15th November 2006

Platform innovation will drive EDA

An interesting take on the EDA industry evolution and look into the trend by Leon Stok, director of EDA for IBM’s Systems and Technology Group in a keynote address at the International Conference on Computer Aided Design (ICCAD).

Stok identified three previous innovation eras in the EDA industry — those of invention, implementation, and integration. The fourth era, he said, is the one we’re about to enter and is centered on design implementation “platforms”. To make platform innovation happen, Stok said, we will need to define standards as APIs, not ASCII formats. This will allow tools to talk to each other, instead of producing data that another tool can barely read, he noted.

With APIs, smaller companies with innovative potential solutions for the UDSM technology challenges will have a more level playing field. Each can plug in their solutions and then let the market forces decide. It will also pave the way for the bigger players as they too can focus on the overall user flow with a market decided mix of their own in-house tools or point tools from other companies.

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15th November 2006

Designers give CAD research gurus an earful

The organizers of ICCAD (International Conference on Computer Aided Design) decided to do something different and added a designer’s perspective track this year.

“Our goal is to bridge the gap between practitioners and research,” said ICCAD general chair Soha Hassoun, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Tufts University (Medford, Mass.), in opening remarks at the conference. “We would like them [designers] to tell you [researchers] what critical issues should drive CAD research in the next few years.”

Now, I would term this as going back to basics. The users tell their requirements to the researchers which in turn guides the researchers towards the right direction in terms of practical benefits and usage of their efforts – optimal Lab to Fab transition.

Another tenet emphasized was by STMicroelectronics’ Pascal Urard: “We need academia and the EDA community to think at the flow level, not only at the tool level”.

It is apt to remind the EDA community that they should enable the end user with his final flow and not only the point tools. It’s true that tools provide the differentiating edge amongst the EDA vendors and users should have the flexibility of picking up the ones which best suit his flow.

However, to justify the “Automation” in “EDA”, it pays to facilitate the flow.

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9th November 2006

Taiwan’s design houses continue to attract buyouts

Atheros recently picked up Attansic Technology, a designer of Ethernet chips in Taiwan for its Gigabit Ethernet technology for 802.11n market. Attansic is a subsidiary of Asustek. Craig Barratt, CEO of Atheros said, “there has really been tremendous growth in companies in Taiwan doing pretty impressive R&D, creative engineering and product development.”

Moving to India – India needs to include IPs and technology know-how into their growing expertise portfolio. As I mentioned in an earlier post, product know-how is essential for the differentiating factor. With its relatively better copyright rules as compared to China for example, if the Indian companies can supplement their design skills and embedded software expertise with the product & technology know-how, they can raise the stakes higher.

There are some examples like Wipro, Tejas Networks etc. but it’ll be good to see this list grow.

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3rd November 2006

India struggles to fill talent void

From what had earlier started as point engagements or doing auxillary services, semiconductor design companies in India are now working on not only the leading edge technologies (which they were still doing in the past as point engagements) but also end to end projects. In doing so, the Indian design engineers have been able to broaden their skill set as compared to quite a few of their international counterparts.

When you don’t have the so called luxury to specialize in certain niches areas and are thrust with the responsibility of doing multiple design tasks in order to get a design out, well, one learns and that too fast! A positive go-getter attitude coupled with a survival instinct honed by the competitive Indian environment (which starts right from kindergarten) also does help.

The early 90’s saw design companies in India getting supplementary work albeit some in leading edge technology. Of course, cost was the major reason. Once they instilled some confidence, it morphed into a bigger part of the design cycle. They started getting not only more designs but the opportunity and the responsibility to execute a design end to end and also complex designs. However technology innovations have still not figured within their purview.

Attrition: While this rate is high and experienced engineers switch jobs, money is not always the major deciding factor. Generically speaking, fresh graduates/ engineers with a couple of years experience rate the work quality and the company branding more than money. Mid range experience engineers value work quality, responsibilities and money. Professionals who return to India after working abroad are looking for challenging opportunities. I am not saying that money is not significant but rather that if the employee retention logic is through money alone, well, mate, you are throwing the wrong carrot…Indians have always had an entrepreneurial spirit (I attribute it to the urge to remove the shackles, something linked with our political history as well as the present political scenario).

Design ecosystem: While some may say that the absence of fabs is not a hindrance to the design scene in India, the fact remains that SoCs of today are not just built on design flow, IPs and library know how. One needs to have the product know how too – and this can become a major differentiating factor. And of course, trying out a new design concept in one country, fabricating in another and waiting for it to come back in order to do the tests, not to mention the red tape which may be involved, is something which one can do without. One of the reasons why Taiwan grew to a semiconductor hub is that it had design, fabrication, packaging and testing right there. So, while presently it may not sound so much of a missing link, it will gain importance if India is to take up China.

The above article was preceded, by just a couple of days, by another article appearing in Electronic business cited India’s niche: semiconductor design services. So if the talents void increases, India risks losing the niche.

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2nd November 2006

Low cost phones soar in China

With technology advances, more & more features are being incorporated in the mobile phone. And the existing features are being further refined e.g. increasing video and audio quality and PDA functions thrown in. While this entices the young generation, executives as well as techno geeks across various generations and the upward swinging classes, there still remains two main chunks of a country’s population waiting to be tapped - the rural or economically backward set and the other is the senior citizens club – and both exist in all countries.

China and India with the world’s largest and second largest populations of course provide the maximum growth potential. The difference is in the 2 categories. While the rural/economically backward class will opt for a no frill mobile as their first set of mobiles or as an entry point in climbing up the economic ladder, the senior citizens will opt for it for the sheer reason of convenience and ease to handle. A small mobile bundled with the latest technology for camera, PDA functions, audio etc. is not of much use to them especially if they have to pound the miniature keys – not an easy task with age taking its toll on their movements and eye-sight. What they need is a simple robust instrument able to do the basic functions and perhaps with a little bit of audio, camera and games thrown in – at an affordable cost – remember they have retired. And the size should be small enough to be held conveniently in their pockets or hung around their necks but not so small so as to make them lose it.

Both sets require low cost phones and this is where single chip solutions hold an edge. And as pointed out in the article, chipmakers lacking single chip solutions will face increasing pressure to compete with those that have them.

This makes for an observation here – why are the mobile companies not targeting the older generations especially in the developed countries like Japan and some European countries where the ratio of senior citizens to youth is quite high…..???

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