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 What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

Forte: Anchor Tenant in the ESL Mall

April 25th, 2012 by Peggy Aycinena

When you think of Forte, think of the shopping mall – because just as Macy’s and Nordstrom’s are anchor tenants in your local mall, Forte Design Systems is the anchor tenant in the ESL mall.

Also when you think of Forte, think of Brett Cline. Brett’s been the face of the company for many a year, and continues to address with palpable enthusiasm the past, present, and future of everything having to do with the ESL – Forte and the system-level design shopping mall within which the company functions.

Last month, here in What Would Joe Do, Calypto had center stage speaking about their recent acquisition of the Catapult C high-level synthesis tool from Mentor Graphics.

This month, Forte has center stage by way of Brett’s response to Calypto. When we spoke by phone this week, Brett began by countering Calypto VP Shawn McCloud’s comment that Forte is in trouble.

Per Brett Cline: “That’s nonsense. Last year, Forte had 30-percent growth. And we have a number of technologies in place that are driving that growth, one being the core synthesis part. In fact, we’ve had the most ASIC/SOC tapeouts of any company in that area, applied to the greatest variety of design styles. So it’s not surprising that today we’re engaged in more than half of the top 20 semis in the world. We’re not in trouble.

“In addition, 5 years ago we figured out that IP is a critical portion of helping our customers succeed. It’s not like they can’t do it on their own, but there are pieces we can provide that allow design teams to eliminate mundane tasks and focus on what matters.

“Our IP consists of a number of different types of interfaces, fixed and floating point datatypes, and memories – we have had around 500 tapeouts there, representing thousands of design blocks. Our IP is silicon proven and is included with our synthesis tool. It allows our customers to focus on their piece of the design that adds value.

“What’s really interesting about the path we’ve taken with all of this? These IP blocks allow our customers to quickly build up complex hierarchies, bus structures, and anything they want in terms of datapath or control for TLM, or for full pin-cycle accurate simulation which can be directly synthesized from a single synthesis tool.”

Given all this, I asked Brett if the fundamental debate about ESL itself – its efficacy – is over in the industry.

He said, “Yeah, generally it is understood that ESL provides value, but the key question design managers ask is still: Will a particular ESL tool help us in our current project? And we can say, yes Forte’s tool does help. Of course, it varies from company to company as to how it’s implemented in their flow and what proof is required by the design manager to get started.

“For instance, at times when we’re inside a huge company, some groups have had successful tapeouts using our tool, and understand what we provide. Other groups within the same company, however, still need things to be proven.

“So we’ll say to that group, for instance: Why don’t you call Bob or Bill in that other group where we’ve provided them with tools, and hear about it directly.

“Sometimes that’s sufficient, and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes they want to see it work on their own design block, and we can see that they don’t want to put their head on the chopping block by using an unproven tool. But we also know that our tool can produce great results, and are always willing to take the time needed to convince people.

“And, we are always honest. This is about more than just a new tool, it’s a full-on new methodology and there is some learning required. It doesn’t take years and years to come up to speed, but it does take time.

“I like to say it’s like flying a Cessna. Anybody can figure out how to start it, everybody’s flown a flight simulator. You push the throttle in, pull the yoke to go up, push the yoke to go down, and you can probably take off and fly around for a while.

“But at some point you are going to want to land, and at that point there are two ways to land, and one is not so good. Flying a new ESL tool is the same idea. It’s intuitive, but it does require training and practice to become and expert.

“Of course also, many design managers have got time-critical projects. They don’t want to just go off and take a lot of time to learn a new tool, they want it to work right now.

“It’s true in Japan, that engineers there are somewhat more willing to educate themselves for a year or so to manage new tools, but here in the U.S. it’s a different kind of behavior. Here, engineers are working under a different set of constraints. They have to get their job done now. It’s not true for every account, or on every project, but we understand the constraints, and understand that we need to make the methodology easy to adopt.”

Returning to the Calypto comment, I asked Brett how it is that anybody feels free to say that Forte is not doing well.

He chuckled and said: “They can say what they want, but we’ve got a unique set of technology, we’ve got the longest running deployment of HLS, we’ve got real logic synthesis tools, and since we bought Arithmatica in 2009, we’ve got great IP that’s literally in hundreds of millions of mobile devices around the world. Forte’s been working with customers on high-level synthesis for more than 10 years now.

“To anybody who says we’re not doing well, I would respond: The truth is, nobody can keep up with us! When you are in the lead the target is always on your back.”

“Really, the only question is: Can my tool do what you need to get your job done, and can it do that quickly. That’s where we are today, and that’s why we have the market share to prove it.

“So who is the ESL leader? Well, everyone is according to each company’s press release – particularly as there are so many different sub-areas within ESL – so who the real leader is not really known. Clearly not just one player is dominant.

“However, it’s also completely realistic to say that the majority of the market share for HLS belongs to Forte and Catapult, with Cadence in third place. That’s the realistic way of looking at it, for what it’s worth.

“Meanwhile, we’re just going to go on doing what we do well. We’re going to continue to solve the ESL challenges of our customers, continue to enhance our technology, and continue to enjoy remarkable growth in market share.”


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