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 What Would Joe Do?
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.

DVCon Panel: Problems in Paradise

March 2nd, 2017 by Peggy Aycinena

DVCon generates a lot of respect
, and for good reason. Engineers have attended this conference for over 25 years to further refine their skills in the area of design and verification. Yet, there’s a problem in paradise.

In an industry like EDA that’s super dominated by just three players, there’s little if any room in the industry – or at a conference like DVCon – to showcase the ideas and innovations of the Small Guys. The Big Guys teach tutorials and present papers; the Small Guys get to hang posters in the hallways.

All of that was supposed to change tonight thanks to the sponsorship of the ESD Alliance and OneSpin Solutions, as well as Vista Ventures’ Jim Hogan.

Tonight, six of the Small Guys in verification appeared on a panel moderated by Hogan hoping to get their 60-minute shot at fame. A post-Happy-Hour hour in which to lay out their case for customers to come and sample the kind of innovation that everyone knows is the watchword of technology startups, particularly in EDA.

Perched on bar stools – with at least one panelist coming in OK Corral inspired ‘fancy dress’ – the six tough hombres on the “Ride with the Verify Seven” Panel included:

* Andy Stein – VP of sales, Avery Design Systems
* Rick Carlson – VP of Worldwide Sales, Verific Design Automaton
* Raik Brinkmann – President & CEO, OneSpin Solutions
* Prakash Narain – President & CEO, Real Intent
* Adnan Hamid – CEO, Breker Verification Systems
* Phil Moorby – Chief Architect, Montana Design

The good news is that despite the last-minute notification about the panel, and no promotional help whatsoever from DVCon, the Oak/Gateway Ballroom in the Double Tree Hotel was full by start time at 7:30 pm.

And although everyone had already enjoyed the Exhibit Hall Pub Crawl between 5 pm and 7 pm downstairs at the hotel, there was yet more wine and hours d’oeuvres in the ballroom upstairs to reward people for delaying dinner even further for the sake of more technology chit-chat.

There was bad news as well, however.

First, although this event was the only presentation happening Monday night at DVCon, zip zero nada info could be found on the DVCon website. A real mystery, given that the ESD Alliance is so closely associated with the folks who run DVCon.

Instead, countless trees gave their lives so that hundreds and hundreds of 3×5-inch advert postcards could be left on every horizontal surface in and around the Double Tree on Monday afternoon at DVCon to tell everyone to come.

Second problem: The event was billed as showcasing The Verify Seven. But what about other companies involved in verification also exhibiting at DVCon?

Companies like AMIQ Consulting, Verifyter, Oski Technology, HyperSilicon, Agnisys, Innovative Logic, Aldec, Truechip, SmartDV, Test & Verification Solutions, and VeriFast Consulting. Why weren’t these guys also on the panel?

This question needed to be addressed by the evening’s hosts. What is it about The Verify Seven that qualified their being showcased on Monday’s panel, but not the others?

And the third problem?

Despite Jim Hogan’s extremely well-documented skills as panel moderator and technology raconteur, he completely lost control of this one-hour panel. Every one of the gentlemen perched on bar stools to Jim’s right was supposed to respond briefly to Jim’s three main questions, in advance of a long and wide-ranging discussion between the panelists and their audience.

Instead, a few speakers obeyed etiquette and kept their comments to a handful of minutes, but others made not the slightest effort to be succinct – or stay on topic – and the event went up in flames.

Hence, by the time the last of the panelists offered an opening statement, it was south of 8:10 pm with only 20 minutes left to go – at which point Hogan seemed at a complete loss as to how to recoup the focus of the evening’s panel.

That’s not to say that valuable comments were not made throughout the hour (see Thumbnail Summaries below), but things were so far off the rails by the end, that some of the last few minutes were spent comparing and contrasting the x86 architecture with Sun SPARC.

What? How did we get there from Hogan’s opening salvo about foundational issues related to verification?

In any case, some good news trumps the bad news here. Thanks to the legendary skills of Steve Alvin, formerly of Cadence, the whole evening’s discussion was taped and will soon be featured on the ESD Alliance website.

So grab your wine, white or red, and a plate full of teeny tiny tasty hors d’oeuvres and watch the whole hour-long confab for yourself.

It’s a promise that you’ll come away with some equally tasty soundbites which – taken in the spirit of stream of consciousness – touch on most if not all of the high points of a) being innovative, b) being entrepreneurial, and c) competing in a market that’s ponderously dominated by three Big Players who throw such a large shadow on their teeny tiny competition, it’s almost not worth trying to take them on.

Or take them out.


Sound Bite Best of Show …

Jim Hogan: When your startup gets assimilated into big company it’s like being thrown into a food processor. You get sliced up and homogenized.


