Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New camps promise exciting times ahead in memory market

The last few weeks of this month witnessed some interesting developments in DRAM. No, there are not signs of a recovery, yet. Instead, the appearance of new DRAM camps, as well as a new memory interface working group, does generate some interest.

However, first, the stats. DRAMeXchange recently reported that the Q1-08 revenues of the branded DRAM makers, impacted by continual low DRAM prices, fell by roughly 5.8 percent compared to Q4-07. Likewise, the contract prices and the spot prices fell 19 percent and 11 percent respectively.

DRAMeXchange further reported that barring Elpida and Powerchip, all other DRAM makers experienced a decline in revenues. Both Elpida and Powerchip witnessed slight increase in their market share during Q1-08.

Categorizing the DRAM industry market share by countries, Japan only increased by 0.9 percent from 13.5 percent to 14.4 percent, as Elpida's revenue increased in Q108. Taiwan's share increased by only 1.1 percent from 13.6 percent to 14.7 percent, as Powerchip gained market share. Korea sustained the same market shares -- 47.2 percent, as in Q4-07.

However, America and Germany lost share. America's share slipped from 13.6 percent to 13 percent, while Germany's share fell from 12.2 percent to 10.8 percent, respectively.

In a recent investor conference, Samsung announced it will increase its Bit Growth Rate from 70 percent to 100 percent, an indication of its desire to continue reigning as a DRAM market leader.

Now, to the really interesting developments. First, Nanya and Micron signed an agreement to create MeiYa Technology Corp., a new DRAM joint venture. One of Nanya's 200mm facility in Taiwan will be upgraded to 300mm starting this year, with the facility going online for production in 2009. Besides MeiYa, Nanya and Micron will co-develop and share future technology.

If this wasn't enough, close on the heels of the Micron-Nanya JV, Elpida Memory and Qimonda AG, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a technology partnership for jointly developing memory chips (DRAMs), and accelerate their roadmap to DRAM products featuring cell sizes of 4F2.

Analysts at DRAMeXchange believe that the Qimonda-Elpida alliance re-shuffles the DRAM competitive landscape. It is also a sign of Qimonda's determination to develop stacked process.

Lastly, ARM, Hynix Semiconductor Inc., LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Silicon Image Inc., Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB, and STMicroelectronics announced the formation of a working group, the Serial Port Memory Technology (SPMT), which is committed to creating an open standard for next-generation memory interface technology targeting mobile devices.

SPMT, a first-of-its-kind memory standard for DRAM, is said to enable an extended battery life, bandwidth flexibility, significantly reduced pin count, lower power demand and multiple ports by using a serial interface instead of a parallel interface commonly used in today's memory devices.

Handset vendors have joined the fray as this technology will not only extend battery life, it will allow high-performance media-rich applications as well, that are likely to be the norm on next-generation mobile phones.

Surely, these developments and the emergence of new camps promise some exciting times ahead in the memory market.

WDS helps meet top needs of CIOs

Riverbed Technology recently launched a new version of its product – Riverbed RiOS 5.0. According to Apurva Dave, Director of Product Marketing, with RiOS 5.0, Riverbed enables even faster performance for enterprise applications and enhances the manageability to deliver its market-leading WDS solution.

Riverbed accelerates the access to information to improve processes and make businesses more agile. With improved network flexibility, security and ease of management for large-scale deployments, it has extended the wide-area data services (WDS) solutions leadership, and helps data and businesses move faster. Significantly, Riverbed's growth rate outpaces the industry.

Davé, said: "CIOs realize this to be an absolute part of their investment. People have seen bandwidth savings in major applications." Citing globalization as a major challenge, he added that organizations needed to solve applications performance.

Network flexibility
Riverbed provides flexibility for organizations that want to enable end-to-end transparency of WAN traffic by IP address and port or by port only. Steelhead appliances enable full IP or port-only address visibility on the WAN for optimized connections in addition to their default correct addressing mode.

The security functionality in RiOS 5.0 builds on Riverbed’s extensive work in building solutions that ensure the security and integrity of enterprise data. With RiOS 5.0, Riverbed has enhanced the implementation of SSL acceleration, with new functionality for ease-of-setup and management. The QoS capability provides granularity, as well as simplified management for complex environments.

