Friday, May 29, 2009

IC Validator offers step up in physical designer's productivity

Recently, Synopsys Inc. introduced an IC Validator design rule checking/layout verification signoff (DRC/LVS) for in-design physical verification and signoff for advanced designs at 45nm and below.

Said to provide a step up in physical designer productivity, it is architected to deliver the high accuracy necessary for leading-edge process nodes, superior scalability for efficient utilization of available hardware, and ease-of-use.

What does IC Validator do?
According to Sanjay Bali, Director of Marketing, Physical Verification & DFM, Synopsys, the IC Validator is a complete physical verification tool, performing increasingly complex DRC and LVS sign-off checks.

It has been specifically architected for in-design physical verification. This means: the place-and-route engineers can run DRC and practical DFM steps alongside place and route within the familiar IC Compiler physical design environment.

And, why need for such a solution? He added that three key summary challenges are driving the need for a new approach and hence the new tool. These are:
a) Increase in complexity and count of manufacturing rules.
b) Unabated growth on design complexity.
c) Increasing DFM challenges, which just cannot be handled in a post processing approach.

Currently, the solution is aimed at 45nm and below as these nodes largely represent the challenges listed above.

Enhancing physical designer's productivity
Three key tenants of the IC Validator that offer improved physical designer productivity are:
a) High accuracy necessary for leading-edge process nodes.
b) Superior scalability for efficient utilization of available hardware. And,
c) Ease of use with seamless integration of IC Validator and IC Compiler

Bali said: "The IC Validator has been architected from the ground up for in-design physical verification. In-design physical verification enables place-and-route engineers to accelerate the time to tapeout by enabling sign-off quality physical verification from within implementation or physical design. Physical designers designing with IC Compiler can now benefit from the in-design physical verification approach with the push of a button, incurring minimal overhead cost to eliminate surprises late in the design.

"With the verify-as-you-go approach replacing the implement-then-verify approach, physical designers can significantly reduce iteration count, eliminate streamouts and streamins, and accelerate time to tapeout. In addition, the integration enables several productivity enhancing flows like incremental DRC verification, incremental metal fill flows and ECO flows -- all leading to significant reduction in time to tapeout."

It would be interesting to determine or know by approximately what percent is the total physical verification time reduced, and what all does it cover in the process?

Bali added that in extreme cases, finding and fixing DRC violations can easily impact the schedules by a few weeks! The key here is that physical designers typically wait until the final stages of the tapeout to run physical verification. Inevitably, the schedule at this point is squeezed and the cost of fixing the error is high.

"With a sign-off quality physical verification tool integrated into the physical design environment, place-and-route engineers can verify as they implement and eliminate late surprises while speeding up the total physical verification turnaround time. In addition, the outcome of this process is a sign-off clean design.

Production ready!
The Synopsys IC Validator is also said to 'production ready!" What exactly does that mean?

The IC Validator has been successfully used to tapeout designs at several chip manufacturers, said Bali. In addition, it is currently being used for production designs at Nvidia and Toshiba. Besides other leading foundry's and chip manufactures it is also qualified by TSMC for 40nm and 28nm process nodes.

For those interested, Toshiba already has Synopsys as its key EDA partner, and NVIDIA adopted the IC Validator for sign-off physical verification, within days of its launch! More are bound to follow!

Saving design spins!
Will the IC Validator approach be able to save design spins? How much is the physical design cycle time reduced?

With the in-design physical verification, place-and-route engineers will be able to run sign-off quality DRC checks, timing aware and sign-off quality metal fill, all within the familiar IC Compiler environment. Linear scalability for efficient use of hardware, sign-off accuracy and integration with IC Compiler will enable productivity enhancing flows like auto detect and autofix, incremental verification flows -- all can significantly reduce time to tapeout.

How can it help in avoiding the painful sign-off failure-to-physical-redesign iterations that are increasingly common below 90nm?

With the seamless integration of the IC Validator with the IC Compiler, physical designers can now verify the design as they implement for manufacturing sign-off accuracy.

