March 13, 2006
DATE 2006: Between Gemütlichkeit und Angst
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** Wednesday morning, between sessions, I was lucky to have a wide-ranging conversation with Dr. Dian Zhou, Dean of the School of Microelectroncis at Fudan University in Shanghai, a post he holds while on leave from his long-time faculty position at the University of Texas, Dallas. Professor Zhou recently attended the World Economic Forum at Davos, and so our conversation included discussions of technology, university education, student visas, economics, and the concepts of competition.
Zhou argued that people should see the rise of the semiconductor industry in China as a natural consequence of the maturing of the industry. He noted that as the auto industry in the U.S. matured, Japan emerged as a significant competitor and quickly learned to compete with quality products. The U.S. then turned to other industries to explore innovation and reap the financial rewards of being an early entrant in new markets.
He argued that as the semiconductor industry matures, other countries including China will emerge as significant competitors, offering products of increasing quality as the years go by. That's the signal, Zhou says, that yet another new industry will be emerging from the innovative environment and practical, problem-solving mindset of the U.S. engineering community.
** Also interesting, was a brief conversation I had with a representative of the newly emerging Dubai Silicon Oasis. Described as a technology "duty free zone" and industrial park, DSO showcased its offerings from within the Synopsys booth at DATE. Synopsys is a development partner at the Dubai facility - which is currently under construction - and DSO's Sameer Siddiqui courteously answered my several questions about the project.
What are the advantages to semiconductor companies who set up operations there? For starters, there is no personal income tax in Dubai. How is innovation nurtured in a government-owned facility? The government of Dubai will be a completely transparent, hands-off entity with respect to anything that develops at DSO. Are companies who come to DSO locked into using Synopsys tools? Absolutely not. Why would anyone choose to relocate to Dubai? There's lots of engineering talent in the area - from Egypt, India, Pakistan, Jordan - and the housing and business opportunities are plentiful. And, the Dubai government plans to invest $50 billion in the project by 2010.
Surely none of my questions surprised Sameer, particularly in these several weeks when the Dubai Port World controversy continues to be front-page news in the U.S. Only the timing was eerie. I have no proof, but I have to guess it was eerie for the folks at Synopsys and DSO, as well. What odd circumstances, that no one could have predicted.
Clearly, other nations and regions have set up large government-subsidized research centers designed to serve as magnets to high-tech companies - Silicon Glen in Scotland, the new High Tech Center in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. The extensive manufacturing facilities in Taiwan, and now in the PRC, have certainly benefited from huge government investments. In an industry as profoundly global as the semiconductor business, having another go-to location for high-tech companies should be a bonus. But these are complex times. Who knows how all of this will play itself out.
** Speaking of global issues, one of the most compelling business-related panels at DATE was in the Exhibition Theater on Thursday afternoon. Synopsys' Rich Goldman moderated a panel that outlined the growing crisis in software piracy around the world.
Georg Hernleben from the Business Software Alliance laid out the grim statistics for the sold-out crowd that gathered around to hear the bad news. In the U.S., 22% of the software is pirated. In the EU, the number is 34%. It's 53% across Asia, exclusive of China, 58% in Africa and the Middle East, 61% in non-EU nations in Europe, and 66% in Latin America. In China, it's a gut-wrenching 90% and in VietNam, it's 90%+. From the standpoint of absolute losses, the U.S. takes the prize at $6.6 billion. Next comes China at $3.6 billion, followed by France at $2.9 billion. Clearly, there's a problem here.
Nonetheless, ARM's Tim Holden said there is a solution, at least for IP providers like ARM, who want to protect their product offerings. He suggested that IP vendors only sell to institutions that have a proven track record of respecting property rights. License keys are important for protection, and most importantly, if there's a risk of piracy with a customer - walk away from the deal.
Cadence's Larry Disenhof has been very involved within the EDA industry, raising awareness of the piracy issue. He told the audience that the under-licensing of EDA tools is the biggest culprit in the situation, but inadvertent under-licensing contributes more to the problem than willful abuse. Disenhof advised the EDA industry to improve their licensing agreements, to make them more straightforward and comprehensible to customers, and to help customers fully understand how the limitations or license-distribution permissions work within in a particular agreement.
MacroVisions's Lynn Sweetwood said the problem is even bigger than the BSA numbers would indicate, but again, it's under-licensing which is precipitating the greatest percentage of lost revenues here. He suggested that "time-bomb" software is a great device that allows both the tool vendors and their customers to know when a license has expired or is being misused. Customers want to try to be honest, he said. They need help and the EDA vendors should provide it. If the EDA industry wants to start shoring up its loses due to piracy, they're gong to have to provide that help. Perhaps then, jokes about the EDA tools you can pick up in Shanghai for $15 or less will cease.
** The Exhibition Theater closed out DATE 2006 with a panel on "Global IC Development Design," hosted by Jim Lipman. That conversation was intensely interesting, as well, but I will leave those ideas as a starting point for my next EDA Weekly. Wherever you are - in Europe, North America, Asia, or points beyond - surely you're as jet-lagged as I am at this hour. It's past midnight here in California, this copy is overdue to Adam Heller at IBSystems, and it's time to wrap this up.
So there you have it - my impressions of some of the conversations at DATE 2006 in snowy Munich, Germany. Of course, the conference was orders of magnitude more informative than this brief narrative would suggest. I know you're not surprised, but I also hope you'll be interested enough to track down the proceedings and look at the content in greater detail if you were unable to attend.
** On Tuesday morning, follow the keynote speeches, Professor Dan Gajski from the University of California, Irvine, delighted the audience again as he did last year, by conducting a survey of the those in the room with regards to their languages, process technologies, and reasons for coming to DATE. As an entertainer, Gajski has no peer - the audience loved him. His numbers were the real entertainment, however.
The poll indicated that 41% of those in the room were from Germany, 30% from other locations in Europe, 20% from North America, and 9% from Asia. They hailed from a variety of industries, felt their most pressing problem is physical design, said they need better tools for timing closure and layout, and insisted that verification is a pain.
Questions that might have added additional color to the survey - Have you ever used pirated software? Are you worried about losing your job to an offshore engineer? Are you are a part of a globally distributed design team? Do you purchase your own design tools? Do you have to go through a CAD department to procure the tools you want? Have you ever worked for a start-up?
It would be interesting to see how the answers to those questions would vary depending on whether you were polling this audience at DATE, versus polling an audience at DAC.
Obviously, Europe is a different place than North America, which is a different place from Japan, which in turn differs greatly from India, China, Armenia, and Brazil. Yet spanning all of these diverse geographies and cultures, is the semiconductor industry - the EDA industry, in particular - and people who are attempting to work together to improve the process of design and manufacturing of the products that drive the 21st century forward.
How that progress is pursued, and with what degree of success, depends on a host of factors, not the least being an ongoing sense of collegiality within the industry.
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-- Peggy Aycinena, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.