDA (GSEDA). This year’s event was presented by Laurie Balch, Chief Analyst at GSEDA (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Laurie Balch, Chief Analyst at GSEDA, presents EDA trends at DAC 2017 in Austin, TX.

She began by highlighting the positives with the chip design industry, starting with the diversity of both larger established and smaller start-up companies. Further, EDA is a mature market where litigations among the companies has more or less subsided. Finally, the chip industry is still very dynamic with lots of new product development.

The bad news is that there will be no double-digit growth for the traditional EDA space in the near future, at least not without a few changes, explained Balch (see Figure 2). More on that shortly.

EDA Growth Chart

Figure 2: Double-digit growth is not expected anytime soon for the EDA industry. (Courtesy GSEDA)

Broadening the Core

This begs the question as to the meaning of the traditional EDA landscape. In the past, EDA has provided tools in a number of development abstraction areas, including semiconductor chip gate-level and register transfer level (RTL) design-verification, electronic system level (ESL) design, packaging and interfaces to IC Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Printed-Circuit Board (PCB) design.

“Since EDA is a maturing market, the industry needs to more beyond the traditional definition,” explained Balch. “In addition to the core EDA space, we have to include the embedded, mechanical and IP markets. These peripheral markets are central to understanding the future growth potential of EDA (see Figure 3).”

EDA Peripheral Markets

Figure 3: Expanded view of EDA markets and growth potential. (Courtesy of GSEDA)

Engaging with customers on the intersecting markets means that semiconductor companies must think about high-level systems. This is not a new observation. At last year’s DAC-2016, Balch predicted that EDA will see mechanical CAD vendors coming onto tradition semiconductor turf. This was confirmed with the recent acquisition of long-time EDA giant Mentor Graphics by Siemens PLM, a global systems, software and CAD business.

Mechanical CAD is only one of three markets that will help expand revenues to the traditional EDA market. The growth of semiconductor and embedded intellectual property (IP) over the last several years has already improved the revenue outlook. Adding mechanical design and embedded software will lead to further revenues, noted Balch.

Popular Tools

What were purported to be the hot new EDA market spaces at this year’s DAC? Balch provided the following list:

  • Analog/Mixed-Signal/RF
  • Emulation
  • System-Level Tools
  • Intellectual Property (IP)
  • Simulation & Verification
  • Circling the edges of EDA
  • Automotive

This list has changed little from previous DAC events. Perhaps the only difference now has been from the recent flurry of acquisitions which resulted in market share shifts among the three major EDA vendors.

What Does it Mean?

Today’s EDA is a market in transition, one that faces many challenges. Balch listed four main concerns:

  • Disappearance of double digit growth
  • Disruptive change vs. process improvement
  • Shift in vertical industry influences
  • IoT design impact

The disappearance of double-digit growth in traditional EDA markets has already been covered. Balch didn’t see disruptive changes in the market but rather a move toward more efficient methods in the overall chip development process. This was taken as a good move as process improvement is the right mindset for system development, she noted.

A shift to vertical markets could be a good thing for EDA, e.g., consider the rising growth in the automotive sector.

Perhaps the real challenge to EDA tool vendors is the rise of the Internet-of-Things (IOT). Designing for IOT requires changing some ways that EDA designs and offers their own tools, noted Balch. One big different is that most IOT designs don’t required the lowest and most expensive manufacturing nodes. I’ve noted other differences in the IOT design approach in other articles. (See, “Why is Chip Design for IOT so Hard?”)

Path Forward

One way to gain perspective on today’s EDA market is to look at it from another angle. For example, perhaps the mechanical design market will serve as a template for EDA. Balch pointed out the EDA originally grew out of the mechanical CAD space. Another comparison point is that mechanical CAD tools had a slow growth period similar to the one facing EDA. The latter emerged from its doldrums with new strategies that included reaching out to other markets.

Another change of perspective is afforded by the so-called “tall, thin engineer.” In the chip community (referencing Howard Sachs), a tall-thin engineer was a generalist with broad knowledge in many different fields rather than a specialist deeply involved in only areas, say IC design or layout.