Incremental DRC's strength
How good is the incremental design-rule checker (DRC)? Is it really parallelized for the multicore servers?

According to Bali, incremental flows are one of the strongest tenants of IC Validator. To improve physical designer productivity, rule-based only or layer-based only incremental verification runs can be initiated from within IC Compiler.

He said: "For ECO validation, the IC Validator supports window or an area-based incremental verification approach to speed up surgical checks. The incremental flows are meant to be quick, but the IC Validator has multicore capability to further speed up the process."

The IC Validator discovers and fixes design rule violations within the global context of the design as well. How is this made possible?

With the in-design physical verification, the IC Validator can accurately and automatically identify DRC violation and automatically provide fix guidance to IC Compiler to fix the violation and then re-verify it again.

Handling metal fills and design changes
Operations typically performed during physical verification, such as metal fills, may trigger additional design changes to achieve timing closure. How is this handled by the IC Validator?

Bali said that the prevailing post-processing oriented DFM flows introduce excessive and lengthy discover-fix iterations. Metal fill insertion, a mandatory DFM step at the advanced nodes, exemplifies this issue.

"Physical designers stream out the timing closed post-fill design for signoff validation and then stream it back in to fix any signoff errors flagged during physical verification. This multi-hour discover-fix loop is typically repeated per block till the post-fill design is both signoff qualified and timing clean.

"With in-design physical verification, the IC Validator and IC Compiler address the challenges of DFM, within the place-and-route environment. The seamless integration enables a single pass metal fill flow that is timing aware and of signoff quality and is void of expensive streamouts and streamins," he added.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Raja retains Telecom and IT, Dr Farooq Abdullah gets MNRE

Folks, these are portfolios of the key ministries in the government of India related to IT, telecommunications, semiconductors and solar energy, announced this evening by the Government of India.

* A. Raja: Minister of Communications and Information Technology
* Dr. Farooq Abdullah: Minister of New and Renewable Energy
* Gurdas Kamat: Minister of State in the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology
* Sachin Pilot: Minister of State in the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology

The fact the A. Raja continues with the telecom and IT ministry is a welcome sign of continuity! As per published reports, the auction for 3G networks is said to be a top priority for India's telecom minister. About time that a date was set for 3G auction without delay!

What to expect from telecom, semicon and solar/PV
First, telecom, since it has been India's success story for over a decade now! As at this point in time, India would stand to make revenues from the 3G auction.

According to a Times of India report: The interim budget has already factored in revenues of Rs 20,000 crore from 3G auctions, just half telecom minister A Raja's projections of Rs 40,000 crore in August 2008. Average pan-India 3G spectrum is expected to rake in over Rs 4,000 crore. The government plans to auction 2x5 MHz of spectrum in varying proportions except Rajasthan and the North East.

The key focus should simultaneously be on semiconductors, solar photovoltaics and new and renewable energy. With a new minister coming in for NRE (new and renewable energy), there are going to be a lot of expectations.

The opportunities in the Indian solar/PV landscape simply cannot be overlooked at any cost or any further!

Don't look further folks! Just read the US President, Barack Obama's, remarks on renewable energy! That's the kind of focus India needs as well!!

A recent SEMI India meet this April called for more action from the government of India, a more closer industry-government collaboration, as well as the need for financial institutions to pay more attention to the solar/PV segment in India.

All of these need to be addressed at top priority! Perhaps, the Union Ministry for Power should be part of this exercise as well. All it needs to do is to look at the benefits of solar/PV in off-grid applications, such as basic lighting and electrification of rural homes, irrigation pump sets running on solar, and urban applications -- such as street lighting, etc.

The Telecom ministry should also consider solar for power back-up for cellular base station towers. Approximately, there will be 2.9 lakh base station towers by the end of 2009. Maybe, having solar in some place, will surely go a long way in saving some power for the country!

Therefore, these ministries would need to work hand in hand!