The company's Steelhead products accelerate applications to branch offices and mobile workers. Apparently, Steelhead products cut bandwidth usage by 60-95 percent.

Meeting top CIO priorities for 2008
CIOs are said to trying to design around four principles -- to support an agile enterprise. These are -- flexibility, simplicity, continuity and security. So what are the top priorities for CIOs in 2008? As per a December 2007 Goldman Sachs CIO Survey, the top 20 priorities for CIOs are:

1. Business intelligence; 2. Application integration; 3. ERP software; 4. BPM/workflow software; 5. Security; 6. Storage hardware (disk arrays, appliances, etc.); 7. DR/BCP; 8. Server virtualization; 9. Server consolidation; 10. Data center consolidation; 11. Web application development, including portals; 12. Wireless networking; 13. Mobile computing/remote access; 14. Compliance/risk management; 15. WAN optimization; 16. Storage management software (including backup); 17. SOA; 18. Cost cutting; 19. CRM software; 20. Thin client computing.

And where does WDS fit in with CIO priorities? In all of them, barring All of them, except nos. BI, BPM/workflow software, storage hardware and storage management software! WDS is based on accelerating the enterprise applications!

The Riverbed Optimization System takes care of data streamlining -- optimize WAN bandwidth utilization, prioritize applications' bandwidth use, and accelerate large-scale disaster recovery jobs; transport streamlining -- eliminate transport protocol inefficiencies, support secure traffic acceleration (SSL); application streamlining -- optimize application WAN performance and reduce protocol chatiness; and management streamlining -- enable transparent deployment, provide additional best-of-breed services, and facilitate central management and reporting.

The enterprise can eliminate bandwidth constraints. In fact, it can enjoy up to 5x more bandwidth without additional network costs. Applications can be accelerated over the WAN to mobile users or branch offices up to 100x times faster. Make it simple to deploy and manage 15 minutes for basic deployment enable consolidation. WDS is said to have a tangible, fast payback. An IDC study finds 7.3 month payback for Riverbed implementations.

Top features in RiOS 5.0
Riverbed's RiOS 5.0 delivers choice for enterprises through market-leading features. Two very significant features are accelerating Exchange and the RiOS Services Platform (RSP).

In RiOS 5.0, only one module may be run in the RSP, and not all services may be currently available. The RSP runs in a protected zone and does not impact the resource allocations dedicated to maintain peak Steelhead operations.

Dave elaborated: "We have created an area on our software where users can deploy best-of-breed services. In the first release, we will allow only one among print services, streaming media and networking (DNS/DHCP). In the next phase, we will enable a broad range of services." Enterprises can therefore leverage the WDS footprint further and also use best-of-breed services from other vendors.

Riverbed has also been very focused on Web based applications. He added: "We have introduced new features that are Web applications. In rel 5.0, we have added three applications/features."

Friday, April 25, 2008

Encouraging developments in 22nm!

Suddenly, but steadily, there seems to be lot of work going on in the 22nm space. This can only be encouraging for the global semiconductor industry.

Savor these! This week, SEMATECH researchers presented trend-setting research results in extending the CMOS logic and memory technologies at the International Symposium on VLSI Technology, System and Applications (VLSI-TSA), which ran from April 21-23, at Hsinchu, Taiwan.

According to SEMATECH, the new materials, processes and concepts discussed in a series of seven research papers describe how current semiconductor technologies can benefit from performance-enhancing features for future scaling needs.

The papers discuss leading-edge research into areas such as high-k/metal gate (HKMG) materials, flash memory, planar and non-planar CMOS technologies, including new finFET designs, which offer additional control on the channel or body of the device by using a controlling gate wrapped around a thin silicon "fin".

Early this month, Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing, one of the world's top dedicated foundries, announced the extension of its joint development collaboration with IBM to include 22nm bulk complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology.

IBM and AMD have also been collaborating on the development of next-generation semiconductor manufacturing technologies since January 2003. In November 2005, the two firms announced an extension of their joint development efforts until 2011, covering 32nm and 22nm process technology generations. Intel has been working on 22nm for quite some time now.

And last July, PULLNANO, a project sponsored by the European Commission within the 6th Framework Program (FP6), reported several important results related to the future-generation 32nm and 22nm CMOS technology platforms, including the realization of a functional CMOS SRAM demonstrator built using 32nm design rules.