Personally, I find this term misleading. A “tall, thin engineer” seems more indicative of a specialist, i.e., someone who has a deep (or tall) understanding in a very narrow (or thin) area of technology – for example, designing digital Silicon chips. In markets outside of EDA, the “tall, thin engineer” is known simply as a systems or systems-of-systems (SOS) engineer. Even this subtle difference in semantics highlights the difficulty that domain and EDA semiconductor engineers will face when expanding into peripheral markets like embedded software and mechanical systems.

Regardless of the semantics, many technical folks touch upon electronics, meaning that they have to deal with electronic issues for which they are not specialists. EDA can help them navigate the technical challenges but only if EDA itself has more generalists that understand the end-users perspective. Thus, the process by which EDA tools are developed would also need to be different. Balch noted that the tool obstacle was confronted by the mechanical community years ago, specifically in Computer-Aided-Engineering (CAE) tools for simulation. The result was new tools that could be used by engineers who were not experts.

Finally, vertical markets are directly influencing the EDA tool market. In the automotive space, Tier 1 companies are forcing their users to use specifically-qualified tools, e.g., ISO-26262. This influence will only continue. (See, “Fit-for-Purpose Tools Needed for ISO 26262 Certification”)

There are encourage signs that the EDA community is embracing other markets. Many presentations at this DAC focused on the new and rising markets of big data, machine learning and artificial intelligences.

EDA Call to Action

In conclusion, Balch listed three activities that would help rejuvenate the EDA community:

  • Recognition of EDA realities
    • Risks of standing still
  • Learn from parallel markets
    • Model for navigating the future
  • Repurposing EDA expertise
    • Creativity in abundance
  • Be fearless!

Foremost on the list was the theme of her presentation, namely, that future EDA strategies must continue to embrace the larger system world. The systems-view will help the community look and learn from other markets, esp. mechanical design.

“We should look at their history and see how they solved similar problems,” emphasized Balch.

The EDA space is well positioned to re-purpose their expertise into new markets, e.g., mechanical design, IP, embedded software and vertical markets like automotive and

Finally, Balch admonished the attendees to be fearless when seeking expanded markets, perhaps by focusing on design data management as well as high level physics-based technologies.

Has The Time Come for SOC Embedded FPGAs?

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016
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Collected Thoughts About DAC

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Gabe Moretti, Senior Editor

The Design Automation Conference (DAC) will be holding its 53rd event.  This means that DAC is older than the EDA industry.  At a time when companies and consortia strive to underscore the importance of “system” in its heterogeneous components, DAC continues to focus on system on chip (SoC), especially if you look solely at the exhibits floor.  DAC has always emphasized chip design, and the number of FPGA and PCB tools shown in the booths is much smaller than the importance both these tools in system design demands.

Austin Skyline

I sent out a brief questionnaire a few weeks ago that asked only five questions about DAC.  Here are the results, edited to preserve anonymity.

Why are or are you not exhibiting at DAC?

First of all none of the companies not exhibiting responded, but I have to assume that there are some on my list that will not be there for various reasons.  Here are some of the responses.

-          We exhibit for many reasons. Foremost, we are there to meet existing and potential customers. It’s also an opportunity for us to analyze technology trends and validate our product roadmap.

-          Our company is exhibiting at DAC because it is a great venue to meet with our existing and new virtual platform customers, catch up with partners and the press, and learn about new technologies and products.

-          We do as always plan to exhibit at DAC.   Since our team is global it is important for us to convene as often as possible as DAC is a great place for this.

-          DAC gives me a target customer base to help me get the word out.  Also all the prototyping vendors are there and I need to be one of them also.

-          DAC  is the premiere conference for the design automation industry.   We use the DAC conference to make announcements of new products and new product features for our platform products.   DAC is an excellent venue to provide design automation users, industry press and industry partners with exposure to our products.

Exhibits draw a crowd

To get a point of view from one of the DAC sponsors I asked the same questions to Bob Smith the new and very energetic Executive Director of the ESD Association.

-          The ESD Alliance is exhibiting at DAC because we want to share our new vision and mission with attendees. DAC shares this vision as well since it has expanded the scope of the conference to include IP, embedded systems and the like. DAC is a great venue for us to spread the word and have one-on-one interactions with folks who might have been involved with us (EDAC) before but are not current on our new charter and direction.

