IP Standards: No room for Mr. Nice Guy

What follows is the transcript of a roundtable between 5 people who have contributed much to the standards that provide the necessary structure and discipline for technology’s relentless march towards the future.

If you’re involved with IP and/or EDA, you’re probably already acquainted with Ian Mackintosh, Victor Berman, Ralph von Vignau, Bill Martin, or Warren Savage, but don’t let these men fool you. They may be affable enough and a load of laughs in the lobby or the lounge when you see them around the conference circuit, but they’re deadly serious when it comes to the business and game of standards, particularly IP standards.

They’ve got skin in the game, they’ve left skin in the game, and some of them have been skinned alive while playing in the game. But win or lose, these Tough Guys bring their A Game to the Rough Game of standards, and when they’re on the court, they're definitely in the paint. (Yeah, okay – maybe a tad too much NCAA basketball of late, but you get the point.) These guys have put thousands of hours into the struggle for standards domination with a list of involvements that reads like a roadmap of the last several decades of play: Accellera, FSA, GSA, IEEE, OCP-IP, OSCI, Si2, SPIRIT, and VSIA, to name just a few.

This discussion took place Last Month at DVCon in Silicon Valley, and was prompted by a panel Last Year at IP’07 in Grenoble. However, there’s nothing Last Month or Last Year about what’s covered here, because the trends these men are commenting on will have ramifications Next Month and Next Year, and for a long time after that. It was a great pleasure to listen to Ian, Victor, Ralph, Bill, and Warren en masse. Thanks to all of them for their time, and to Linda Marchant of Cayenne Communications for arranging everything.

[ Before going on, do two things: 1) get that proverbial cup of coffee, and 2) click on that “print article” icon up on the right, so you can see this text all on one page.]


Peggy Aycinena: Gentlemen, if you will – the short, impromptu version of your bio.

Victor Berman
Victor Berman: Improv Systems, Cadence, Intermetrics, RCA, IEEE, SPIRIT, VSIA, on the boards of each at one time or another, SystemC, chaired SystemC IEEE Group, IEEE DASC, and now the Standards Board of IEEE.

Ralph von Vignau: Philips Semiconductor, NXP as a spin-off, EBU, CEPT, CCITT, ISO, and lately SPIRIT and OSCI.

Ian Mackintosh: OCP-IP, Mentor, PMC-Sierra, VLSI Technology, now NXP, National Semiconductor and several start-ups, board of VSIA, chair of the VSIA IP Working Group there, and VCX, as well.

Warren Savage: Fairchild, Tandem Computers, Synopsys developing DesignWare in the early days, IPextreme. At Tandem, worked heavily on SCSI standards, fiber channel, and saw enough in that process to hope standards could be somebody else’s job.

Bill Marin: Mostek, VLSI Technology, lots of customers, taped out 60 or 70 designs of my own, Synopsys as part of the physical design team there, Mentor Graphics, VSIA, GSA.

[ Editor’s note: scan to the bottom of this article for additional info on these gentlemen, and additional info on the various standards organizations referenced here.]


Peggy Aycinena: Let’s start with a simple question. Why do we need standards?

Victor Berman: We need standards to enable the efficient growth of the industry. The whole point is to make the routine aspects of design both routine and automated, and not waste people’s time. Standards allow tools to be interoperable and allow people to quickly ascertain whether a piece of IP is what the project needs. For IP users these are the basics.

Ralph von Vignau
Ian Mackintosh
Warren Savage: I agree, but would add – let’s take a step back in time with respect to IP. In the early days at Synopsys and IP in the industry, we asked ourselves, how do we develop IP in such a way as to have high-quality IP as far as expectations are concerned. That’s the genius of the Reuse Methodology Manual. We put our collective heads together and produced a book that was used internally both at Synopsys and at Mentor Graphics, and out in the general market.

At IP07 last December in Grenoble, I talked about the need for these standards, not just to make things interoperable, but also to [be able to] rely on better systems. We need the same set of protocols to develop testing procedures that are standard across the company. We need an ecosystem of players working together, so the end users can have confidence [in third party IP]. That’s particularly important in certain safety critical domains like automotive. The IEEE is in the same boat. They’re using a lot of time getting quality around standards. Standards are important because they lower the cost [of IP] and level the playing field across the market.

Ian Mackintosh: The existence and need for standards is a fundamental belief and critical for sharing efficiencies. Standards grow markets and enable people to mix and match the best of breed in IP. Standards define the level of maturity in an industry, because all industries eventually adopt standards. It’s probably a sign of the lack of maturity in SoC development today that there are not, as yet, a broad range of standards there.

Ralph von Vignau: I’d go one step farther and say the world almost wouldn’t work without standards. Planes, trains, your TV, your phone – they’re all built up on standards. [Down to the] lowest depths of an IC, everything has to conform to standards. Baseband, 3G, they’re all based on standards. There are a lot of standards for systems and functions in the electronics industry, but there are few standards that regulate actual electronics development at a base line. Everyone is fighting each other on this, but we’re starting to learn that building market-based standards is what is needed today.

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Review Article
  • Only Part of the Picture April 22, 2008
    Reviewed by 'Ron'
    This discussion shows the progress as wel as the holes in the approaches being taken to develop IP standards. That is good -since we need to see the holes to try to fix them. We will only have industry colaboration when many in a particular industry see a dollar advantage. See Victor's comment about Cadence and their decision to open up Verilog. Without that decision, the rest of the industry would have bypassed them with further intensive development of the defacto HDL at that time - VHDL. With Cadence's decision to open up Verilog, they had a chance to jump ahead and be a leader.
    There is another view of the standards technology development. That view deals with "interoperability." Interoperability development can be looked at as a "standards development motivator." There is a world-wide organization called IFIP - International Federation for Information processing. While international in its membership, it is mainly known well in Europe. They do not develop standards, but their technical activities are oriented towards design and business interaction methods. IFIP TC10 deals largely with Computer Systems Technology. IFIP TC5 deals largely with Information Technology Applications. Enterprise Interoperability, Enterprise Integration, Infrastructure for Virtual Enterprises, the Product Realization Process, are just some of the technical activities of TC5. My point here is that taking an orthoganl view of IP, the standards work mentioned in the article could be viewed as orthoganal to the technical methodologies being investigated by IFP Technical Committees. Such an orthoganal approach might help advance the IP work underway in the US.

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