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Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

Innovation: Thy name is eSilicon

 
May 25th, 2015 by Peggy Aycinena

While news last week out of eSilicon proved again the company’s ability to innovate and build on emerging technologies, a phone call with company VP Mike Gianfagna also proved something: Mike continues to be one of the ablest spokesmen in the industry. Very helpful, because the news is not simple.

On May 19th, the company announced STAR platform, the Self-service, Transparent, Accurate, Real-time platform. Per the press release, “STAR supports eSilicon’s existing IP browsing, instant quoting, and work-in-process tracking capabilities, along with a new chip optimization offering that leverages design virtualization technology. The platform also delivers an enhanced user interface with simplified account setup and access.”

Oh yeah, and the company also announced they’ve unified and re-branded their tools:

Navigator: Search, select and try eSilicon IP online
Optimizer: Versatile self-service IC design optimization for Power, Performance, Area
Explorer: Evaluate option and get fast, accurate quotes for MPW and GDSII handoffs
Tracker: Real-time design progress and IC delivery tracking, including order history, forecasts and yield data

Yeah, wow, complex.

“It all has to do with our online technology,” Mike explained. “It’s basically taking our systems to the next generation, with additional usability and features incorporating extensive feedback from our customers.”

What kind of feedback?

Per Mike, “Everybody always has the same requests, the same questions. What are the technology options, IP options, packaging options, prices? Fielding those questions and [interacting with multiple vendors to get the answers] can generate weeks of back and forth conversations, telephone calls, signing NDAs, etc. And only then, finally, a quote.”

Clearly, that unscripted, protracted process is informing eSilicon’s current news and their efforts over the last several years. That, and a desire to embrace the vast and evolving resources of an Internet-based economy.

“Back in 2013,” Mike said, “we began to see that a robust, automated system would provide us with great benefits internally. We then asked, how about taking this stuff out to the Internet and letting our customers enjoy the benefits as well? First for multi-project wafers [MPWs], and then for GDSII tapeouts?

“So we launched our tools on the Internet, all built from the front-end with best practices [gleaned] from our extensive experience in EDA. At eSilicon, we are methodically automating every item in the business: the quoting, order tracking, and design automation. All with the simple goal of making the [design and manufacturing] process more reliable, efficient and predictable. An outcome that’s good for everyone.

“For GDSII, for instance, you’re worried about masks, qualifications, package design, and product pricing — all of which take several weeks to complete. Now with our new platform and tools, you can get a quote for an MPW slot for any foundry. As an example, for TSMC we can give you a quote in 5 minutes.”

“Frankly,” Mike continued, “it takes what you used to need a month to accomplish and now does it in 5 minutes. Which, in turn, means that now people can do multiple ‘what-ifs’, because of our quick-turnaround time frame.

“Now our customers can see the PPA — power, performance, area — of real products [they’re thinking to build]. And just as the STAR platform creates a new level of transparency, it also educates our customers by offering the ability to consider the implications of their design decisions.

“Most importantly, at the end of the quote process, you receive a 27-page, legally binding document. If you sign it and become our customer, we’ll deliver to that spec and stand behind the [deliverable].”

Another question: “Your platform and what-if tools offer a specific design solution to your customers, but how do they know eSilicon’s answer to their requirement specs — which IP, which technology, which foundry — is better than something a competitor might come up with?”

Mike answered, “They often tell us our competitors take weeks to get back to them with an answer, but we’re very efficient and much faster. Already that’s a plus.

“But we’re also constantly calibrating our answer against the real world. We do real implementations and store that information. It’s one of our secret sauces that using our methodology, we have characterized over-all data from many different designers.

“And our reference set of designs are critical for generating data relevant to our customers, a kind of machine learning that explores our data base for other options that might be compatible with the customer’s design requirements. We’re constantly doing our own tests to insure that our answers are correct.”

“All of this information that you provide to your customers,” I asked,  “design specs for blocks from third-party IP vendors, tool details from EDA tool providers — how do you get all of that?”

Mike answered with pride: “Because eSilicon is an ASIC provider, we have a broad-based supply chain. We work with all of the foundries, and also build our own proprietary reference designs to create additional design data. Whether we’re doing a tapeout for a particular customer, or just running an idea through for evaluation, we are enlarging our data base.”

All of this was a lot to absorb, but there was more.

