July 24, 2006
Forte Design Systems' Forte
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Jack Horgan - Contributing Editor

by Jack Horgan - Contributing Editor
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Forte Design Systems offers innovative high-level synthesis technology allows design teams creating complex electronic systems from algorithmic designs using ASICs, FPGAs, and SoCs to significantly reduce their overall design and verification time. Forte's Cynthesizer is a behavioral synthesis product that offers designers a complete environment including synthesis, verification, and co-simulation. Cynthesizer has been used on over 100 designs and is in production use in more than 15 of the top systems and semiconductor companies worldwide. In January Forte added support for SystemC TLM synthesis and automated Power Optimization. In the same month
They hired David Sears as President and CEO. I had an opportunity to talk with David as well as with Brett Cline, Forte's VP of Marketing.

Would you provide us with a brief biography?

David: Presumably you can tell by my accent that I was born in England. I got a BSEE at London University and a Ph.D. in Quantum Physics of all things. I was destined for the semiconductor industry. There is no real indigenous semiconductor industry in the UK. So I spent 4 or 5 years in military engineering doing things related to fighter aircraft and those kinds of things. Then I immigrated to the US back in 1976. I have been in the US for 30 years now. I started in companies like AMD in marketing and engineering. I moved my way up to being senior vice president in microelectronics for about 5 years. I was the president and ceo of a startup called Catalyst Semiconductor that went
public. I was also the president and CEO of another company called Integrated Circuit Systems. That was about a $300M company. More recently I have been doing interim ceo positions, a trouble shooter for certain companies. I finally found or I should say Forte found me, a fantastic opportunity so I jumped at it. That's it in a nutshell.

Brett: Mine is not nearly as interesting. I'll start off by saying I don't have a Ph.D.

You don't have an English accent either.

I started off working in government as well. I have an EE from Northeastern University in Boston. I started working for General Electric, a defense contractor, working on nuclear submarine control systems. One day I got bored with that. It was old technology. I had used Viewlogic tools in school and at GE. I happened to run into somebody who got me hooked up some folks at Cadence that were looking for people who could write C code. I happened to know how to program and I had a hardware degree. I had used some tools that looked like waveform tools. I went there for a few years. I was a software developer. I realized that I was not as good at that as some people that had actually
been trained to program. I went to the applications groups and then into technical marketing.

Eventually I spent some time with Simulation Technology that was acquired from Summit Design. I was a marketing director at Summit who merged with Viewlogic and became Innovada. That whole chain happened. Then I made my way to Synopsis to work for John Sanguinetti. Then I got merged with Chronologic Simulation. I have been running marketing here at Forte for the last five years.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a defrocked physicist. My Ph.D. is in nuclear physics.
Brett: Oh, brother.

David: We could have some great talks. Some people say that we PhDs don't make good businessmen but that's not right.

There are certainly some notable examples of that. You said Forte was a great opportunity. Would you expand on that? What about Forte attracted you?

It's actually the first time I have been on the other side. I have always been on the chip side. Of course I have used Cadence tools and Synopsys tools. I have had major organizations using different CAE and CAD tools. When I looked at what Forte had, I was very intrigued to go to the other side and understand the software business more. Being a physicist I am really interested in intellectual things. The fact of trying to raise the level of abstraction of the design process for this whole environment called ESL, just the concept, just the idea of writing code and ending up with a chip, seemed to me to be incredibly powerful. Forte certainly looked to me at that time and still is a
leader in the area. They have got great investors, great customers. It seems to me to be like a race car that was ready to start going. I thought if I could get in the driver's seat, it could take off. I just felt it was a great opportunity.

What do you see as the major challenges to get this race car off and running at great speed?

What we have done as a company is to have been very successful in wining a large number of accounts. We have over 20 different companies. We have seven out of the top twelve semiconductor companies. These are pretty impressive things to have. Our software is used in production flows in many, many companies. The biggest challenge is that it is there being used but the question is how quickly the other design groups in these companies are going to use it. One of the inhibitors of a new technology is the ESL flow. If the ESL flow were simple, it would get utilized more. Right now our customers have to worry about certain portions of the ESL flow working together. It is not fully
integrated. I personally see a need for a flow that's from womb to tomb so to speak. We work very closely with other vendors in this space to ensure we have a seamless interface with other software in the ESL flow. In that way I believe that customers will start to use more and more of this. With world partners it just how quickly it will start to take off to be in the mainstream of design. ESL, being a new methodology, takes time. It's like preaching a new religion. It always takes time to be fully accepted. The challenge we've got is to accelerate that. We are really close at hand.

Raising the description to a higher level is very appealing. But there is still a missionary aspect of convincing people that this is real, that it can deliver on its promise.

Yes! We've got customers using it as rapid as they can. There are others trying it out. It has not been deployed to many of the different design groups. In the industry in general it is still not being fully opened out.

Brett: I have an analogy. One of the things we talk about technology wise is services like Vonage, a VoIP company. For me personally, I really like the technology and it works really well. There are some glitches to it. It is technical. So my mother couldn't do it probably. I am not sure she could plug the box into the router, do the setup and so on. When you look at the market for this, it is people like me who are technical have no problems adopting quickly, kind of investing saying this is the wave of the future and I am not going to spend $100/month on a phone line when I can spend $15/month. But other markets like my mother and grandmother are not there yet. They are not the
leading adopters of technology. I am willing to deal with little glitches. It just threw me off a minute ago because my router went down. Something happened with my internet service. Some people are just not willing to deal with that. It's kind of the same with leading edge adopters of ESL. The big companies who understand that their viability really depends on making sure that their chips are cost effective to design are investing ahead of the curve so that they have a fully fleshed out methodology when the time comes for the rubber to meet to road and when ESL becomes fully tractable.

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-- Jack Horgan, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.


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