Finally, semiconductors! What's really happening with the semiconductor policy? If there are proposals that need to be cleared and passed, and projects need to be started thereafter, those should be cleared and implemented at the earliest possible instance. I believe there are several such proposals. India cannot afford to lose time, now that it has a stable Central government in place.

Next, do look at how the governments of China and Taiwan, as two examples, back their home grown semiconductor industries. A similar effort would be needed here. And let's not get involved in the fabs vs. fabless debate. There is a definite need to rethink on India's semiconductor fab strategy -- whatever that is going to be in future!

S. Janakiraman, former chairman, India Semiconductor Association (ISA), had told me a few months ago that a fab will be fundamental for India to gain leadership and self reliance. "It cannot be ignored totally, although we can take our own time to reach there. We don't have a choice other than paying a price to reach there, now or later!"

Yet another aspect that needs to be looked into is to find a way to incubate semiconductor product development companies in India.

Am sure that, besides these points, there are several other things that the leaders of the Indian semiconductor, solar/PV and telecom sectors have in mind. For now, let us welcome our new Union ministers and wish them the best of luck!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pine Trail -- Intel's next-gen Atom platform for netbooks, nettops

Last week, Intel had announced the first new details around a next generation Atom platform for netbooks and nettops, while also reiterating that Moblin version 2 beta is available for download.

Welcome Pine Trail
The next Atom platform, due out later this year and codenamed Pine Trail, will feature a three-to-two chip partition for better performance and lower average power, plus increased graphics performance and a smaller overall footprint.Source: Intel

This morning, Sujan Kamran, Regional Marketing Manager, Intel Asia Pacific, introduced the Pine Trail to India as well! The image here presents the Pine Trail roadmap.

According to Kamran, the netbook and nettop categories are now firmly established and the Intel Atom processor has become the is processor of choice. This has led to an unprecedented ramp of tens of millions of units, backed by significant momentum and ecosystem support. There have been nearly 300 design wins across netbook and nettop segments.

Entering the next phase indicated that while netbooks are still a growth driver, opportunities are still lying untapped with large markets being underserved. Hence, Intel expected a strong year ahead for nettops with broad adoption likely. This presents a perfect scenario for a new Atom processor platform!

Kamran said that with the Pine Trail, Intel had moved on to a two-chip solution. The graphics and memory controller now move into the processor, leading to package area and power savings. There is now an increase in the performance of the core CPU. The two-chip architecture enables 4L PCB routing. The fanless potential enables reducing the BOM. All of this leads to easier design with package area reduction.

Moblin project and v2.0
Kamran also touched upon the Moblin -- an optimized Linux operating system project that delivers a visually rich Internet and media experience on Intel Atom processor based devices, such as MIDs, netbooks/nettops, in-vehicle infotainment, and embedded systems.

Currently, Moblin-based netbooks are already in the market. The Moblin v2 alpha and beta releases expand the community's innovations. Moblin v2.0 Beta is now released!

It is optimized for Intel Atom processor-based devices -- fast boot, improved footprint and battery life optimization. It also features a complete user interface for Intel Atom processor-based netbooks and nettops now and extending to all Intel Atom processor-based devices. Besides, it has a broad ecosystem momentum.

Elaborating the Moblin v2.0 beta experience, Kamran said that the M-zone replaces the desktop -- it is the entry point to the netbook and the nettop. It allows easy and personalized social networking, as well as simplified internet and rich media consumption. The solution is customizable for OEMs and service providers.

For those interested, Moblin v2.0 Beta is available for download!

PS: Intel today previewed the Intel Xeon 'Nehalem-EX' processor. Hope to bring you an overview soon!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

TI's 14-bit ADC unites speed and efficiency

BANGALORE, INDIA: Texas Instruments Inc. (TI) recently introduced a dual, 14-bit analog-to-digital converter (ADC), the ADS62P49, at 250MSPS to deliver a premier combination of wide signal bandwidth, high dynamic performance and low power consumption.