Corporate Mystery Best of Show …

What exactly is Montana Design and what does it have to do with Joe Costello?


Thumbnail Summaries …

* Jim Hogan
framed the conversation: It’s a Valley of Death between a discovery generated by basic research to a fully viable commercial product. So how the hell does a company get started?

Usual narrative: You spin out a company, based on a PhD theses, and sell your first product to two friends. two friends they can sell it to. But then you need more funding, so you call everyone from friends to angels to institutional investors who want 5x-6x return in 2 years, or 10 if it takes longer to reach an exit.

The Valley of Death is your field of play through all of this, until the day you finally break even. Only then do you control your destiny. What to do? Ignore all of this doom and gloom, say f*** it, and decide you’re going to make it happen.

Say, “As god is my bloody witness, I’m hell bent on making this happen.”

Hogan’s rules for success: Be on time. Have a great team. Have great execution. Have a great business model. Have adequate funding. Be in the right place at the right time. For example, Uber with the rise of mobile devices, and AirBnB with the economic recession.

And if you’re in verification – which is the long pole in the EDA tent – you should expect to succeed if you’ve attended to all of the mandates in the previous paragraph.

Verification is costly, so there’s demand for products and services that will help cut that cost. And where there’s demand, there’s room for startups to make money.

Hogan ended with Darwin, and three questions aimed at his 6 panelists.

Darwin: It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

Question 1) Where are the revolutionary ideas and products going to come from?

Question 2) Do today’s startups in verification solutions have an advantage in delivery of innovation?

Question 3) Why should a customer consider solutions from a startup, given their large corporate contracts with the Big Three?

* Andy Stein
said he’s seen several different startups and approaches. Based on that experience, he knows that getting tools out must be an evolutionary effort. Revolutionary change won’t fit into the existing design flows and won’t be accepted.

Stein’s company, Avery, has passion for verification, and has unique solutions including VIP. When customers look to Avery versus the Big Three, they get Avery’s focus and passion, no matter the size of the customer. Alternatively, only really Big Customers get responsiveness from the Big Three.

* Rick Carlson
noted he’s been at Verific for 13 years, “I’ve never been so long at any other EDA company.”

Carlson said there are over 30 companies working on some facet of verification today, be it emulation, simulation, VIP, etc. But in looking at those companies – including Jasper, acquired by Cadence, and EVE, acquired by Synopsys – it’s clear that success is a matter of execution.

The corollary: Failure has three different mechanisms. The company doesn’t get capitalization, it takes longer than the team thought it would to develop viable products, and it takes longer than anyone thought it would to sell the product.

Ergo, companies in EDA that didn’t make it, didn’t execute well.

* Raik Brinkmann
said startups today look very different than 20 years ago. Nowadays, it’s not possible to just find a small, friendly customer and start building market share.

The technology is more complex, the needs of the customers are deeper, and it takes a long time to get solutions to market – all of this exacerbated by customers innovating at a faster and faster pace.

This is actually a good opportunity for small companies, if they can can intensely study customers’ problems and provide solutions. Also, there’s a chance to leverage our community of small companies, to collaborate, build solutions, and create a set of complementary products that will compete successfully with offerings from the Big Companies.

* Prakash Narain
said various elements contribute to success, and one is timing – when innovation meets opportunity. But innovation needs preparation, so you have to keep working until the solutions you develop work. The arc of history of Real Intent is proof of these truths.

Innovation is an evolutionary process that requires a lot of effort for any company who wants to create something unique.

But remember: if you ski too quickly, you crash and miss the gate. If you go too slowly, you also lose. The secret is to know how to ski aggressively, but at a speed where you don’t lose control.

* Adnan Hamid
said he started out writing test cases for early processors at AMD, but the work was boring so he moved onto machine problem solving. That led to his starting his own company: “Which is the same as being one step away from being unemployed.”

Now there are many users for machine problem solving and companies must continue to cater to this need, while also always keeping an eye on standards.

So why should customers buy from startups? Hamid said the market will say if it wants the innovation that startups offer – and the time savings – or the market may to continue to stay safe, and risk losing out to their competition.

* Phil Moorby
said both simulation speed and languages have been problems, but now simulation acceleration is a key driver for verification: How many cycles can I simulate before tape-out to provide sufficient coverage?

Since the 1990’s, there has been a steady increase of technology out of the Big Three companies that has improved performance. And although some people in the audience might believe thinking about simulation speed is old hat, it’s still completely pivotal to verification.

In the past, there have been several instance of revolutionary change, exemplified by gate-level algorithms, but such change is not the norm.

Moorby also said the industry needs to be careful not to duplicate efforts, particularly as there’s less and less money available to startups today: “We have to be very careful and very efficient in what we do.”



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