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Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

Bob Smith: Expanding horizons for ESD Alliance

October 19th, 2017 by Peggy Aycinena

The Electronic System Design Alliance began life as the EDA Consortium over 25 years ago
. Early last year, EDAC morphed into the ESD Alliance thanks to the efforts of many, not the least being ESD Alliance Executive Director Bob Smith, now in his third year serving in that role.

As currently I am mid-way through the process of speaking to the leadership of all of the member companies in the ESD Alliance, it was good to talk recently with Smith and discuss his vision for the future of the organization. His enthusiasm mirrors that of the many companies I have spoken with so far.


WWJD: How are things going?

Bob Smith: Over all, things are going very well. I’m in the middle of doing some heavy-duty strategic planning: How do we get this thing to the next level? How can we actually do more?

Like many non-profit organizations, we face challenges. Funding is an obvious one, but so is the need to keep an eye on how the world is changing around us so we can adapt.

We have had some attrition of members, particularly due to acquisitions, but we still have a healthy stream of income from member dues.

And as the DAC show has grown smaller over the past decade, we have less coming in from that source as well. So, we are motivated to find other sources of revenue that will both be beneficial to our members and help fund our operations.

I am currently chair of the DAC Sponsors Committee that includes the ESD Alliance, ACM/SIGDA, and IEEE-CEDA. By tradition, the chair goes around the group. This is my first term as chair, and we had a really good first meeting with good ideas on many fronts. I’ve been pushing for various issues, like what we can do differently to expand DAC.

The attendance numbers have been declining over the last several years. The DAC Executive Committee has started to open up their horizons to other parts of the industry, and the Sponsors Committee wants to accelerate that process. We believe that DAC can be expanded to encompass system design and I am pleased to see in your recent interview with our 2018 DAC General Chair, Sharon Hu, that she shares these views.

We want the conference to be all about electronic system design, not just tied to its roots in traditional electronic design automation.

Of course, the DAC technical conference has a strong history in design automation, but for the exhibitors we need to think more out of the box. The Sponsors Committee hopes we can affect change there that will bring in a wider group of companies.

WWJD: As you know, I’ve been talking to the ESD Alliance member companies. They’re very enthused about the organization’s work on export regulations. Also ESD Alliance work on operating systems is appreciated, so vendors can move toward supporting fewer platforms. In 5 years, what do you hope the membership will be praising the ESD Alliance for?

Bob Smith: Actually, a couple of things that we’ve been pretty aggressive about pursuing.

First, for new members we are working with each company to produce a press release. New members need this kind of visibility. We are putting out these press releases on our own nickel, because we understand it’s particularly hard for them to be seen, to rise about the noise.

The companies really like it. They’re able to get their quotes out there and generate interest, something that is very important for startups and smaller companies

Second, although obviously we can’t get into the mode of product endorsement, we are willing to co-author a white paper for the companies if it addresses a problem relevant to the whole industry.

I tell companies when they finally decide to join us, that they get these benefits, along with the chance to meet the other CEOs.

We’ve actually helped several small companies in important ways over the last several months, putting them in touch with our Export Committee for help in solving problems. One CEO wrote to thank me recently, and said we’ve saved them over $10,000 in consulting fees.

He said: ‘I’m not a neophyte in this industry, but I’ve got an encryption core and the customer wants it in their chip, so I needed an answer. Your group advised that we tell our client to ship it separately and then let their customer integrate the core.’

This situation was very striking to me, because even small startup guys have to think about these export issues.

Third, and something we haven’t publicized too much, we have a bunch of people in the group who have volunteered to mentor small companies. I put out the call about 6 months ago, and so far we have 15-to-20 people who are willing to donate their time in various areas like how to do promotions, or how to go to market.

Perhaps these efforts [will translate] into a consulting assignment for the mentor, or a sales contract for the company, but it is an interesting opportunity for everyone. One key part of our mission is to help build the base of new companies, and innovation in our industry, to keep it vibrant and growing.

So, when people ask us what does the ESD Alliance do, I say it falls into three buckets.

We provide a legal forum for companies in our industry to come together to discuss issues that affect all companies — for example, piracy, exports, and operating systems.We work to grow the base by encouraging small companies through mentoring, networking, and PR help. And we work to educate the outside world about the importance of the design ecosystem, and how we are a key element of enabling the multi-trillion-dollar electronic products market.

WWJD: These are compelling arguments in favor of joining the organization.

Bob Smith: Yes, they definitely help.

WWJD: And the evening event series? What’s next for that?

Bob Smith: We are co-sponsoring a new series along with San Jose State University that features Jim Hogan leading discussions about the Cognitive Era.

The University is trying to create a whole new department in their Engineering School around this field, which is new and uncharted. These events are an important part of figuring all of that out.

There are a lot of people out there talking about the Cognitive Era: What is it in reality? What are the relevant definitions? There are also a lot of people doing research into the topic.

But for most people in the electronic product mainstream, they may not know what it all means, how products will change. So when Jim Hogan called me about getting the ESD Alliance involved in this, I thought it sounded great.

Nonetheless, we will watch closely to see how the series works out, because I always need to make sure this kind of thing is of interest and relevant to our members

WWJD: Does the ESD Alliance plan to provide more programming about piracy or export issues?

Bob Smith: As you know, the Export Group led by Larry Disenhof is well established and provides great value, even to some of our smaller companies.

In the anti-piracy space, there are also expanded efforts underway. In the traditional EDA software space, the most common way the software licenses are tracked is by having a host ID for a server. But that server ID can be cloned or cheated, so many vendors rely on licensing software from companies like Flexera to protect the licensing.

