A lot of people were at Semicon this week in San Francisco. Organizers were said to be expecting 25,000 for the 38th Annual Gathering of the (hellishly complex) Global Semiconductor Ecosystem, but clearly not everybody showed up.
That’s not to say there weren’t thousands of people in South and North Hall of Moscone Center, but it wasn’t a full house. You could feel it in the eerie calm of the Exhibition Hall – a place traditionally abuzz with seething crowds – and you could see it in the color palette on display. Dark suits. Muted Ties. It was almost funereal, with everybody appearing to be dressed to the nines out of respect for an industry that’s in the direst of straights.
EDAC Chair and Mentor Graphics CEO Wally Rhines gave the Wednesday keynote at Semicon in the Novellus Theater. Rhines was not, however, wearing his darkest suit. It was more like battleship grey. Perhaps Rhines didn’t get the memo: It’s a funeral. More likely, he’s just not as ready as some to give up.
Rhines’ Keynote …
Rhines has been around for a long time. Two decades at TI prior to his last two decades in EDA. He’s seen it all when it comes to boom and bust in semiconductors, and although he did acknowledge in his July 15th keynote that these are the darkest times to date in the history of the industry – with a whopping 56 billion unit volume drop over two quarters, Q4’08/Q1’09, equivalent to the collapse witnessed across a full four quarters in disastrous 2001 – he said this time around it‘s different:
Compared to the previous historic busts in 2001, 1996, and 1985, there was no semiconductor bubble of oversupply and overproduction prior to the current events. Hence, prices will remain more stable and the inevitable recovery will be faster and more deliberate. More importantly, Rhines insisted that Moore’s Law has not collapsed: “The data does not support a slowing of leading edge technologies.” He had lots of graphs on graphs to prove the point.
He also had graphs to prove that, although consolidation is the bellwether of a maturing industry, never over the history of semiconductors have the top 5, or even top 10, companies ever commanded, in aggregate, more than 10-to-15 percent market share. Per Rhines, leading semiconductor companies can never rest on their laurels: “Innovation and cost structures force you to keep up or get out.”
Even more contrarian, Rhines argued the precipitous decline in DRAM prices in recent years should be seen as an example of a positive phenomenon in technology: “As unit prices fall, sales soar [and that] enables innovation in applications.”
Rhines finished his keynote with a brief Q&A. Along with questions about solar technology (the Intersolar North America conference was collocated with Semicon this week), visa restrictions and outsourcing, Rhines was also asked about TSMC’s problems ramping up yield at 40 nanometers.
His response was upbeat to all questions. Rhines shamelessly promoted the Green Technology plenary session at DAC in response to the solar question, said visa restrictions were bad, that outsourcing was good only if it was pursued in search of engineering talent not cost savings, and ended with a ringing endorsement of TSMC. He said, “At all process nodes, yield ramp-up problems are temporary. TSMC will fix it [and move on].”
Rhines ended by insisting that process migration challenges are a great motivator for innovation in EDA. They drive development of new design tools, new place-and-route and verification tools, and provide opportunities for further partnering between EDA vendors and established and/or emerging fabless companies.
When Rhines was done, he got a rousing round of applause for his data-rich keynote, his facility in answering questions across a range of topics, and his palpable optimism – something in short supply at this particular Semicon.
Top 10 Must Do’s at DAC …
After Rhines finished his fantastic (but under-attended) keynote, I headed out to explore Semicon. I ran into an EDA editor in the North Hall who said, given how under-attended Semicon looked in cavernous Moscone Center, DAC housed in that same venue later this month will be a “ghost town.” He told me DAC needs to be folded into Semicon as a technical track.
Following that, I went to the South Hall and saw the Magma, Si2, and Synopsys booths. At Synopsys, I talked at length with Synopsys’ Sr. Director of Marketing, Tom Ferry.
Based on all of that, here are the Top 10 Must Do’s at DAC:
No. 10 – Not as many people are going to show up at DAC as many stakeholders in the EDA industry would like. Get over it.
No. 9 – If you think DAC is going to be a ghost town, don’t come. Go rain on somebody else’s parade.
No. 8 – Check your cynicism at the door. It’s not helpful, it’s not good for your inner Feng Shui, and it really pisses me off.
No. 7 – Don’t wear a dark suit and muted tie if you are coming to San Francisco. These may be tough times, but it’s not a funeral. It’s DAC. Battleship grey is okay, but bright colors are better.
No. 6 – The Novellus Theater can only be reached by exiting North Hall and turning left on Howard. There’s no foot traffic wandering in from the Exhibit Hall, so if you’re giving a talk there, be prepared for a small turnout.
No. 5 – The world’s gone Gaga over Green. Attend the DAC Thursday Special Plenary Panel, hosted by Wally Rhines: “How Green is My Silicon Valley.”
No. 4 – DAC is not ready to be folded into Semicon. Semicon is for the process, production and test guys, according to Tom Ferry, while DAC is still for designers. Accept it. They’re still two different shows.
No. 3 – TSMC has just joined Si2, but is not yet a member of EDAC, although The MathWorks is. Figure out when TSMC will become a member of EDAC.
No. 2 – San Francisco is fabulous, and you’re so lucky to be visiting this month. The DeYoung is hosting King Tut, the Museum of Modern Art is hosting Ansel Adams/Georgia O’Keefe and Richard Avedon, and the Asian Art Museum is hosting the Lords of the Samurai. See at least one of these shows, and let me know which one you saw.
No. 1 – Learn something new at DAC, something really new! Then write to me and tell me what it is. Make it something positive, thanks. (peggy_at_aycinena.com)
No. 0 – Assume this may be your last visit to DAC. Enjoy it like there’s no tomorrow!