February 12, 2007
Roundtable: Is IP Really that Bad?
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Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor

by Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor
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Ian Mackintosh – IP today is a lot more complex that it used to be. We have the situation where a lot of IP is really hard to verify, particularly given the growth of soft IP. Previously, problems might have been weeded out, but the bottom line is that a lot of the IP today has a new class of problem, and it's not just in the verification. Today there's a huge inconsistency between the message from the providers and the reality. Unfortunately, "the IP just doesn't work" is often the report from the users. There's just not a strong enough following of design standards. It's true, the VSIA is producing views that can be better standardized, but what people are really
dealing with is inconsistency. Using [vendor] support is a good idea because it helps users better integrate the IP. But that [promotes] a more strategic hold from the provider on the user. The fact remains that IP is not sufficiently standardized.

Peggy Aycinena – Should there be an independent, third-party entity that is certifying IP?

Joel Silverman – We're in the middle. We're selling our IP to customers, and we have in-depth knowledge of how our IP was designed and built. We can close the loop in that ongoing process. But when we license IP from somebody else, we have to get more involved in the design itself. It's usually not just – hand off the package and you're done. We have to have just as many meeting with the external providers of our IP as we do with our internal groups. They all have to follow our rules, and we push [those requirements] to the providers to assure the quality. When things gets very complex, it takes just one mistake for it to become very expensive to figure out what went wrong.

Warren Savage – I think Ian touches on a good point. You do see in some IP providers that the support is sort of a crutch for the IP, especially IP that is poorly documented and doesn't integrate well. The value of IP is inversely proportional to the time it takes to integrate it, but customers want to just plug in IP and use it as soon as possible. Everybody is moving in that direction as standards are starting to dictate [quality]. As far as having an independent center for UIP [Universal IP] testing, that's not thinking about IP in the proper way. IP is not a 2-letter thing. It's very complex and the verification technology [involved] has to be well understood.

Graham Allan – I can't imagine a way that any one particular block of IP can be validated in every possible way. There are so many different flows. You just need to get as many miles as possible under the belt [with a particular provider]. You [the user] need to shop for a provider who is well known and who passes the "large support organization" test, a provider who has sold IP to lots of customers. If there is a standard [for the IP], even that is not enough. You're going to come across problems [nonetheless]. As an integrator, [you have to accept] that the IP was invented somewhere else, in somebody else's shop. They used a different flow, and you're going to have
to make compromises to understand it. You need to take responsibility.

Peggy Aycinena – Is it, therefore,
Buyer Beware?

Graham Allan – It's
Buyer be Informed, not Buyer Beware, and for good reason if the IP was not developed by your internal engine. Every chip, every flow, every organization is different. For an IP provider to address all of that would be prohibitively expensive. [But], IP providers want to be successful. They want to develop products and sell them many times. They need to know that they are providing IP plus design services, and they have to support specific [teams of integrators].

Peggy Aycinena – How much of an IP provider's revenue should come from the product and how much from the design services portion of the business?

Graham Allan – 15-to-20 percent should come from the services an IP provider offers for integration or small amounts of customization. However, each customer has unique requirements, and an IP provider [must adapt].

Joel Silverman – I agree with Graham, but it's hard for us. We're the middle person between the IP and the customer. Customers come to us and say they want to license IP from a third party, but we don't want our customers to go to a third party because they're doing their design through us. So we try to partition the IP we've got in such a way, so that we don't have to go back to the providers. Or we have an agreement with the provider up front and expect [them to provide] modifications up front. But for us, and IP providers, [it varies with each project].

Ian Mackintosh – That's the very problem you're alluding to here. It's all because of a lack of standardization. I agree you can't certify every design flow, but you can center around 1 or 2 main flows. But the packaging alone isn't consistent. Now I see very large consumers of IP are actually changing their behaviors. They're paring down sharply the number of IP providers [they working with] and are developing intimate relationships [with just a few]. If the consumers don't do that, they can't rely on an internal group. It's the lack of standardization [that's inhibiting] plug-and-play forms of IP, even with the best IP providers. I was literally shocked recently to
learn how negative customers of IP are today. It's universal, [and it's causing] the buyers to change their behavior.

Warren Savage – What I'm seeing in the customer base is not a lot of requests for customization to build on SIP. The [consumers are] loath to have anyone touch the IP. Instead there are changes, as Ian said, where the customers themselves are starting to change their behavior. They're focusing on the integration exercise as the IP is [increasingly] silicon proven. Anything customized is outside [the ideal of using third-party IP].

Graham Allan – I certainly see that for IP, it's getting a bit easy to define things quite rigidly. Some of the products we develop – fractional PLL, for instance – we do in silicon to prove it and pretty much don't touch it after that. Our DDR IP, however, is very different because a lot of customers have specific ways they use external RAM. We also have a lot of requests for specifications that aren't standard. There are a lot of niche memories that are like standard memories, but with a few more buzzers and bells on them. I agree, however, that trying to keep it as close as possible to the original [design] is vital.

Warren Savage – I think maybe IP is interpreted too broadly. The DDR is an example that is not really reusable IP. It's a reused design, versus thinking of IP as a virtual component.

Joel Silverman – So where do you draw the line between IP and a design services block? Internally, for instance, a lot of our blocks have OCP-IP, but externally they may not be so standard. In between, there may be functions that the customer wants to change. If it's a USB, we may want to support different end points or transfers, or might want to do different types of packages. Even as much as we may try to make it standard, we may change it from 8 to 16 bits so the users can use it specifically to their application or use model. [When these changes are needed], it's not usually done by the customer.

Peggy Aycinena – So I'm hearing a variety of things are going on, and the situation is still somewhat fluid. Where then are we in the IP industry, if 10 is great and 1 is awful?

Warren Savage – The safe answer is that we're somewhere in the middle, at about a 6.

Joel Silverman – I would say we're at around a 6 or a 7.

Graham Allan – The IP industry, in general, is at about a 7, and we're there because a lot of IP is pretty well defined before you buy it. On the other side, in the soft IP area, customers may still want other customers [to use the IP before they do].

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-- Peggy Aycinena, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.


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