Mike also clarified eSilicon’s business model: “Importantly, we’re providing these [analysis capabilities] for free, because we know that when the customers are ready to buy, they’ll come back and engage with us. There’s no cost and no obligation, because the whole thing is geared towards building a design community.”

And to sign up? As simple as shooting off an email to eSilicon and requesting a quote on a design?

Mike said yes: “It’s a closed-loop validation system that’s quite simple. All we need is your request to come from a verifiable corporate email.  We check the IP address associated with that email, and will tell you if it’s a controlled country [from the US export control point of view]. We make sure the IP address is not in Iran or North Korea, for example.

“At that point, we send you an activation email that says simply, ‘click here’. Then you log in, give your user’s ID, specify a password, and verify you’re not one of our competitors. We’ve made registering and setting your password easy, straightforward and frictionless.”

And once you’re in the system, Mike added, the experience is excellent: “The user interface on our first version was good, but now it’s even better.

“Our interface designers have blended the critical technical information with everyone’s current expectations for a UI, it’s less cluttered and also self-documenting. The user is [ now presented] with a unified log-in for everything, and an easy jump off for all the tools. And the interface will now respond to the size of the user’s device screen.”

I chuckled and asked, “Does anybody really do design work on a cell phone?”

Mike was courteous: “If I’m doing a GDSII quote or browsing an IP memory library, yeah, I’m doing it at my desktop. And if I’m working on a new design, I’m probably not going to do it on a cell phone.

“However, the cell phone and the tablet do come into play for people who are using those devices to access the tracker tools. They’re sitting in a project meeting and can log in to get status updates or other information. So our user interface responding to the size of the user’s device screen is important in that setting.”

Okay, I said, and then asked again, “So there’s no cost or obligation throughout the entire quote process?”

Mike was patient: “The truth is, our destinies and those of our customers are aligned. We sell silicon and we want to make sure our customers are satisfied. We’ve already been offering these services to our existing customers, those people we are currently building chips for. Why not make these capabilities available to everyone worldwide?

“Also, our customers are saying: I do complex chips with many blocks, but within any design there are always one or two particularly difficult blocks, eating power, causing problems in the packaging, etc.

“So what we’ve launched is a service that allows our customers to deploy a design virtualization capability [see White Paper link below]. In that way, before we engage with a customer on a block of IP, they and we can make sure it’s the best choice at that point in the design.

“And yes, it’s free. Customers can do a lot of pre-quote driving on the system, a true no-risk trial. That’s how we’re bringing it to market, making it as easy as possible. We only charge our customers if we meet their specs, if we deliver silicon to those specs.”

“It’s all very cool,” I said.

Mike agreed: “From the experience with our GDSII tool, which has been out there a little over a half-year and has already reached 25 countries, MPW is going to have a very nice reach worldwide. And we expect the number of users to grow dramatically over the next several years. The system is [robust] and reflects the very real reach of the Internet today.

“And it’s working. To date, we’ve generated over 1300 quotes in over 60 countries. Now, we’re receiving requests for quotes from places our team has never even visited. It will happen very soon that we’ll close a deal in a country that we’ve never visited at all!”

“The thing is,” Mike added, “the semiconductor industry is going to move to the Internet. It’s simply unavoidable. [We’re building on that] by helping our customers and potential customers make better decisions. Where we’re going with all of this — with design virtualization — others will follow.

Given that the first revenue-producing customer engagement is undoubtedly just around the corner — now that eSilicon’s expanded, enhanced, no-cost/no-obligation design virtualization capabilities are available through the STAR platform, and unified Navigator, Optimizer, Explorer, Tracker tools — I asked Mike if that first customer will be someone eSilicon will be able to brag on.

Mike laughed and said, “We can only hope and pray that the first customer is PR hungry enough to allow us a quote regarding their success for subsequent news releases about our offering.

“We are very anxious to prove that the type of online access we are making available with all of this does really work!”


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More on Design Virtualization …

For further clarification, eSilicon has just published a White Paper discussing all aspects of design virtualization and its impact on SoC design. You can read it here.

From Page 3 …

“At its core, design virtualization utilizes big data strategies to capture engineering knowledge from suppliers worldwide regarding how process options, IP, foundation libraries, memory architectures and operating conditions interact with each other to impact the power, performance and area (PPA) of an SoC design. Machine learning is then applied to this data to allow exploration of design options. The information is accessed through the cloud and real-time, predictive analysis is provided to guide the optimal choice for all these variables.”

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