April 24, 2006
Thought Leaders -3 men, 3 minds, 1 industry
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The economics of doing things is absolutely essential to our customers who need to hit volume with great cost sensitivity. Now for the first time, Synopsys has hard evidence of being able to measure productivity over a number of chips, and is able to show systematic improvement while also meeting ongoing performance metrics-both time and power objectives. To me, that's a shift and a sign of the maturing of the industry.
I like to make the car analogy. We used to be very concerned about designing the best carburetor, transmission, engine, and so on-but you didn't get better gas mileage. All of these things had to be finely tuned to each other for better gas mileage.
Now we're optimizing the 'gas mileage' of chip design, a very momentous change. We are simultaneously, after many years of new point tools doing 20 percent or 30 percent better job on the designs, to a 2x to 5x increase in productivity and performance.
We're certainly seeing that in verification, where a combination of bringing together simulation, testbenches, assertions, and formal techniques under the umbrella of SystemVerilog as a language is producing up to a 5x improvement. It's a big shift and a fundamental increase in results-a maturation shift that means the industry is much more focused on system optimization today.
Q - EDA requires a variety of disciplines to progress. How do we get the various disciplines to talk to one another-materials science, physics, electrical engineering, and computer science?
Aart de Geus - That tendency towards collaboration is increasing strongly today. The whole domain of design for manufacturing is a perfect example because the words are just what they mean: 'What are all the things that you need to do in a design the really optimizes the manufacturability of the design?'
At this very moment, manufacturing is facing a whole host of new physical challenges. This is one of the very exciting things in a field where the disciplines initially grew up independent of one another. But those who can understand the various disciplines can build a bridge across to the other side.
Q - What about the troll under the bridge?
Aart de Geus - [With a chuckle] You have to be careful not to fall into the water. You can have an absolutely wonderful design, but if it only yields 3 percent, you've missed the technology bridge.
The reality in the field is that it's becoming more about systems, and the biggest impact is coming from those people who understand the interaction between the different parts. If you understand which one of the physical issues can impact the design, you've built one of the bridges to manufacturing. It's exciting-a kind of renaissance in the field.
Q - How can you be assured that the engineers who do design are also interested in using tools to improve the manufacturing, or the physics behind those tools?
Aart de Geus - The people who are our customers know about many things-they have more than just raw engineering capability. They have system knowledge as well. But you can't really 'assure' yourself that those who do design will be interested in manufacturing.
However, I am continually and totally stimulated by how many bright people there are in the world who are actually very, very motivated by wanting to understand completely the interaction between design and manufacturing. Maybe I'm blessed by working at a company that has dozens and dozens of those people, but there's no worry whatsoever that we don't have intellectually curious people.
If you want to worry, worry at a global level-is our society getting lazy and becoming increasingly uneducated? Those risks are there, but for the people in our field-certainly at Synopsys-it's part of the Synopsys philosophy to work on Version N+1. Fundamentally, we want to be a learning company, but that also applies to each one of us as individuals. We need to work on Version N+1 of who we each are as people, each progressing to the next version. Version N is known, so the goal is to work towards a Version N+1 attitude to move forward in life.
A conversation with Wally Rhines - April 7, 2006
Q - In contrasting materials science versus computer science versus electrical engineering-which discipline is contributing the most to EDA right now?
Wally Rhines - Progress in materials science has been steady throughout history-new fields always need new materials. Whatever the science that's progressing, materials science and engineering grow with it.
Over the last 20 years, electronics and computers have been the big growth drivers, with materials research activity focused on manufacturing, characterization, synthesis, and everything surrounding electronics. Over the next 20 years, it's quite possible that biology, alternative energy, and other disciplines will actually pull some of the materials people away from today's heavy emphasis on electronics, and on into other fields.
If you look at mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, electrical engineering, and so on-there have been periodic ups and downs there. But over the long term, materials is the steadiest of the disciplines to thrive throughout history.
Q - Given the number of disciplines involved in EDA, how do we get the various disciplines to talk to one another?
Wally Rhines - Materials is the unifying discipline for various types of engineers and scientists. So for instance, there are many different approaches used at Stanford to accomplish dialog and a long history of interdisciplinary organizations and structures in place there to allow this exact process to happen.
The Materials Science Engineering Department at Stanford has professors with joint appointments across a range of other departments including Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Biology, and so on. And in fact, the university continues to create these interdisciplinary academic groupings. For instance, the Stanford Center for Integrated Systems, formed about 25 years ago, put Computer Science and Electrical Engineering and Systems people together in the same place in order to interact.
In the Materials Science area, the University took Electrical Engineering, Solid State Physics, and more recently, Biology and Chemistry, and put them together. The very fact that somebody like Craig Barrett [Chairman of the Board at Intel, PhD in Materials Science, Stanford University, 1964], with a specialty in mechanical properties, got involved in electronics applications indicates that, clearly, Materials Science is a discipline and a department that tended to bring lots of different groups together.
Q - How does this interdisciplinary process work in industry? And does a scientist's or engineer's natural curiosity to learn about new things facilitate this process?
Wally Rhines - At Texas Instruments, and elsewhere, it tends to be more needs-driven. At Mentor Graphics, for example, we have very purposely mixed different disciplines together. We will take, for instance, a leading technical contributor in one field and put that person into a different group. We think that every 10 to15 years, you have to shake the box to get new ideas. By taking people who are comfortable in their space and moving them elsewhere, we stimulate innovation.
Of course, they always complain. They may have become quite comfortable in their present group, and the pressure is low because they have influence and a successful track record. It's true that some are curious and willing to make the change, but some aren't. It's just the negative side of human nature to resist change. So, although people with scientific curiosity are always interested in learning about new things, they still have a desire for stability. And even if they don't, their families do.
If a senior scientist or chief technical person goes home one evening and says, "Oh, by the way, I'm going to a new group tomorrow that may not take off, and I won't be the chief person any more, and what we're going to be working on may, or may not, be critical to the company," the family often isn't too excited about that.
Q - What are the most exciting developments today in materials science?
Wally Rhines - I'm head of the Materials Science and Engineering Advisory Group at Stanford and you would be amazed by the quality and backgrounds of the others involved-current and retired CEOs from a variety of companies. We meet twice a year and we actually discuss the question of what are the most exciting developments today in the field.
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-- Peggy Aycinena, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.
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