The ADS62P49 achieves 73-dBFS signal-to-noise (S/N) ratio and 85-dBc spurious-free dynamic range (SFDR) at an input frequency of 60 MHz. I was able to catch up with Apoorva Awasthy, Business Development Manager, High Performance Analog, Texas Instruments India, to find out more about this new 14-bit ADC.

Chief features of TI 14-bit ADC
Texas Instruments (TI) has united speed and efficiency with the industry's fastest dual, 14-bit ADC at 250 MSPS. Key features of this device include:

* It delivers a premier combination of wide signal bandwidth, high dynamic performance and low power consumption;
* Fastest dual, 14-bit ADC at 250MSPS enables multi-channel, wide-bandwidth sampling without sacrificing dynamic performance, for enhanced accuracy in portable test equipment;
* Low power of 625 mW per channel reduces thermal footprint for increased system efficiency in high-density, multi-antenna base station receivers and software defined radios;
* Programmable gain and other user-selectable settings maximizes design flexibility;
* Complete signal chain with comprehensive evaluation tools suite speeds time to market; and
* It is first in a series of four 12- and 14-bit dual channel ADCs with sample rates of 210MSPS and 250MSPS, respectively.

TI also says that the 250-MSPS data converter provides 66 percent greater bandwidth than competing dual ADCs. Has this been based on any on-field performance? Awasthy said that this is the performance specified in the data sheet and was tested in a lab.

Naturally, the key application areas would be interesting to look at! Awasthy said, "The ADS62P49 is suitable for applications such as communications and defense imaging systems, and wide-band test and measurement equipment. The block diagram given here shows an application area.Source: TI

Again, when TI says that the ADS62P49 has the "the industry's fastest sample rate", what's the benchmark? Awasthy said, "We have done comparisons between our device and others in the industry. We are the only one to offer a dual, 14-bit device that achieves 250MSPS."

Solving customer challenges
What are the main customer challenges solved by the new ADC? Awasthy said: "Communications, defense and test design engineers are constantly challenged to create signal and data acquisition receivers with increasingly wide signal bandwidths that do not compromise overall system performance. Another key feature in demand is the low power capabilities without bargaining on performance.

"TI addresses these challenges with the ADS62P49, which delivers high-performance, compact, power-efficient designs, and enables rapid deployment of 3G and 4G systems, software defined radios and spectrum analyzers."

What if the competition brings out such a device or a better one soon? TI is not in a position to speculate on what the competition is planning. "The data converter market offers tremendous opportunities to TI. We will continue to offer leading edge data converters that address our customers' challenges and advance next generation system design," he added.

This is the first in a series of four 12- and 14-bit dual channel ADCs. Awasthy said that TI expects more of such devices to be released in the second half of this year.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

AMD on EC's ruling on Intel -- will it help AMD break into the top ranks?

As promised, dear friends, here is AMD's comment on the recent European Commission's (EC) ruling on Intel! It still remains to be seen how this ruling will ultimately help consumers and AMD in the long run. Nevertheless, here goes!

On the EC's recent ruling on Intel, according to Ramkumar Subramanian, VP, Sales & Marketing, AMD India, after an exhaustive investigation, the EU came to one conclusion -- Intel broke the law and consumers were hurt. With this ruling, the industry will benefit from an end to Intel's monopoly-inflated pricing and European consumers will enjoy greater choice, value and innovation."

Fair enough! So, what course of action should the industry now take?

Subramanian says: "We believe that the EC's decision signals an inflection point in the IT industry. The ruling has the very real potential to transform the industry from being artificially organized around a monopoly that seizes nearly all the profit, into a marketplace democracy that puts consumers first. We also see the very real potential for a step change in the long-term pace of innovation and differentiated value propositions.

"The final ruling -- years in the making -- is about how Intel deliberately used its monopoly power and profits to control a critically important global industry. How it has decided what and from whom consumers are allowed to buy computers. How Intel severely punishes computer manufacturers and others in the IT ecosystem that do not play by its rules. That is what Europe is putting a stop to. We applaud them for doing so, and if you buy computers and value innovation, so should you."