Unfortunately, now in the new age of virtual servers, it’s relatively easy for nefarious individuals to clone off the identical host IDs and run multiple copies.

We’re obviously very interested in knowing when members are impacted by this process. However, big enterprise customers outside of our industry are also impacted, so having a high degree of business continuity between EDA companies and enterprise-level customers is something we can help to promote.

We are working with the Centralized Enterprise License User Group [CELUG] to address all of this, and have had several years of joint meetings with them at DAC.

What’s really cool is that our LMA [License Management & Anti Piracy] group is now working directly with CELUG to define a solution for protecting licensing in a virtual server environment. CELUG is chaired by a senior engineering member from Qualcomm, so the software vendors are happy and big corporate customers are happy as we work out the solution.

Ultimately, this is a whole new dimension for the Alliance, to stand behind a much larger pool of software vendors. And because it’s being developed under the umbrella of the Alliance, multiple companies are contributing.

WWJD: Where are the resources for this project coming from?

Bob Smith: All of our committees are staffed by volunteers. Their companies are giving them time to work on these projects, so the resources are coming straight from industry.

And we’ve set up the legal framework to do it under the Alliance, so Company A, B and C can all contribute. It will not be like the famous Rambus situation 20 years ago when they were on a standards committee, patented the work, owned it and generated two decades of lawsuits.

From the get-go here, we have taken the legal steps to set up the documents so everybody realizes we’re developing something like an open source product that will benefit all of our membership.

WWJD: Could you see a time when the ESD Alliance grows to a size where it can build on all such opportunities?

Bob Smith: Absolutely, that’s the strategic plan I’m working on. And the good news is that the Board is engaged with all of it and very interested in what else we might be able to do. They’ve all stated they would like to see us continue and expand, looking at what areas we can move into.

WWJD: How do you promote collegiality between competitors? They certainly can’t come to ESD Alliance meetings and share their efforts.

Bob Smith: There are two aspects to that issue, and you’re right: Nobody is coming to meetings and blurting out what their secrets are.

Still people are people, and it’s good for them to get to know each other. And although people may be competitors, you can tell by the way they interact at meetings that they respect and like each other.

And sometimes it does lead to collaborations. For instance, SoC Solutions joined us and ended up getting acquired by Silvaco, perhaps helped by the acquaintance they struck through the ESD Alliance.

Also, the smaller companies often say that it’s good to know who the big guys are in the larger companies. To have a chance in conversations at our meetings to say: This is what we are working on.

The big companies in our industry must grow or die, and usually they have to acquire smaller companies to keep growing. No one company can do it all, so the ESD Alliance helps [promote] these things.

At some level, there is definitely conversation going on at our meetings. A member asking another member: Are you guys seeing what we are seeing in this market?

Yes, there is a very high-level trading of information. Beyond that, of course, people are very guarded as would be expected of professionals.

WWJD: As the ESD Alliance expands its membership profile, is there a concern it will become too generalized, have too many categories of companies in the membership?

Bob Smith: I certainly don’t see that sitting on the horizon yet. There’s just so much we should and could do. Part of the strategic plan being developed is to ramp-up the funding engine, so we can be more aggressive about new areas.

I’m very bullish on our name, and what it implies. The Electronic System Design Alliance implies the whole of electronic system design, which is beyond the traditional limits of EDA that were our origins.

In the end, billions of transistors need to be told what to do, and that’s a massive software development and verification challenge when it comes to developing and verifying the hardware and the software in these systems. All of the companies involved are potential members of the ESD Alliance, although we have a ways to go in reaching this broader market.

The way I’ve approached this is to say: It’s important to have someone in the organization who represents the understanding of every part of the puzzle. In other words, we need champions who are passionate about every aspect of electronic system design.

WWJD: When do you plan to publish the strategic plan?

Bob Smith: It’s probably a few months out, as we are still getting input and lobbying for more.

I’ve had a lot of good suggestions so far, and feel very fortunate with the great support I’ve received from the Board. The feedback has been very positive, although there’s a long way to go.

WWJD: We all know your nights and weekends are consumed making wine for your Jazz Cellars label. Is your wine avocation opening additional doors for the ESD Alliance?

Bob Smith: [laughing] Actually, it does. There are so many people in the tech industry that, when they find out I have a winery, pepper me with questions. When you say wine, people really pay attention.

An amusing story that has nothing to do with the ESD Alliance, but years ago we were at a tasting event and someone said to me: ‘I want to try your Chardonnay.’

I said: ‘We make a Viognier.’

So he said: ‘It’s obvious this is a Chardonnay and I’d like to try some.’

And I said: ‘You know, if you want to think it’s a Chardonnay, you go ahead. You’re entitled to your own beliefs.’

It was quite hilarious.

WWJD: Overall in my conversations with the leadership of member companies, I’m finding the ESD Alliance to be a remarkably wonderful group of people: Intelligent, funny, very thoughtful about their work, the future of this industry, and the larger issues at stake.

Bob Smith: It’s great to know you’re doing this for the companies, large or small, to get their opinions out there and be heard.

Yes, it is an excellent group of people. It’s a pleasure to be working with all of them.


ESD Alliance Committees & Staff …

* Emerging Companies: Steve Pollock
* Export: Larry Disenhof
* Interoperability: Stephanie Chou
* License Management & Anti Piracy: Sashi Subramanian
* Market Statistics Service: Paul Cohen (member of Technical Staff)
* Tradeshow: Graham Bell
* Communication: Nanette Collins
* Director of Marketing & Operations: Julie Rogers


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