PULLNANO also proposed an innovative new architecture that could provide even higher performance at 32nm and 22nm, using the so-called 'air gap' technique.

Late last year, I attended a Semiconductor International Webcast, where one of the analysts, Carl Johnson of Research Infrastructure, had said that lot of consolidation was happening within the fab space. Mid-level players are consolidating. The customer base is clearly narrowing.

He said: "The cost of designing some of these leading-edge devices, and getting them to market, and then following it up with another product, if you don't want to be a one-product guy, is a real challenge. That is limiting the number of players that are going into the mega fabs. So, the field is narrowing in 65nm, and 45nm, and as we get to below 45nm, the field is going to get much, much narrower."

Perhaps, there will be fewer players after all, in the 22nm space. However, all of the encouraging developments mentioned above augur well for the semiconductor industry.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Apple shocks industry with PA Semi buy!

According to The Unofficial Apple Web Blog (TUAW), Apple has stunned the industry by acquiring P.A. Semi, a Santa Clara based chip company founded by Dan Dobberpuhl, the former lead designer of the DEC Alpha and StrongARM processors, for US $278 million.

The Computerworld Blog reported that Apple had 'shocked' everyone with this move. P.A. Semi is a fabless chip designer that specializes in super low power PowerPC processors.

This move surely raises questions about Apple's future association with Intel, which has been courting Apple since long to adopt its Atom low-power processor family. It also remains to be seen whether Apple will use these super low power PowerPC processors in embedded devices, such as high end iPhones, iPods, etc.

Interestingly, the PA Semi Web site is displaying a message: This account has surpassed its bandwidth allocation at the present time. You may reach the account administrator. Maybe, too many folks are trying to access the site to find out more about this company.

The Apple buyout of PA Semi was possibly first reported by Forbes. Since then a whole lot of articles have appeared on the Web.

According to the site, Apple spokesman Steve Dowling reportedly said, "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not comment on our purposes and plans." He is also said to have declined to comment on the value of the deal, which a person familiar with the deal suggested was done for $278 million in cash.

Apple later announced its quarterly earnings Wednesday. As per Apple's financial results for fiscal 2008 second quarter ended March 29, 2008, the company posted $7.51 billion revenue and net quarterly profit of $1.05 billion, or $1.16 per diluted share.

These results compare to revenue of $5.26 billion and net quarterly profit of $770 million, or $.87 per diluted share, in the year-ago quarter. Gross margin was 32.9 percent, down from 35.1 percent in the year-ago quarter. International sales accounted for 44 percent of the quarter's revenue.

Apple shipped 2,289,000 Macintosh computers during the quarter, representing 51 percent unit growth and 54 percent revenue growth over the year-ago quarter. It sold 10,644,000 iPods during the quarter, representing 1 percent unit growth and 8 percent revenue growth over the year-ago quarter. Quarterly iPhone sales were 1,703,000.

As per another Forbes reports, Apple has promised to sell 10 million iPhones in 2008 on a call with analysts Wednesday. Watch this space, as Apple is surely going to be in news for most of this year.

Indian design services to hit $10.96bn by 2010

This is a continuation of my previous blog on the Indian design services segment.

Revenues for the VLSI, board design and embedded software market in India are likely to touch US $10.96bn in 2010, according to an ISA-IDC study titled India Semiconductor and Embedded Design Market, 2007-2010. This market will grow from US $6.08bn in 2007 to US $7.37bn in 2008, on to US $8.97bn in 2009, respectively.

The total design services market in India is said to have grown at 21 percent year on year (y-o-y), as against a global growth of 6 percent y-o-y. According to Kapil Dev Singh, Country Manager, IDC (I) Ltd, the impending recession in US and sheer volume of work from US will put pressure on man-month rates and they will increase marginally. Currently there are close to 200+ companies active in India.

Touching upon the market trends for 2007 in the India semiconductor and embedded design market, he added that India will continue to be the preferred destination of choice for companies interested in embedded design and development.

There will also be an increased emphasis on IP development, as third-party design services companies look to move up the value chain. Next, localization of products design and manufacturing from India will drive significant investments by product and design services companies leading to a further fueling of growth.