I am more interested to know how this EC fine on Intel will go along in any way in improving the global processor market.

The AMD executive adds: "The size of the fine is a clear sign that this was not a close call for the Commission. That Intel's conduct was of a very serious nature. But it is not the size of the fine that matters.

"What matters are the remedies that Intel now has been ordered to implement, and implement immediately! No illegal conditioned rebates, no coercion, no threats or intimidation to OEMs or retailers."

Great! So, how will this help AMD improve its position?

Subramanian notes: "We firmly believe that the EC's bold action to wrest control of the market from Intel to consumers triggers an inflection point that will reset the way business is done across the IT industry. The EC's ruling forces Intel to immediately change its business practices -- this is a punch they cannot slip.

"Every antitrust regulator in the world is now looking over Intel's shoulder to ensure consumers are protected. And in this equation, everyone wins but Intel."

Even then, how will this ruling benefit consumers? Will it in any way influence them to buy more AMD products?

He says: "The intent of the ruling is to protect consumers. A consumer's best friend is competition. Competition is the fuel for innovation, and innovation is the fuel of the IT industry. So first and foremost, we expect that true competition will increase the pace and quality of innovation.

"All market participants -- OEMs, retailers and end customers alike -- are now free to make choices purely based on the merits of a given product, and are no longer held captive by the "System Intel" designed to keep the industry locked in, the consumers locked out and competition locked down."

Now, AMD has welcomed this fine of EUR1 060 000 000 (EUR1.06bn) imposed by the EC on Intel! That is fine, but how will all this help the industry or the chip market? Or even improve/reduce market shares?

Subramanian adds: "All we have ever wanted is competition on the merits of the products. We have proven that despite Intel's deliberate tactics to block AMD's access to the marketplace, we have still been able to either out-innovate or remain competitive at the technology level with a rival roughly 10x our size and resources.

"Japan, Korea and the European Union all agree that Intel limited AMD's market share through bribes and threats, and that business model needs to end. We are ready for a new marketplace in which consumers and products rule, not Intel.

"We firmly believe that we have what it takes to grow our business -- all we, and the industry, need is an opportunity to let natural market forces work."

Recently, there was this report of chaos reigning among the top 20 semiconductor company rankings!

According to the report, AMD jumped into the top 10 group, moving up three spots from 12th in 2008 to 9th in 1Q09. However, AMD is also one of the few top semiconductor companies that has stated it expects 2Q09 sales to be worse than in 1Q09. How long will it stay in the top 10?

If AMD does intend to beat Intel, fine or no fine, it probably needs to do much more! I hope all of this to be beneficial for AMD in the long run! Time will tell!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Elections 2009! India's IT, semicon, telecom sectors welcome UPA's victory!

The results of India's 15th General Elections are nearly all out! The people's verdict -- voting Dr. Manmohan Singh and Indian National Congress (INC) led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to a second successive term!

Undoubtedly, this is a vote for stability, continuity and good governance. It is hoped, the nation will have good governance that can be devoid of external pressures of coalition partners. In some ways, the verdict is a vote in favour of the economic policies of the Indian government leading to continued liberalization as well.

This 'pleasantly surprising' result of India's latest general elections has been welcomed overwhelmingly by leaders in India's IT/ITeS, telecom and semiconductor industries.

Dr. Ganesh Natarajan, vice chairman and CEO, Zensar Technologies and former chairman, NASSCOM, says: "We welcome the results of the election, which are indicative of a stable government at the Centre. In the current global economic environment, it is important that India has a stable and progressive political environment that can focus on long-term policies for the sustainable development of the country, even as it takes decisive steps to immediately put the economy back on a high-growth trajectory.

"The Indian IT-BPO sector is both an engine and a catalyst for the development of the Indian economy and we are confident that the government will continue to partner with this sector for leveraging the benefits of IT for India's domestic economy and through international trade. We also look forward to working with the government to promote inclusive growth and social benefits through the innovative use of IT. It is noteworthy that the biggest electoral process in the world -- the globally-admired Indian elections -- is through the use of EVMs, itself symbolic of the significance of IT for the country."

