November 28, 2005
The Optimal Solution
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Jack Horgan - Contributing Editor

by Jack Horgan - 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 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!


The weekly editorials have covered several vendors in the power integrity field. Some have attacked the issue through power management and some though power grid design. Optimal offers products with complete signal integrity and power integrity design flow from IC to Package to PCB. The company was founded in 1995 by Dr. An-Yu Kuo. The company's PakSi-E product is a 3D quasi-static electromagnetic simulation tool for electronic packaging. It provides whole package RLGC parasitic extraction.

I had an opportunity to interview Len Perham, the Chairman and CEO of Optimal. Mr. Perham has an impressive 30 year career of executive leadership and semiconductor industry experience.

Would you provide us with an overview of your background?

I graduated from Northeastern University in 1968 with a degree in electrical engineering. My interest coming out of college and my introduction to the industry was silicon semiconductor technology, field effect devices. My primary interest was the development of processing that could be used in manufacturing silicon integrated circuits. I was in the silicon business for about 30 years. The last nine of those years I was CEO of IDT (Integrated Device Technology, Inc.). While at IDT I orchestrated the company's move from being an 85% supplier to the military to being primarily a supplier of chips to the desktop computing industry. Before I left the firm it was poised to move into new areas. Sixty five percent of revenue was from telecommunication and data communications. The company grew from $200 million a year when I was made CEO, probably $10 million per year when I initially joined them, to around $680 million in its best year. While I was at IDT through the nineties I was probably fairly early in being a CEO who pioneered in startups while running a public company. The founder of Galileo and I put Galileo Technology together. The CEO of QED (Quantum Effect Devices) and I put QED together. Another fellow and I put together MoSys (Monolithic Systems Technology). The three firms went public and both Galileo and QED were subsequently acquired by larger companies. We did Centaur which was acquired by Via Technologies in Taiwan and we did Clear-Logic which wasn't successful. In 1990 IDT became a MIPS RISC core partner. Galileo was started to provide the chip set to support our cores. QED was started because the design team was extremely strong in MIPS RISC architecture and we started developing our own network processors. MoSys was started because we saw that single transistor cells could replace four transistor cells in high speed microprocessor based systems. Centaur Technology was X86 processors. Clear-Logic was programmability when IDT had none. I retired from IDT in January 2000. Eight or nine months later I kind of adopted NetLogic Microsystems. That company went public in July 2004. The company manufactures what I call “knowledge based processors.” They are very advanced network search engines that are put in the key path of the most advanced switching and routing systems. While running a few of the meetings at NetLogic, I realized that the classical software suppliers, i.e. Cadence, Mentor and Synopsys, were not able to provide the software that would let me solve the signal integrity and power integrity problem as I moved from the chip to the package, from the package to the board, from the board to the backplane. I told a few of my friends at venture capital firms to take a look
at what companies were out there and relevant in this space of providing tools that would allow you to do the extraction necessary to solve signal integrity issues at the interfaces I just mentioned. That led me to Optimal. I have been chairman and CEO of that company for about seven quarters now. That's the long winded review of my background.

Having grown up in the Boston area, I am very familiar with Northeastern University. The school is renowned for its 5 year co-op program. Base on your experience, is such a program a significant benefit for its students?

I think that that's indisputable. When a young man or young woman comes out of engineering school today in many cases they go into an environment where they are expected to produce results in real time, advancing system understanding, designing boards, antennas and mechanical systems, whatever. When I was a junior and senior at the university I was funded by Honeywell to develop chemical vapor deposition equipment for the deposit of silicon nitride, aluminum oxide and boron phosphorus silica glass (PBSG). When I arrived here in California in 1970, Applied Materials was just trying to get started. I was able to sit down and have the highest level discussion with the founding technical
officer of Applied Materials. I had a huge leg up coming into the Valley. I had already deposited my own films and built my own field effect devices. I was probably doing very advanced graduate level work. I had an advisor at the university who had just joined Northeastern from Carnegie. From my point of view, especially for engineering, there is no substitute for real work experience.

You have had a 30 year career in this industry. What do you see as the major difference between today and when you started?

My focus has been Silicon Valley all these years. I would say when I left the university that there was an enormous need for people who could understand the material science and physics associated with actually building semiconductor devices. We journeyed along and became famous for being Silicon Valley. Then it became more cost effective to build silicon manufacturing plants outside of the United States. The silicon industry started leaving the Valley in the middle nineties. And although we call the companies around here fabless semiconductor companies, most of them were formed to go after applications rather than fundamental technology. For example, when Altera and Xilinx were formed, they were building fundamental building blocks, field programmable gate arrays and complex programmable devices. But when companies like Broadcom, NetLogic, and Extreme Networks were formed by young folks coming out of graduate schools. They were not concerned any more with building silicon because they knew that they were going to use a foundry like TSMC or UMC. What they are interested in is what they worked on for their thesis. They saw that the next generation of switching would benefit from their ideas. So they come out of school focused on solving a system level problem by some highly integrated logic and memory solution in silicon. I would say that in my lifetime I have seen the Valley go from Silicon Valley to primitive microprocessors, to Games Valley with ActaVision and Atari and then to personal computers as the processors became more powerful, for example Intel with their microprocessor and Apple with their computers. And finally we moved to being Telecommunications and Data Communications Valley. The Valley is more or less the genome today of the most advanced communications, telecommunications and data communications IP and Internet protocol understanding. The Valley will eventually have to evolve again. If I came out of the university today and wanted to work in my field, I probably couldn't get a job in the Valley. If I wanted to work
in advancing the state of the art of diffusion and photolithography science, I would have to go to China and get the job I'm looking for there.

The Valley has changed its focus over the years. What will it focus on for the next three to five years?

I think right now that the center or the genome of the data communication industry is still here. The technology in switching and routing as pushed by Cisco is the most advanced in the world. There will be some innovations in that area. I think we will see a huge number of Internet appliances as people figure out how to develop in most cases software but in some cases a combination of hardware and software. They will generate capabilities that can be put onto the Internet and run on Internet protocol that allow people to be more effective in running their finance from the home, to have higher and higher levels of security in all their transactions. One little company that I am aware of is doing domain to domain instant messaging behind the firewall. Since all instant messaging today is very insecure, many companies won't use it. We will see a great number of advances taking advantage of technology that is already in place. We're seeing that photographic science is kind of bogged down at 193 nm for light systems these days. But people want their critical dimensions to be 100 nm, 90nm and 65 nm. Work is being done to advance the science of photolithography and to find ways to fool the lens into replicating exactly what the designers wants through some
geometric algorithm. Most people call that OPC, optical proximity correction. High K dielectrics will be more and more in demand. There will be more and more metal layers. We will see packages become nearly as complex as integrated circuits as people try to offload a lot of the interconnect from the IC to the package. I think the Valley is also extremely strong in genetics and biotech, areas that I don't track.

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-- Jack Horgan, Contributing Editor.


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