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Archive for 2014

I’m chairing DAC 52, and I want your help

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

In the strange way that time passes, particularly in the world of tech, the 2014 Design Automation Conference is already feeling like ancient history. Was it really just last month that the Moscone Center exhibit hall was crammed with essentially all of major players in EDA? Whether or not you were there, you’re forgiven if you haven’t thought about DAC in the weeks since. In the last few weeks, the tech beat has continued to serve up big stories, including Amazon’s phone and Google’s Android everywhere announcements. It’s also the season of summer vacations. Oh yeah, and there was the small matter of a soccer tournament in Brazil.

In the years before I joined the DAC executive committee I often stopped thinking about DAC soon after leaving for the airport to head home to Portland. Not that it hasn’t always been a great show. It’s just that as is true for most attendees, the demands of my various day jobs always started to loom after several days away. This year and next, forgetting DAC is not an option for me because I’m the incoming general chair of next year’s conference. That is, in a very real way, DAC 52 is my job (or at least my second job), for the next 11 months.

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Statement from the India Electronics and Semiconductor Association (IESA)

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Article source: IESA

BJP swept into power a few months ago in India. They have unveiled a new national budget that promises to create a framework to jump-start semiconductor and electronics development in India.

Dr. Kaustubh Nande, Country Marketing Head, ANSYS India commented:

This budget definitely addresses some long pending reforms particularly on tax and duty structure on electronic imports. However, today’s budget also extends investment deductions to semi-conductor wafer fabrication manufacturing units. This will boost electronics manufacturing and attract a greater share of R&D investments in the country. India needs to build intellectual capital in the long term and this budget perhaps is a good start. A positive and much needed boost to the electronics manufacturing and R&D sector.”

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The Move to Cloud-Enabled IP-Based Security Systems

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Responding to customer demand and advances in technology, there is currently a strong trend among building security system manufacturers to evolve their products from traditional analog systems to IP-based products. Doing this allows them to leverage widespread innovation in IP-based communication systems through Cloud services. These new security systems are much more than just intruder alarms. They offer increased functionality, connectivity, and access options to take advantage of the capabilities of emerging technology. They provide a much richer set of features such as voice over IP (VoIP), call routing, rule-based response, and even allow access via mobile devices.

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Survivor’s Guide to Hardware Emulation at DAC

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

It wasn’t all that long ago when hardware emulation providers heading to DAC worked overtime to get their booths filled with interested verification engineers with big challenges. Hardware emulation was still viewed as an esoteric and expensive luxury that only few could afford.

Fast forward to 2014. This year is prime time for hardware emulation, now a mandatory verification approach for all semiconductor designs. Left alone are a few analog-centric designs and a bunch of small digital designs. It is also become somewhat more affordable based on the price per gate.

I predict this year DAC will be much different than previous years as semiconductor companies, forced to accelerate time to market even as their chip designs get increasingly more complex, are looking to hardware emulation.

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Safety-Critical Automotive Applications: Raising the Bar on Verification?

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

You may have noticed that one of the DAC themes this year is automotive electronics. If you happen to work on designs that have nothing to do with cars, you may have already disregarded this aspect of the show. Well, not so fast! Its worth a closer look.

We all know that auto electronics has gone through something of a renaissance over the last few years. Cars burst at the seams with processors, perform automated gyrations such as self-parking, and now one or two are taking the ultimate step of driving themselves about town. Who gave the Google Chauffeur car its driver’s license, anyway?

What makes this application area interesting is not necessarily the cool gadgets, but the additional constraints placed upon automotive electronics that are not a factor in other industries. I would like to focus on one, the verification aspect of automotive safety critical components.

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Survey: C/C++ Preferred Language among EEs

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Everyone loves a good language war. I am, of course, talking about programming languages. Despite the myriad of programming languages available in the modern electronics industry today, C and C++, first developed in the 1970s and 1980s, are still viewed as the most important starting points for engineers.

element14, an online community of more than 220,000 design engineers and hobbyists, recently conducted a survey of preferred programming languages and more than 100 respondents submitted their answers. About 54% of those surveyed deemed C/C++ the most important, with Python as the second most popular choice garnering 18% of the vote.

The remaining languages scored as follows:

  • Assembly (9% of the vote)
  • Java (8% of the vote)
  • BASIC (4% of the vote)
  • HTML/CSS (2% of the vote)
  • PHP (1% of the vote)

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What future for the DATE conference?

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Two weeks ago my associate and myself attended the DATE conference to meet people and try to get new leads. This year, the conference took place in Dresden, Germany, which is at the heart of the “Silicon Saxony”, with no less than 40,000 jobs mostly in the semiconductor industry, so we were expecting a lot. If you’re not familiar with the conference, according to their website, “DATE combines the world’s favorite electronic systems design and test conference with an international exhibition for electronic design, automation and test, from system-level hardware and software implementation right down to integrated circuit design.” We had high expectations, and in the end we were quite disappointed. Granted, receptions (exhibition reception and DATE party) featured very good food and the party even included a visit of Volkswagen’s awesome luxury car plant. The staff was professional and nice, and we were lucky to have a neighbor who gave us an interesting perspective and helpful advice. What about the actual exhibition?

First, DATE is not cheap. Special start-up price is 2K€ ($2.7K). I just looked up DAC, it has a special “first exhibitor” package, for a mere $1.5K. DAC is about three times bigger, too. Concerning attendance, I was able to find numbers here and on the websites for the previous editions. There were 625 exhibition visitors in 2010, increased to 890 in 2011 (probably due to the presence of GlobalFoundries), and 800 in 2012 and 2013; the number of conference attendees has been around 1,300 and now is around 1,400. I couldn’t find any other statistics. By contrast, DAC compiles in-depth statistics about its visitors, including demographics and an event audit.

