March 23, 2009
The Aart of Analogy Revisited
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Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor

by Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor
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Happily, SNUG offered very little access to the Press, with an extremely limited number of sessions during the 4-day event available. Members of the Press weren’t even given a conference bag, which was sad. This one was a beauty. [Note to Synopsys tools users: Come to SNUG. The bags alone are worth the trip.] Meanwhile, sans bag, I attended the opening keynote on Monday, March 16th, given by Synopsys CEO
Aart de Geus. His slide detailing the factors that have led to the current global economic collapse was pretty darn interesting, particularly if you’re more electrical engineer than economist.

Finally – on my list of highlights from the last 4 weeks of conferences, I include the evening panel at DVCon on
cloud computing. Moderator
Harry Gries deserves high praise for orchestrating a really great discussion. I learned a lot, the people in attendance are clearly heavily engaged in the concepts swirling around cloud computing, and I came away with: a) new respect for Amazon for providing the compute power to keep electronic design moving forward, and b) renewed enthusiasm for tracking the developments of “a style of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet.” (Thanks, Wikipeida, for that last bit.)

From my point of view, when you combine Cloud Computing, Multicore everything, and Open Source, you pretty much sum up the future of the Little EDA Industry that Could.


The Aart of Analogy revisited …

Synopsys CEO, Dr. Aart de Geus, is the 2009 Phil Kaufman Award recipient. There have been 15 Kaufman Award winners to date, but quite simply, Aart stands in a class by himself. Show me any other leader in the industry who has been at the helm of an organization for 20+ years, has grown the company from startup to perpetually dominant player, and whose name and flagship product – de Geus and Design Compiler – are effectively synonymous with electronic design automation.

The first time I conducted an in-depth interview with Aart de Geus was the week after the 2000 Presidential Election. Astoundingly, that original interview still lives:

An enormous amount of water has passed under the world’s bridges since that time – politically, militarily, economically, and technically. Yet through it all, Aart has continued to lead Synopsys. To this day, no one doubts de Geus is a tough competitor, no one doubts he is a superb musician, and no one doubts that his community spirit is unmatched in the industry. Those things are well known about Aart. What is less well-known is his great sense of humor and his ability to remain both candid and on message simultaneously.

It was an honor to sit down recently with Aart and chat at length once again. Please get your cup of coffee, click on the “print article” button up there on the right, and enjoy a thoroughly unscripted chat with the CEO of the largest company in EDA.


A conversation with Aart de Geus …

Peggy – Would you have ever believed at the outset of your career that we would be at 22 nanometers today?

Aart [laughing] – When I started my career, I didn’t even know what a nanometer was!

In fact, I’ll tell you a story. In 1978 or ‘79, I attended a conference in Switzerland of leaders in the field of electronics, or microelectronics. They all agreed on 2 things. Number 1, electronics was going to be a big deal and would move forward for many years to come. Number 2, one micron was the hardest barrier that we would never move across. And [laughing again], those same people who made the predictions are the ones who made 22 nanometers happen!

Of course, photo-lithography was what broke through the barrier – with enthusiasm and verve! The lesson here: whenever one predicts the end of something in high tech, there’s always a twist or new perspective that makes a new breakthrough possible.

By the way, in geologic time, 1978 was just yesterday. But some of us feel more attuned to geologic time than other time frames.

Peggy – I went to a conference keynote recently where the CEO told his audience that electronics must push forward, so his kids can have more tunes on their iPods and more video downloads on their mobile devices. Do you think this kind of rampant consumerism, as they’re calling it now with the economic downturn, is a problem? Or is consumerism the principle motivator for electronics, and therefore justifiable?

Aart – Obviously, there’s an economic angle to this discussion. By sheer necessity, consumer consumption has gone down as people have less money, and find themselves in bad shape. But you actually imply a separate question – if there was more consumption, would the economic machine be less stuck?

The whole notion of accessing video on a mobile device is a driver to technology in a massive way. The data transformation, storage, display, commercial utilization – a video is orders of magnitude higher in consumption of bits and bytes than audio content. Therefore, if you can build the technology that makes mobile video available, the consumers will welcome it.

Sure, many of the consumer products have driven the investments and the economic machine that have made it possible to push Moore’s law, and therefore yet more investments. But also, because of these advances, there have been many inventions that are profoundly impacting human kind from a medical point of view or communications point of view. These have had an impact, as well, on the meaning of what life is all about.

One example, the entire domain of genetics. It’s really computational technology, and chip technology, that’s driving genome science forward at a breakneck speed. A month ago I was at Davos, and there were a whole bunch of sessions on the topic of genetics, including guys working on designing chips to make genetic mapping cheaper and cheaper. You should look at the website, For $1000, you can get your complete genetic profile. That opens up such a rich set of information about ailments and medical challenges. These are the fabulous side results of your rampant consumerism.

Clearly, however, it’s all a two-edged sword.

Peggy – I’m very interested in the multicore technology. Is this a software problem or a hardware problem?

Aart – The two are completely inter-related. We now design chips with multicores and other forms of parallelism, because we couldn’t design chips that were faster and faster without piercing a whole set of power limitations. Therefore, out of necessity, we started to make multicore – if we can’t make a single processor core faster, let’s make 2 and [enhance performance that way].

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-- Peggy Aycinena, Contributing Editor.


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