What Would Joe Do?
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.
Silicon Cloud: Architecting the Future of Design
July 16th, 2014 by Peggy Aycinena
Despite its ethereal-sounding name, Silicon Cloud International is a company grounded in the reality of chip design, particularly for an important international demographic, professors and students. Mojy Chian is CEO of the Singapore-based SCI. We spoke recently by phone.
Chian started by defining the cloud. “The concept of the cloud is straightforward. It means remote computing, so if you are not using your local machine, you are using the cloud. There are a lot of applications in the cloud, including eCommerce, Facebook, cloud storage, and remote collaboration based in the cloud.
“Certainly, usage of the cloud has taken off in recent years, but remember there are several different types of clouds. In contrast to private cloud computing, public cloud computing means accessing machines [owned by other companies such as Amazon], where you can actually go and use their machines.”
Our conversation being specific to chip design, I asked Chian to comment on widespread industry concerns regarding security when working in the public cloud. Companies are oft-times reluctant to compute and/or store their designs in the public cloud for fear of losing their precious data to hackers and pirates.
“Yes, that is all true,” he said. “But in our case, our services are specifically targeted at universities. As you know, most EDA companies give their tools to universities for free, or at substantially discounted prices. Typically therefore, EDA companies at not looking to make much money from universities as there is not much money there.
“In addition, university students need access to the foundry PDKs. So what is the best way to train the next wave of designers to use the tools and PDKs, and to take that knowledge with them after they graduate? This is the problem we at Silicon Cloud International are addressing: How to propagate the tools, the technology, and the flows to the universities?”
“Of course, we still have to deal with the issues of data protection,” Chian acknowledged. “[In fact], many times data protection is even more important for universities than for industry. The truth is, if you are a bad person and have access to tools and data through a university, you can download these things and send them wherever you want to on a flash drive.”
In the main, however, Chain said universities are full of well-intentioned individuals focused on learning their craft. “Today’s chip-design environment model in universities is trust-based. Yes, the IP has to be downloaded from the cloud onto local machines, and after that no one really knows [what might happen]. However, if I am a foundry and I trust you as a student or professor, you will get my PDK. Otherwise, you will not.”
It is all of this, Chian explained, that has led Silicon Cloud to create their strategy. “We have solved the downloading and trust issue by putting everything into a private cloud of our own design. The design data, the tools, the flows, the PDKs – everything is in this cloud.
“Then our customers, the students and professors, can work on their designs from thin-clients which access our offerings in this private cloud. We issue small Chrome boxes to our customers that do no include data-downloading capability, and that is exactly how we deal with the data-protection issue.
“The design data can go between the servers and the clients at a high-resolution, no matter the size of the design, and the speed of operation is exactly the same as doing all of the design work locally.”
Chian added that not only are the designs, tools, flows and IP better protected this way, it is far easier from an IT point of view for the universities, not having to deal with local machines hosting a complex suite of software.
All of this being intuitively appealing, I asked Chian if he thinks Silicon Cloud’s efforts will nudge the commercial EDA paradigm to embrace their strategy.
He responded, “There is no reason not to. So many other applications are using this strategy. Browsers for banking, for instance, often an Amazon or Facebook dashboard. And what industry has [more stringent demands for security than the financial industry]?
“Our offerings at Silicon Cloud are exactly the same. You use the Chrome box we provide to do whatever you need to do. Security is not a concern, because of the architecture we have built into our system.”
Chain emphasized that the SCI architecture is complex and sophisticated, and is in the early phases of commercialization: “We are a brand-new company and are [introducing] our offerings in several phases. First, we are approaching universities in developing countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, the UAE, and Brazil.
“Many of these countries have created whole branches of government to invest in chip design and make it happen, to move their countries more into knowledge-based economies. We are working with these countries to build cloud-based design centers.
“In Malaysia, for instance, we have installed our private cloud hardware, populated the cloud with tools, PDKs and IP, and also have a support team there. Soon all universities in Malaysia will have access to this private cloud for education, training and research.
“We are also working with North Carolina State University, putting all of their training materials in a private cloud of our design. Such universities can also go through our system to [access fabrication] thru MOSIS.”
Chian said Silicon Cloud’s work dovetails with efforts from the SRC, the Silicon Research Corporation.
“The SRC is looking for a way,” he said, “for universities around the world to collaborate. For instance, such that a professor in the UAE, a professor in Singapore, and a professor in the U.S. might all be able to work together. Silicon Cloud [will help facilitate] this type of collaboration.
“Previously I was in charge of Design Enablement at GlobalFoundries, with 650 people on the team. I know a lot of people in universities and in industry, and understand that cooperation across the larger ecosystem is important to make a reality of [Silicon Cloud’s vision].”
“Therefore and importantly,” he added, “Silicon Cloud is working with a variety of companies. Cadence, Synopsys, GlobalFoundries, TSMC and various design IP providers are working with us, as well as a bunch of partners on the hardware side.”
All of these collaborations are critical to moving the company to “the second phase” of their product offerings, Chian said. “The core of our technology is based on data protection and high performance computing. It is our intent to bring [these things] to other high performance engineering applications such as TCAD, mechanical and thermal engineering.”
He concluded our conversation by emphasizing again the importance of cloud computing. “Remote collaboration is built on the concept of the cloud. We have solved the security and performance issues and now, going forward, Silicon Cloud International will unburden the users from the cost and complexity of developing and maintaining design flows.”
And in so doing, Chian said, they will show the entire industry that all things are possible in the cloud.
Mojy Chian has served in executive management roles in both private and public companies, and has hands-on experience in IC product design, software development, process technology, design infrastructure, and wafer manufacturing.
From 2009 to 2012, Chian was SVP of Design Enablement at GlobalFoundries, responsible for all design, design services, design infrastructure functions, and customer tape-out operations. He was also the head of the Transformation Office, overseeing all company transformational initiatives.
From 2006 to 2009, Chian was VP of Technology Development at Altera, managing all development, infrastructure, and manufacturing aspects of silicon process technologies. Prior to Altera, Chian was SVP of Engineering and Core Technology at Mindspeed Technologies, responsible for all engineering disciplines for several product lines and all central engineering and common technology activities.
Chian has a BSEE, MSEE, and PhD in EE, as well as an MS in Applied Math.