October 20, 2003
Testing, Testing, 123
Please note that contributed articles, blog entries, and comments posted on EDACafe.com are the views and opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the management and staff of Internet Business Systems and its subsidiary web-sites.
Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor

by Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor
Posted anew every four weeks or so, the EDA WEEKLY delivers to its readers information concerning the latest happenings in the EDA industry, covering vendors, products, finances and new developments. Frequently, feature articles on selected public or private EDA companies are presented. Brought to you by EDACafe.com. If we miss a story or subject that you feel deserves to be included, or you just want to suggest a future topic, please contact us! Questions? Feedback? Click here. Thank you!

Testing 1 - ITC Revisited

ITC 2003 (the International Test Conference) was held this year at the Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, from the 30th of September through the 2nd of October.

ITC's organizers describe it as: “The world's premier conference dedicated to the electronic test of devices, boards and systems, covering the complete cycle from design verification, test, diagnosis, failure analysis and back to process and design improvement. At ITC, test and design professionals confront the challenges the industry faces, and learn how these challenges are being addressed by the combined efforts of academia, design tool and equipment suppliers, designers, and test engineers.”

Given all of this, it's not surprising that a lot of people try to get to ITC each and every year. However, as is still the reality in these challenging days, travel budgets are tight and not everybody who wanted to go to ITC 2003 was able to get there.

Tony Ambler was one of the lucky ones who did get to go to Charlotte. But then he was General Chair for ITC 2003, so it was probably a safe bet that, travel budgets notwithstanding, he'd be there.

Two weeks after the fact, Ambler sat in his office on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin (where he's Chairman of the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering) and patiently answered questions about ITC in a phone call from one of those who would have liked to have attended, but couldn't.

Per Ambler: “For starters, attendance was something that we did worry about in the current economic situation. But [to our delight], the number of technical attendees was actually the same as last year. It's true that the number of exhibitors was down, but we fully expect that to turn around in the next several years. [Indicative of that], one of the exhibitors from 2002 told us that they're hoping to be able to exhibit once again next year. That's obviously really good news to hear.”

“This year's technical program was particularly solid. I was talking with Gordon Roberts, Program Chair, and he said we've had a lot less criticism this year. We always hand out questionnaires to the attendees and, of course, you always get gripes whatever you do. Someone's always miserable about something or other, but nonetheless we always listen to the attendees and [feel this year's ITC was particularly successful because] we had a lot less negative comments than in past years.”

“For one thing, the program size has increased. The number of paper proposals has gone up, and everybody on the Program Committee has been particularly pleased with the quality of the submissions. You tend to find with a conference like ITC - which is sponsored by the IEEE Computer Society Test Technology Technical Council (as well as the Philadelphia Section of IEEE, with support from Mentor Graphics and Advantest) - that people submitting papers are very self-selecting. They usually won't submit a paper if it's not quite ready.”

“Of course, there's always the danger that the conference will become too academic. We always go to great lengths to be sure that participants on the Program Committee receive a high level of industrial input as well. We never forget that industry people have as many Masters and PhDs as academics.”

“Most of us believe that ITC's greatest strength is that it's not just Industry, and it's not just Academics. It's a free form dialog taking place between all parties involved and that's exactly what should be happening. We have the leading industrial and academic practitioners all making an impact on ITC, its program, and its future direction.”

“One problem that we would all admit to is that ITC has tended to drift over the years towards being the International Chip Test Conference, so many of us have [been pushing] to make it a bit more broad-based. We've noticed of late, for instance, that the board test people have been sending a relatively low number of attendees. [Subsequently], the Board Test Action Group, chaired by Ben Bennetts, has made a concerted effort to be sure that board and system test are also included in the program. The keynote this year was given by David Yen, Executive Vice President at Sun Microsystems. He was talking about seeing chip testability through the eyes of a systems person. That
[dovetails] with our increased emphasis at ITC on system-level and board-level test.”

“When I was Program Chair, I tried to do what Ben's Group has now done, but we didn't have the critical mass of bodies then to make a rigorous argument for inclusion. The Board Test Action Group has now guaranteed that there will be space in the program for board and system-level test. And, we've put on extra sessions explicitly for these people, made sure that there are specific tutorial slots in the first few days for system test, that there are panel slots explicitly put aside for board and system test, and three workshops specific to board and system test. The exhibitors have noticed the change and are commenting on it.”

“[There's another interesting trend in that] you're seeing fewer ATE (automatic test equipment) people at ITC and more EDA exhibitors. Of course, there's a lot of consolidation in the industry - Cadence buying out IBM's testbench stuff (see below) has an impact, for example. But clearly there's a much bigger emphasis these days on DFT (design for test) in the whole test process.”

“The roadmaps are forecasting that the dramatic increases in device performance mean [traditional test] will not be able to keep up. It's obvious we're going to need to put more testability on the chip. [In conjunction with that], there's been increasing dialog at ITC about moving to low-cost DFT testers. You're still going to need those Big Iron ATE things - and ATE people will still want to sell ATE. But people who didn't want to buy ATE before ITC, are still not wanting to buy ATE even after ITC is over.”

“I led one of the workshops at ITC (“Future of ATE”). Things weren't quite as focused during the workshop as one would perhaps have wanted. It actually ended up with a lot of arguing to and fro, rather than anyone coming to a final agreement like, 'Yeah, this is how it should go.' [Clearly], the future isn't quite clear as yet.”

Meanwhile, Charlotte was a new venue for ITC this year and Ambler said the location was chosen “for a variety of reasons, which may or may not have been rational. The decision to hold the conference in Charlotte was made quite a few years ago. Planning has had to take into account our space needs, while the totality of the event - including the panels, talks and exhibits - has outgrown our [traditional] hotel venues. We had to find different locations that could accommodate the program and the exhibits, which caused us to look at more conventions centers. There aren't actually that many around, and given that ITC has traditionally been an East Coast show, we were limited in our
choices. We'll be in Charlotte again next year, but the year after that we'll be in Austin.”

As Ambler lives and works in Austin, it seemed only fair to ask him if he'd exerted undue personal influence on the decision to mount ITC 2005 in his own backyard. He laughed and said, “Austin as a venue was neither suggested nor pushed by myself. The Austin Convention Center is a very nice facility, located in a very pleasant part of town and only a block from 6th Street.”

Ambler came to Austin himself just seven years ago - “straight from the U.K.” - and claims he's never looked back as the weather in Austin is quite good, drier than in the U.K., and the people in Austin are delightful (although he adds the city is a “bit of an oasis” in Texas).

I asked him about his own particular area of research: “I'm an academic, but I'm unusual because I have an industrial bias. Also, unlike most faculty working in test, I tend to [gravitate] towards system and field service test. I try to debate whether [a particular technique] offers an economically viable prospect. A [strategy] has to provide more than just high coverage - it has to be demonstrably less expensive than those currently in use.”

“It's true that some schools [doing research in test] are more interested in pure research. Those schools which are [pursuing] the purely academic issues are right and proper in doing so - the ivory tower should be thinking 20 years out. But you also have to have those academics who balance [that type of research] with industry research that's perhaps just 5 years out. Just as we believe it's appropriate to have both viewpoints represented at ITC.”

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-- Peggy Aycinena, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.


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