However, he cautioned that the industry will continue to face significant challenges in managing the demand and workforce churn. The industry will also have to constantly evolve, upgrade and innovate, while keeping the costs down in order to stay cost competitive in the global market. Future trends in this industry will further witness the increasing proximity between the third-party service providers and OEMs for end-to-end product design.

Indan design services industry snapshot
The Indian VLSI design services contributed approximately 13 percent to the overall revenues and 11 percent to overall workforce. There has been an increase in consumer and portable/wireless segment, that has indirectly contributed to the growth of the VLSI design service industry in India. Spec to tape-out designs are gradually increasing as well, largely contributed to by the captive units. The IP development will continue to grow steadily during the forecast period.

The Indian hardware/board design industry contributed to 7.2 percent of the overall technical workforce in the design services industry. The trend of VLSI design houses transforming into one-stop design houses has increased the activity in the hardware/board design area. Growth is likely to come from consumer electronics and portable/wireless product segment in 2008. Product development activities for the Indian market will further boost growth.

The Indian embedded software industry is by and large, the most significant contributor. Embedded software contributed approximately 81 percent to the overall design services revenues and 82 percent to the overall workforce. Having a local manufacturing ecosystem will boost this segment with end-to-end product development and roll-out happening from India. Singh said that middleware/embedded applications along with testing will drive the growth in the market.

Two vectors for industry
Singh added that there were two vectors that the industry could go to. One, focus on export revenue and go closer to markets -- to their customers' markets and be part of product development. And two, focus on product development, as it would drive semiconductors and embedded design. He termed the growth achieved in the last three decades as version 1.0 and said India was ready to move on to version 2.0 in the coming years.

In version 2.0, the dynamics between the semiconductor industry ecosystem players would be transformed in the coming years. Also, there will be a disruption, which will see the entities shift their strategies, align and engage with each other within this ecosystem in a manner that will take them up one level in the overall product value chain.

E.K. Bharat Bhushan, director general, STPI, commented: "India is a very important destination. A wide range of design activities are now going on here. Semiconductor design has made rapid strides. India currently has strengths in areas such as IP development, and core advantages in terms of talent and local domestic market."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Indian design services to cross $7.37bn in 2008

The Indian semiconductor and embedded design services market has grown consistently over the last five years and market is likely to cross the US$ 7.37 billion in 2008.

This was the key finding of the "India semiconductor and embedded design service industry (2007-2010): Market, technology and ecosystem analysis", a study jointly released today in Bangalore by the India Semiconductor Association (ISA), and IDC (India) Ltd.

Some key findings of this comprehensive report include:

* The total design market in India for 2007 was estimated at US $6 billion. Eighty-one percent of the revenues were in the area of embedded software, followed by VLSI design (13 percent) and hardware/board design (6 percent).

* The total workforce employed in the design services industry in India was estimated at 130,000 in 2007.Of this the bulk of the jobs were in embedded software 82 percent followed by VLSI design (11 percent) and hardware/board (7 percent).

* The industry was estimated to grow at a CAGR of around 21.7 percent between 2007-2010.

* The geographical focus of the industry indicates that US has a share of 70 percent; Europe at 30 percent; and the emerging economy is that of Japan.

Key factors that determine the growth of the design sector in India are: the growing expertise and capabilities in complex end-to-end design; strong IP development and talent. The Indian domestic market is one of the fastest growing in Asia as well as globally.

Commenting on the Indian design market, Poornima Shenoy, president, ISA, said: "The Indian semiconductor design industry, with over 200 companies, is on a strong growth trajectory. Our growth is nearly 22 percent which is three times the global growth rate of around 7 percent. We are looking eastward for business and collaboration heralding a new era in the future of the sector."

Announcing the findings of the ISA-IDC report, Kapil Dev Singh, added: "The Indian semiconductor and embedded design services market has grown consistently over last the five years and market is expected to cross the US$ 7.37 billion in 2008. The domestic semiconductor and embedded design services industry is all set to enter a new phase -– Ver 2.0, following on from where Ver 1.0 left off. To achieve this next phase of growth, the industry needs to focus on the availability of quality manpower, higher productivity and more value creation."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Staying ahead of clock a habit at Magma!

