November 02, 2009
What is Different at Magma?
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In “Look Homeward, Angel” Thomas Wolfe wrote “You can’t go home again”. I suspect that this has to do with the fact that you would have changed and whatever you defined as home would have also changed in the interim. A Greek philosopher somewhat earlier said “You can’t step into the same stream twice”. Executive resumes often list multiple firms but it is relatively rare for an executive to leave one firm for another and later return to the first firm. There are exceptions. The case of Steve Jobs at Apple springs to mind. Occasionally you will read about a retired CEO coming back to bail out his old firm. In August I wrote about Dr. Pranav
Ashar who returned to Real Intent as CTO. This time I am writing about Bob Smith, the first Marketing and Business Development VP at Magma, who left and after six years has recently returned to Magma.
Bob Smith, I grew up with you on the Howdy Doody Show.
I’ve heard that. When I was younger and I mean a lot younger, I went through a period, about a five year period, where I got stopped by people about three times. “Excuse me, you’re the guy.” I said “No, that’s not me.” Then somebody else a month later would say “Aren’t you the guy on Lawrence Welk.” I guess there was some guy who looked like me on that show. I never watched the Lawrence Welk show. I really did not know. It was always an older woman. “You’re the young man on the Lawrence Welk show.”
To the best of my knowledge, I don’t look like anyone except possibly Robert Redford.
Your face could pass for Robert Redford.
I once saw an ad in a technical magazine. There was a picture of a guy that looked like me and the accompanying text said in effect if this guy can do this, you can do this.
Well we know that you never worked for Lawrence Welk. Would you give us a brief biography?
Sure, I would be happy to. I was born on a small farm. No. I started my career as an analog designer of all things. I worked on disk drives for Hewlett Packard back in the day when disk drives weighted not in ounces but in tens of pounds. That was kind of the engineering part of my career; mostly analog, some digital. I have been in the EDA industry since the mid 80s. I was involved with Ikos Systems in the early days when they were doing accelerated simulation. I was the first marketing manager at Synopsys. I have been lucky. I have done a lot of startups. I was at LogicVision which is transitioning over to Mentor Graphics. After LogicVision I got involved in the early days with Magma.
I was with Magma from ’98 through the IPO. I left in 2003. I was Marketing and Business Development VP there and released all the early products. I had a good time. Went off to do some consulting and did a couple of other small startups. Then, out of the blue about four months ago, I got a call from Magma. They said “Would you come and talk with us?” and now I am back. It’s kind of a first for me too. The first time I worked for a company and been away. I was away 6 years and I’ve come back into the fray.
What has changed at Magma in the interim? Any surprises?
My observation, to be really honest, it is a bigger company. I think when I left, I am going to guess, we had around 160 employees. Now I have come back to a company with 250 employees. So it is bigger. But I would say the culture, the tone, is still very much as I remembered it. Things tend to move kind of quickly. There is some bureaucracy but not a lot. The other thing is the depth of the product line. When I left there was no analog product division. There was no floor planning. There was an internal timing engine but not really a full blown timer. All those pieces have come together. We just had a major announcement about Titan yesterday. We really have a full blown Virtuoso like
environment, mixed signal, full digital flows. So from the perspective of the number of products, it is huge.
So there is nothing left to do?
Ha, ha! That’s the beauty about EDA, right. It is moving. I think that is the reason there is a lot of opportunity but it is also extremely challenging. You go to a target shoot and there is a target you can aim at. The EDA target is moving around. Every process node has its own challenge, different design styles that are a challenge. We have customers today doing 130nm. We have a lot of tapeouts at 40nm and we just qualified for 28nm with TSMC. The memory challenge. Just to throw out one, multimode, multicorner analysis which was somewhat trivial at 130nm but by the time you get to 40nm, you may have 20, what we call scenarios, combinations of PVT and operating modes. Predictions for
28nm, we may see upwards of 100 or more different scenarios that need to be modeled in order to really characterize in terms of what the chips will do. There is one area where you have a big problem you can never deal with.
What brought you back to Magma? What was the challenge?
Magma about 2 to 2½ years ago made the transition from the kind of first generation product to the second generation. They went from Blast Fusion and so forth, which were the products I got involved with and introduced to the market. They basically, for a variety of reasons (chip designs were getting bigger, timing was getting tougher) moved to a new platform that we call Talus, basically a wholly new system. I think it is fair to say that the company went through some real growing pains in introducing those products to the market. First of all it is difficult because customers get use to a certain flow. I call it engineering inertia. If you are always under the gun to get designs out, the last thing you want to do is to stop and relearn something unless the pain gets to great. So I think there was some resistance to change. I think in some cases we got some pieces of the tool out probably a little earlier than the company should have. So we went through a period (and again I am hearing this mostly anecdotally), probably a year to a year and a half, of being more on the defensive. Now we have to get back and make customers happy. We need to regroup. We need to really focus on getting these products to work the way they really should. In essence, one of the reasons I was brought back, was to help reposition Magma, to come back out of its shell. Feel good, be good and be
aggressive about it with what we have and get that message out there. I think that is the best explanation I could give.
You mentioned a new version.
We have a new mixed signal platform. My role is actually in the digital unit so my products are all the digital implementation tools. We did roll out a whole new version of that in June. So now we are all feeling good about it. That’s not to say that a year ago, we weren’t feeling good. You know there were some issues. But the latest release is stable. It is being used to do some incredibly complex chips. We have one customer that just taped out a 500 million gate design which kind of boggles the mind. We have others that are using it. We are in four out of the top five wireless providers. One of the advantages we have is that we have a very robust low power flow. That plays very well. We believe based on the data we have at 40nm in terms of just the number designs that have been done and taped out, that we are pretty sure we are the leader. We know that we do not know all of the designs that have been taped out but we know enough from our customers that we have the numbers, we are pretty sure we have a foothold there. As I mentioned we just got qualified at 28nm. So we are doing work at 28nm. As you know, if you look at the bell curve, the middle of the market is still probably around 90nm. We have customers doing 130nm. But the guys pushing the envelope, the guys who need to go to extreme
density, the big companies, are at 40nm.
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-- Jack Horgan, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.
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