Scott McNealy and SUN Microsystems popularized the concept that the “network is the computer”. Ateris, Inc is a Paris-based start-up that seeks to deliver network-on-chip solutions (NoC) to address the problems of on-chip communication for complex SoCs using lessons learned from network procesors. Arteris' NoC solutions transport and manage the on-chip communications within complex SoC integrated circuits, increasing performance, reducing number of global wires, with lower power utilization while enabling the most complex, IP-laden designs. It allows chip developers to implement efficient and high-performance NoC designs, overcoming limitations of traditional layered or pipelined bus-based architectures. In mid-June the company announced a Series B round of investment if $8.1 million led by Synopsys. I had an opportunity to interview Charles Janac, president and CEO of Arteris.Would you give us a brief biography?
I started my high tech career by being employee number 2 of Cadence on the EDA side. I spent about 10 years at Cadence in various sales, marketing and financial positions. My final job was as VP of the Analog Division. I became president of HDL (High Level Design System), the first floor planning company that was ultimately acquired by Cadence. Then I ran a robotic company that made semiconductor equipment called Smart Machines. We sold that to Brooks Automation in 1999. Then I spent about a year as an EIR (Entrepreneur-in-Residence) at Infinity Capital. Then I ran a company called Nanomix which was a nano technology company that made the world’s first working nano electronic sensors. After that I would up being CEO of Arteris in Paris, France.
How does a person educated as an organic chemist (BS and MS from Tufts University) end up in EDA?
Damn good question. Basically it was circumstances. I had some time on my hands between the first and second year at Stanford Business School. Jim Solomon, the founder of SDA, offered me a job. I wound up in and around semiconductor industry ever since.
You are not a founder of Arteris. How did the company start?
Arteris was basically a spin off from a company called T.sqware. They got bought by Globespan. Then there was the dot.com meltdown in the early 2000s. The founders of Arteris came up with the idea of scaling down the networking technology that was built for networking processors, scale it down to operate as a network inside a semiconductor chip. They got early funding ($12 million) from venture capital firms: Crescendo Ventures (US), Techno Venture Management (Germany) and Ventech. I was brought in two years later to put sort of a sales and marketing spin on the company and to get the first accounts.
The VCs brought you in.
How did that work out? What was the reaction of the founders?
The CTO, one of the founders, was pretty much gone when I started. With my taking over the company Alain Fanet, a founder and CEO, moved to the board and out of operational responsibility. The third founder, Philippe Boucard, kind of the architect of the network-on-chip, is still with us as head of the hardware group.
The firm just announced another round of investment.
Yes. We just completed a Series B round of investment in June led by Synopsys, raising $8.1 million to help fund future growth.
How large a company is Arteris?
We have about 43 people.
Is there a revenue stream?
Yes. We started shipping for revenue in the beginning of 2006.
How large is that?
We typically do not discuss that. It is growing nicely.
Where are you located?
I am actually in Paris, France at the moment. As part of the recent financing we wound up doing something called a flip. Right now we are a French company with a US subsidiary. We made a change where we are an American company with French and American subsidiaries. We went to a holding company structure. I will be permanently based in California starting in August.
Are you fluent in French?
My French is terrible.
I believe that most professional at least in high tech speak English but I doubt an America EDA firm would hire a senior executive who did not speak English regardless of location.
I speak Italian and Czeck. I have European citizenship. I was born in Prague. I have a high tech background. I have learned enough French so that I can communicate pretty well. The rest of my family is better in French than I am. Most of our engineers speak English so it is not much of a problem.
I once had a short consulting assignment in Budapest. They said they would arrange for an interpreter. It turned out that this was not necessary because all the technical people spoke English very well and of course apologized for not speaking it better.
The language is the easy part. The harder part is the culture, understanding the cultural nuances. It is not the easiest thing to be a multicultural CEO.
Was the issue of wanting to be headquartered in the US more due to the possibility of going public in the US or more due to where the market is?
Arteris did it because Synopsys wanted to be dealing with a US entity. We have pretty good penetration in Europe. These days from a point of view of going public, there are still some advantages of going public on the NASDAQ but dollar volume is higher on the Aim market in Europe. So it is almost a toss up. My attitude is that these days in this type of market you have to be global, a strong presence in both management and engineering support in the US, the European community and in Japan. The management has to move across these three geographies and make sure they function correctly.
When the company started was it a case of having some technology or did they identify a market opportunity or both?
Both! They saw a problem which was that chips were getting much more complex, that hardware costs were going up. For the future the right structure is the network instead of a dedicated wire or a bus. They also had some technology. They had 10 years of experience in networking from building network processors. They had a lot of know-how on how to optimize for low power, using as few wires as possible, packet transport. So they had a lot of expertise that could be applied to this problem.
What were the short comings of the traditional bus architecture?
It is kind of equivalent to what happens in an office environment when you have a few computers and one or two printers. Then having a dedicated cable works just fine. When you have hundreds of computers, 20 printer, scanners, gateways and so on, a dedicated cable becomes less attractive as a technology. The same thing is happening on a chip. Even two years ago when I started with Arteris, the state of the art was that people were just starting to get to 130 nm. They typically had maybe six or ten IP blocks. At that point the network approach was a “nice to have”. Now we are at 65 nm. We are seeing chips with more than 100 IPs. We are doing the first 45nm benchmark. It is very clear that, we used to say 5 years, but it is really 3 or 4 years that buses are going to be done because they are too complex and too inefficient. You have too many wires, consuming too much power, you have multilayer bridges. It is much less elegant approach than having a network. This is the same thing that has happened in the office environment.
Is there any company offering similar products to Arteris?
In terms of competition we are the first and only Network-On-Chip. However, there are two other companies that have products that offer commercial interconnect. A lot of companies still do their own home made interconnect. We think that is going to become more and ore challenging and expensive to do. Obviously, ARM has some interconnect technology in the form of AXI and AHB. There is also a company called Sonics that has reasonably capable product that is being used on a commercial basis to interconnect all these blocks.
Will you give us an overview of the Arteris product offerings?