According to Dr. Pradip Dutta, corporate VP and managing director, Synopsys (India) Pvt Ltd: "There is an element of decisiveness in the election results this time, which bodes well for the industry. An anxiety around a fractured and short-lived coalition has been replaced by a confidence that the new mandate will provide a government capable of delivering sustainable long term benefits for both economy and business."

Jaswinder. S. Ahuja, corporate vice president and managing director, Cadence Design Systems (I) Pvt. Ltd, and former chairman, India Semiconductor Association (ISA), adds: "I am encouraged by the result. It is pro-progress. Also, the fact that Congress has a clear mandate should ensure that they can do the right things and make the bold moves that are needed at this time in order to ensure that India can claim its rightful place on the global stage, unencumbered by the compulsions of a fractured coalition."

N.K. Goyal, president, Communications and Manufacturing Association of India (CMAI), chairman Emeritus, TEMA, chairman, CTIA, and vice chairman, ITU APT India, notes: "The country has given a clear message that it wants development and growth, and has rejected the approach of divide, religion, caste, etc. The long awaited liberalization agenda will get a boost now. The industry is sure that there would be stimulus in economy, growth in manufacturing and sustained policies for economic uplift.

"Infrastructure development will also get encouragement. India's GDP growth will surpass 10 percent within the next three years. The telecom sector will see deeper penetration in rural areas, and broadband will match voice subscribers. We can expect 500 millions Internet connections by 2012."

S. Uma Mahesh, co-founder CEO of Indrion Technologies, points out that UPA's win is attributable to the following reasons:
* Rural support -- unemplyment program (though it had more party orientation), and loan waiver (though it didn't quite address all loaned people);
* Defocussed campaigning by other parties;
* Local factors (like 'poor campaigning', divided votes in AP);
* A 'seasoned-company' like approach by Congress that has to be commended, and the media support (similar for Democrats in US);

He adds: "Now the UPA has a chance of a lifetime -- with no excuses. They should be able to do 'real reforms', and provide 'real governance' over the next four years at least, before getting into elections mode again. This should include -- insurance reforms, labour laws, legal reforms, more liberal FDI, media reforms, and not to forget the rural sector, as well as the infrastructure."

Quite correct! I am very sure that the new UPA government, which should be sworn in quite soon, will take all of the necessary steps to boost India's IT/ITeS, telecom, semiconductor and solar photovoltaic sectors. There are several solar photovoltaic and semiconductor fab proposals that, I believe, need clearance as well.

Bundeep Singh Rangar, chairman, IndusView Advisors Ltd, the India-focused cross-border advisory firm, said in a statement today: "The government will have its task cut out with more than $700 billion worth of investments to be channeled in to India's infrastructure, power, telecom and pharma sectors over the next five years to provide the country a strong foundation to achieve the aspirational growth of 10 percent."

I would really like to see industry folks set their expectations before the new government at the center. If I can play a small role in carrying their messages, it would indeed be an honour!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Intel on EC's ruling! Wonder how all of this will help consumers!

A lot of folks out there were waiting for this post! :) Hope I haven't disappointed them. As always, I love playing neutral!

Most of you, I believe, are aware of the European Commission's ruling yesterday, where it imposed a hefty fine of EUR1.06 billion on Intel for abuse of dominant position, and also ordered Intel to cease illegal practices.

Intel president and CEO, Paul Otellini also issued a statement regarding the EC's decision. Later, AMD too, came out with its own statement, where it also highlighted some other instances of Intel's practices (click the link).

Thereafter, I've been reading a whole lot of posts on the Internet and elsewhere. Apparently, it has been a busy 24 hours for the industry and a whole lot of people!