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EDACafe Call for Bloggers – Extend Your Reach and Exposure!

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Do you have something to share with the EDA community, such as opinions, thought-provoking topics, or commentary? EDACafe.com, the leading electronic design industry web portal is seeking the following types of blogging contributor categories:

  • Industry Expert/Consultant Blog
    • Provide thought leadership, industry expertise
    • Benefit by promoting yourself and your expertise
    • No cost involved if the article is not promotional in nature
  • Guest Blog
    • Tied to an existing blog on EDACafe
    • Write one blog post or post periodically
    • No cost involved if the article is not promotional in nature
  • Custom Blog
    • Will have a unique name and identity
    • Produce at least one blog post per month
    • No cost involved if the articles are not promotional in nature
  • Custom Corporate Blog
    • Industry-leading companies, such as software and hardware vendors, service bureaus, etc.
    • Multiple logins for publishing blog entries from multiple authors
    • Cost is $700/month or $6,000/year.

EDACafe has 75,000 unique visitors per month; as well as 30,000 subscribers to our daily newsletter and EDA Weekly. Translation: People like to spend time at EDACafe.

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The CAD Team – Unsung heroes in a successful tapeout

Friday, March 14th, 2014

For most of my career, I worked as a CAD and design flow engineer. In the fall of 2012, I moved to a different role, as an applications and support manager at ClioSoft Inc. In my opinion, this was a very good opportunity for me to work with other CAD engineers and teams. 

Having worked with different CAD teams in my career, I have often felt that the CAD engineers do not get the credit that they richly deserve for the effort they put in. Most CAD engineers did not plan on being CAD engineers when they graduated from college. What moved them in the direction of CAD is the “discovery” that they had an excellent understanding of UNIX, design methodology and programming and also had good communication skills.

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A young entrepreneur’s take on EDA

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

You’ve all read many times the opinions of EDA veterans concerning this industry, so for a change I’ll humor you with my opinion as a young entrepreneur and EDA company founder. This post originally appeared on my company’s official blog (see original post). What prompted me to write this piece is Gabe’s article on Starting A New EDA Company.

In his post, Gabe is hoping for “disruption” and “a new business model”, yet he notes the “total lack of new ideas from younger people”. Hmm. Well I’m young, and I certainly do think that younger people have lots of ideas, and that they’re actually having a huge success, it’s just that it’s happening in other industries, like, for instance, the software industry. I’m talking about the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and whatnot. Now why is that? Why are young people having success in software but not so much in semiconductor? Could it be that there is something specific about the semiconductor industry? After all, until its recent acquisition by Cadence, Forte was still called a start-up. After 16 years (it was founded in 1998). And VCs seem to agree that the money is elsewhere. So what is it?

It turns out that to create a “new successful EDA company”, you should “understand thoroughly the application industry [your company] serves”. Ok, but how is it possible for young people to do that exactly? The semiconductor industry today is mainly about designing SoCs, and that requires many different skills and companies and people working together. It takes years to become proficient in designing quality hardware with RTL, and this is only the first step to making a chip! Then you need to learn about verification (and SystemC, and SystemVerilog, and UVM, and equivalence checking, and I don’t know what else, after all I’m not a verification engineer!), and back-end, and DFT, etc. How are you supposed to thoroughly understand all this without 10 or 15 years of experience?

Maybe this explains that. I have the impression that the semiconductor industry has kind of an “old” feeling attached to it, as if the hardware industry were lagging behind the software industry. Remember when all you had was proprietary software products that were incompatible with each other? This is EDA today. Where else do you need an NDA to read a datasheet or a tool’s documentation? Where else are you forbidden to compare competing products? Sad but true: for example if you read Xilinx’s license, you will see in section 4. Restrictions, sub-section (b) General Restrictions, the following: “Licensee is not licensed to, and agrees not to: (iii) publish or disclose the results of any benchmarking of the Software”. Cadence goes further in its website’s terms of use: “Any postings to chat rooms, forums, message boards, contests, or similar information you submit, as well as any computer code, bug fix, or other creative idea you provide, shall be deemed, and shall remain, the property of Cadence“.

This kind of attitude is part of the problem. Let’s take another example. Most EDA software use the same licensing program, the well-known FlexLM. That stuff is 26 years old. Surely by now you’d imagine we would have a better solution? Well there are alternatives. So why does EDA keep using this one? Is it because this industry is a conservative triumvirate? Is it because these three are just too big? But being a behemoth has never prevented innovation! Agreed, it does make it more difficult, because of the innovator’s dilemma, but many bigger companies still manage to innovate a lot. Google’s revenue for 2013 is about $60 billion, that’s respectively around 30, 40, and 60 times the revenue of Synopsys, Cadence, and Mentor Graphics. If being big does not prevent innovation, what else could?

I think this is a cultural problem. We have a kind of chicken and egg problem, with users who have become afraid of change (including new EDA software) because change has all too often caused problems, and with companies that do not change things because they fear this is is going to cause problems or to make users angry. And in the end, users are the ones who give you money, so you try to listen to them. That’s actually fine, as long as you keep in mind that only a small percentage of users are actually innovators and early adopters, and these are the ones willing to change first; if you convince them, you have a much better chance of convincing the others (more or less easily, see Crossing the Chasm, and the post I wrote about this Are you pre-chasm?). This is a distinctive trait of the semiconductor industry in my opinion: we seem to hear the late majority (to quote the original research, “older and fairly conservative”) voice its opinion much more than one would otherwise expect.

Despite all that, though, I love writing EDA software for all hardware designers who are open to the possibility of improving their design flow. It makes me pretty happy when I meet or talk with them :-) And of course I love designing hardware with the Cx language that we created!

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