-

The bottom line is that in an age of virtual communications and various means to express ideas, it is still valuable to assemble in one place, look one another in the face and exchange opinions, ideas, and even emotions.  To be at DAC is a signal that the company has something to offer and is real.  Unfortunately some segments of our industry are not covered, PCB is a glaring example, or not covered well at DAC, so there are companies that do not exhibit at DAC because they feel the business of DAC is irrelevant to them.

What is the thing that DAC does best?

Participating to DAC as an exhibitor is a costly enterprise.  The exhibit fee, the booth, the staff, months of preparation, all adds up to a significant amount, no matter if you are a small start-up or a large established company.  So I wanted to know what DAC does that makes them come back.

-          It creates a lively environment for information exchange and networking.

-           DAC brings together the entire EDA/ semiconductor ecosystem, though one improvement would be to attract more attendees and exhibitors in the embedded software space.

-          The most important takeaway from DAC is the conversations that we have on the floor. Entire new product lines have been birthed by these conversations and just listening to the needs of the engineers we meet is extremely important.

-          It is a great training ground for our new people, since they are asked many questions and get to work alongside more seasoned employees all day, and there are many educational opportunities in the conference program.

-          Brings in Design Engineers and management to update them on the latest offering from vendors and hear technical paper of new ideas.

-          The DAC conferences are well organized by the promoters and bring all of the design automation industry into one venue for a few days.    DAC provides our company with the opportunity to meet customers, potential customers, press contacts and industry partners in one physical venue.   It is efficient for us to exhibit at the conference and to meet with a variety of industry participants all at one time and in one place.

And from Bob I heard:

-          It brings together both the academic / research side of our industry and the commercial side into one venue. It’s a great networking opportunity as well.

Once again the idea that virtual communication is not enough.  Discussions based on the internet alone are not enough to build an efficient team from a number of professionals that do not know each other personally and thus do not fully trust each other.

Networking is a major DAC activity

The greatest asset of DAC is its longevity.  The capacity to hold the conference for 53 years in a row has made DAC the place where one meets and shares ideas and opinions.  It is the place to go to see what is new.  It was once the place to strike significant deals although with the advent of internet marketing, big deal are no longer made at the conference.

What would you improve?

-          The exhibit floor can get noisy. I recommend reducing the decibel levels in some exhibits. The conference should create a non-overlapping schedule between exhibits and technical sessions. During the sessions, activity on the exhibit floor slows way down.

-          DAC is valuable in terms of both the exhibits and the technical conference, the business model of course needs to make sense for the organizers. Last year there were 2504 paid passes, 1889 free exhibits-only passes and 2618 exhibitor staff registrations which gives you the idea.

-          Trade shows in general are just a necessary part of the equation. They are costlier than they need to be, like all shows, due to the many add-ons by the venue, but we take it in stride and just budget for it.

-          There should be more press coverage on ASIC prototyping and Emulation -  This task is a must for all ASIC being developed today.

-          I hope they will move to Santa Clara convention center.  Most of the target companies are in San Jose area and companies would send more Engineers to DAC in San Jose area because they could meet with their local company or companies they work with.   I bet you would double the attendance at DAC by moving to the San Jose area.   Santa Clara convention center is the best for parking and hotels.

-          Promoting a company at DAC is a little expensive.      It would be nice to have lower cost promotional options at the conference.   It would also be more convenient for our company if the conference were permanently located in San Francisco (instead of Austin) since we and many other industry participants have offices in the Bay area.

Is this just to be different?

To answer this question Bob expanded the horizon of DAC to address the definition of “system” to the one I like the best.

-          Expand the focus on system design to include the entire design ecosystem. By “system” or “ecosystem” we mean the IP, chip(s), package, interconnect, and embedded software. DAC is evolving in this direction, but it should be expanded.

The issue of noise is a recurring issue at DAC.  In spite of all the measures taken by MP Associates, the noise level in some areas of the exhibit floor really impacts the conversation in those booths.  Unfortunately, the originators of the noise seem to be those booths that have popular entertainment appearances that draw relatively large crowd around the booth.  Clearly the cost of exhibiting at DAC is significant, and grows each year.  The conference is trying to stay away from San Francisco because that city is now very costly.  I think that DAC will have to find a way to fit in smaller convention centers while still maintaining the quality of papers and the broad coverage of issues.