EDA is a complex industry to be in, what with process geometries changing all the time and EDA firms compelled to keep up with those changes. Magma Design Automation Inc. has been one of those, which has kept ahead of the changes and also managed good growth. In other words, Magma has managed to beat the clock consistently and stayed ahead, and continues to do so.

According to Rajeev Madhavan, chairman and CEO, Magma Design Automation Inc.. Magma has been outperforming the EDA industry by 2x globally. He touched upon the drive toward consumerization. Whle it was driven by PCs during the 1980s, mobile phones and PDAs are now the growth drivers for the common man. The consumer space is driving semiconductor applications as well. These are in form of devices with smaller form factors, where power is an important issue.

As an example, Madhavan highlighted the fact that 75 percent of the chips in the iPhone type of complex cell phone has been done using Magma. "We enable such points to happen. Consumer applications are driving EDA, and we are providing that change."

According to him, India is a major center for Magma. An entire business line of products are now being driven out of India. The physical verification units – DRC, etc., -- are all done here. Magma is consistently developing new products and product lines. Any MNC in India has an opportunity to build relationships with the EDA powerhouse.

EDA is all about integration. With operating margins getting slimmer, most companies have been moving to Fab-Lite. India has great expertise in design knowledge. India should shift its focus on developing the intellectual knowledge side, contended Madhavan. As for fabs, as and when those happen in India, they will definitely create jobs. "Fab-lite is actually good for EDA. It means more design productivity. Leading firms such as TI, NVIDIA, Broadcom, etc., are our customers," he said.

Magma is now looking at more value addition and faster development. It has covered the entire EDA domain. Magma has a culture of rewriting its software a lot more and also covers all new process geometries. According to Madhavan, Magma is constantly in touch with leading foundries such as TSMC.

It is said that right now, around 75 percent of the chips in 45nm currently use Magma. Magma is also working with a customer in 32nm. Madhavan said: "You have to develop the tools as the processes change. At Magma, we need smart people who can understand electrical engineering and computer science. Growth comes in identifying and building the talent pools.”

As for product lines developed in India, Magma's Quartz Formal has been developed largely in India. Most of the development work is happening in NOIDA, near Delhi. Work on DRC is being done out of Bangalore. “Every single product from Magma has some footprint in India,” he said. The complexities of chips have been growing and those require more automation.

Magma intends to grow from $178 million to $211 million during 2008. Madhavan felt that as the eco-system units come up in India, the company can move forward. Magma is hopeful that more design companies will be getting into India.

90nm designs major in India
Ricky Bedi, Senior Director, Application Engineering, Magma Design Automation India Pvt Ltd, added that the EDA industry had moved on from being optimizers. India too has to now move forward from being outsourcers to enablers.

He said, "When that happens, India will play a bigger role and offer more services. For example, Wipro, etc., are now doing full turnkey solutions." Magma India is now working with over 32 universities, regional engineering colleges (RECs), IITs, etc. The intent is to facilitate VLSI programs in all of those places.

However, he agreed that the innovation has not really kicked off in the country. As of now, 90nm designs are in the majority in India, and in comparison, 65nm designs are lesser. Magma has already gone into 45nm, and even into 32nm. Bedi said: "Right now, yield is imperative in 45nm. Innovation will continue in the smaller geometries. Innovation has to focus more on predictability, etc."

There is another trend worth mentioning -- about re-usable IPs. According to Magma, there will be even more of re-usable IPs. As the designs themselves get complex, designers need to achieve those in shorter timeframes as the time-to-market (TTM) is crucial. Replication of blocks is also happening. Implementation of re-usable IPs will go up a notch, added Bedi.

While the EDA tools are now catching up with the advances in semiconductors, it has not been smooth sailing for language. Bedi added: "As far as language is concerned, language itself does not blend so easily. It takes great effort to move from Verilog to VHDL."

Yatin Trivedi, director, Industry Partnership Program, Design Implementation Business Unit, Magma Design Automation Inc., touched upon the aspect of power. He said: "In the EDA format, it is important that the power format is accepted by as many vendors. The difference should be in the usage, not the format. In any design flow -- from RTL to GDS -- any design that is implemented must be simulated. Power information is now an integral part of the design. Leakage can destroy a die."