The main problem with DAC is that it is still a chip design conference, and has not enlarge its scope to cover all aspects of systems design.  It needs to embrace electro/mechanical issues, software/hardware co design, FPGA versus ASIC.  Wouldn’t be nice to have the ability to evaluate the majority of system issues before the system is mostly designed?  What if it were possible to know in advance thermal and noise characteristics of the IP one is considering to use?

In your opinion if the exhibits did not financially support the technical conference, would DAC have fewer attendees?

Although this topic is not widely discussed in the DAC arena, everyone knows or will soon find out, that the exhibit fee pays for more than just the exhibit area.  Without exhibit attending the technical program would cost significantly more.

-          Yes, while the two groups don’t overlap, exhibitors subsidize the cost of the technical conference registration. Without that subsidy, attendance could drop off due to budget constraints.

-          Hard question – depending on the technical papers.    If no vendors, then the papers could be on Youtube or DAC video web site.     Besides the papers and the vendors, DAC is a place to meet fellow Engineers, make new friends and visit with old ones.    Thinking more about you question I bet DAC would stop if you didn’t have exhibits – I bet this does carry most of the cost of DAC.

-          We don’t know the value of the subsidy or how the loss of the subsidy would affect attendees.

And of course Bob knows since he is on the inside.

-          Yes, because the cost of entry would go up dramatically to provide the same level of conference program.  It would result in a smaller technical conference.

The issue of the cost of exhibiting at DAC is a serious one.  Travel costs are mounting yearly and so do the cost of the conference facility.  Anything outside Silicon Valley is inconvenient, including San Francisco.  Since part of the cost of renting a booth space at the conference includes in part a subsidy to keep registration fees as low as possible, this aspect needs to be considered.  Are too many parallel tracks being offered?  Are we doing things just to fill unused space?

Do you think that giveaway at the booth generate increased sales?

Every year I see engineers walking the aisle on the exhibit floor with bags full of giveaways.  It seems the main reason to come to DAC is to collect “stuff” not to explore products.  Yet exhibitors bring all sort of stuffed animals, small toys, and other handouts to attract visitors to their booth.

-          Not directly. They can create a buzz about the company and help to drive booth traffic.

-          I think that most engineers are actually more motivated to explore new tools and methodologies they can use professionally, than to pick up freebie giveaways. Although some are fun!

-          As far as giveaways, it just depends. Sometimes they are a hit and bring traffic, sometimes they bomb. We keep trying new things and in the end sometimes it really is just fun to see people happy when you give them something, whether they turn out to be a customer or not.

-          It did not work for us.  Maybe if I can away $5 bills, I would get more traffic at the booth, but would I get new customers.  Most likely no.

-          No, not directly.    The giveaways generate a small amount of goodwill and act as a reminder about the company giving away the item.    They alone do not generate increased sales.   The giveaways act in a very small manner as one of many similar small items that help push a customer toward purchase commitment.      Customers purchase products based upon a clear demonstration of need, not because they received a giveaway.

Bob defended the use of giveaways and made the point that their use is not to increase sales but to provide a material reminder of the company.

-          Giveaways are best at building brand awareness, especially for newer companies in the space. If an attendee is carrying a visible giveaway, it could drive traffic to the company’s booth. For that reason, they are valuable for gaining mindshare, which can ultimately lead to increased sales. The correlation between giveaways and increased sales is a second-order effect.

Well, some of the “gifts” are either useful or cute, so go on and hand out stuff.  After all the cost of giveaways is a small part of the entire DAC budget.

Conclusion

The most important item I extracted from these questions is that no one dares to miss DAC.  If you are not there, you are no longer in business, and that includes the press.  The structure of DAC requires a larger venue than most localities offer, including San Jose or Santa Clara.  A significant amount of restructuring would be required in order to hold DAC in Silicon Valley.  In my opinion this could be done but one of the problem facing DAC is that it is sponsored by more than one organization, and they have different missions and different interests, including financial ones.  When it comes to money it is always difficult to depart from the known model for an unknown one.  As far as giveaways are concerned, I think the solution is experience.  This will be my 38th DAC and I have stopped colleting “souvenirs” at least fifteen years ago.  Just too much stuff to bring back on the plane and then find a way to put in the trash without guilt.

Business Secrets from Private Semiconductor IP Companies

Friday, May 30th, 2014

By John Blyler

A panel of private company IP founders from CAST, IPExtreme, Methods2Business, and Recore Systems reveal their strategies for building thriving companies.

A panel of global semiconductor IP founders reveals their strategies for building companies that can thrive in a competitive market. What advice will they offer to today’s entrepeneurs? What is the best way to handle growing pains? Which exit strategies might actually work? These are just some of the questions that will be address by Hal Barbour of CAST; Warren Savage of IPextreme; Marleen Boonen of Methods2Business; and Dirk Logie of Recore Systems. Gabrièle Saucier of Design and Reuse is the panel’s chair. John Blyler of Extension Media will be the moderator. What follows is a position statement from the panelist in preparation for this discussion. – JB

Panel Description:The Making and Selling of IP Businesses – Private Companies” – In this session, we will have two panels to hear perspectives from both sides. The private company panel will discuss with founders their strategies for building a company that can thrive in a competitive market. The public companies panel will discuss their approach toward acquisitions and some of the things that private companies should know that can increase their valuation.

Panelists will present their viewpoints on how they got started, best business practices, and strategies for competing with larger players in the market. They will also delve into the challenges faced by smaller players in the IP ecosystem and the practicalities of carving out their place in an ever-changing market.

Panelist Responses:

Logie: The panel will discuss the challenges that small IP companies experience, both in their early days as well as later in their life. From developing the initial differentiating technology, the company funding process to finding the first customer and finally the (hopefully) rewarding exit, and all the potential hazards in between, both the internal as well as the external challenges.

Boonen: To succeed, an IP company must invest in a next generation, talented engineers with forward-thinking design practices (who understand how to design at a next level of abstraction and who can deal with hardware and software). From a business side, a successful company must provide highly customizable IP solutions that can enter the market quickly. Our focus is on next generation IP products like Wi-Fi 802.11 technologies, which require advanced design methods and tools and have good market potential. Our goal is to collaborate with like-minded but non-competing IP providers to take advantage of a joint “Go to Market” strategy and to advance in the global semiconductor IP ecosystem

Barbour: It’s exciting to be in the business of building an IP business today.  There is tremendous opportunity to play a significant role in the development of this fast moving and expanding market.  As with any great opportunity, there are also challenges.  Understanding the nature of these challenges in advance can better prepare would-be entrepreneurs to take advantage of opportunities while minimizing the risks. Market uncertainty, managerial inexperience, funding shortfalls, marketing / sales inadequacy and engineering perfectionism are but a few of the potential landmines facing entrepreneurs who are attempting to build successful IP businesses.  And then there’s the added issue of market consolidation brought on by larger companies acquiring focused private ones, limiting options for privately held companies.  These and other issues commonly faced by privately held IP businesses will be discussed by the panel.

Savage: We are entering an exciting new era.   Innovation as a result of scaling (Moore’s law) and improvements in productivity (EDA) is slowing and the next level will be reached through a massive level of IP reuse.  40, 30, or 20 years ago, entrepreneurs found a home for their ideas by starting new semiconductor companies. But about 10 years ago that started changing when it became increasingly difficult to start new semiconductor companies.  Today, we have legions of engineers whose next bright idea will be brought to market through the IP model— not starting a chip company as their forefathers did.

Yet, the IP model is no walk in the park.  All the normal business challenges are there for new IP companies and in our panel here we see a nice cross-section of companies from newly born entities to 20-year old success stories.  Each was born out of unique circumstances with their founders bringing their own vision on how their dream would be realized.  I believe that unlike the brick-and-mortar semiconductor and EDA world where the forces of Moore’s law bring about a natural consolidation in the market, the IP market will be different.  That is because we are not talking about manufacturing devices faster and cheaper through commoditization forces, but rather through differentiating products through new ideas that are delivered to silicon through IP.  The next Steve Jobs will run an IP company.