I have friends at both AMD and Intel, and naturally requested to speak with them. Intel has already spoken with me, and I hope to have AMD here soon! :)

Intel's take on EC's ruling; to appeal
An Intel company spokesperson said: "We respect the Commission and its procedures. However, we believe that the decision is wrong because it fails to consider all of the evidence and we will appeal. Among other mistakes, the decision ignores the reality that the microprocessor market is highly competitive and works to the benefit of consumers worldwide. Regulators should be in favor of the lower prices that result from discounting. Under the Commission's rules, Intel is entitled to ask the court to review the decision."

All of this leaves me with a similar thought as before -- what course of action should the global semiconductor industry now take? Will this EC fine on Intel go along in any way in improving the microprocessor market? How will this ruling help AMD improve its position and possibly affect Intel's position in the market, especially in Europe? We are talking about improving competitiveness here!

The Intel spokesperson said: "We believe this is a retrograde step that has the potential to dampen innovation and competition in the market. Ultimately, it is consumers who stand to lose out, through higher prices. Computing power that cost $1 in 2000 now costs US 1 cent today. This came about as a result of vigorous competition in the microprocessor market segment."

Yes, what AMD seeks to get out of this remains to be seen, and I have consulted them as well. Am awaiting its responses, which should be here tomorrow, hopefully!

The Intel spokesperson continued: "It has long been our viewpoint that when AMD has performed well, the market rewarded them; when AMD hasn't performed, the market has acted accordingly. AMD, the sole complainant in this case, is alive, healthy, and claims to be expanding its business."

Quite so! AMD has an aggressive product roadmap, which it revealed last November! It now has to religiously deliver on schedule, and then try to grab better market share. I've seen some of its latest products and those are quite good!

Will this ruling benefit consumers?
I have some other queries! How will this EC ruling benefit the consumers? After all, I am definitely a very choosy consumer, and am sure there are millions of such folks, like me, out there.

Therefore, will the EC ruling in any way influence consumers to buy more rival products, other than Intel's? AMD has welcomed this EC fine, and that is quite all right, but how will all of this help the industry or the chip market? Or even help companies to either improve or worse, reduce market shares?

The Intel spokesperson said: "It won't! Among other mistakes, the EU's decision ignores the reality that the microprocessor market is highly competitive and works to the benefit of consumers worldwide. Regulators should be in favor of the lower prices that result from discounting.

"We intend to continue to compete vigorously by offering customers and consumers the best products at the best prices, and, during the appeal, we will do that within the context of the Commission's decision." Now, to see what AMD has to say!

To my friends on both sides -- Intel and AMD -- just focus on your core businesses! :) A request!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Embedded systems seminar focuses on India's embedded might

This fourth seminar on embedded systems, organized recently in Bangalore by EDN Asia, Singapore, Reed Business, was further testament to India's already proven embedded might.

Welcoming the delegates, Kirtimaya Varma, editor-in-chief, EDN Asia, noted that Bangalore continues to be a city of overwhelming importance for EDN Asia. "We believe that this city is well on its way of evolving from the electronics design hub of India to the electronics design hub of the world. We always look forward to this seminar as an opportunity for us to interact with the local design industry in India.

"Notwithstanding the severe recession, ISA-IDC estimates that the embedded software revenue is poised to grow from about $6 billion in 2008 to $7.3 billion in 2009. While most industrial segments are laying off staff, the embedded software workforce is projected to rise from about 126,000 in 2008 to 150,000 in 2009. These figures show the inherent strength of the embedded design industry in India.

"However, most of the embedded software activities in India are at the lower end of the value chain. But for the last few years large Indian companies are moving towards the higher end activities in specific domains. This is expected to expand the embedded software market. Besides, the growing consumer and automotive markets and increased expenditures in telecom and defense will also contribute towards the growth of embedded in the coming years."

There were a series of presentations, led by V.R.Venkatesh, senior VP, head of product engineering services, Wipro Technologies. The other tracks were:

* Debug embedded systems with industry's most advanced Mixed Signal Scopes (MSO) -- Venkat Prasad, Agilent Technologies
* Small yet Highly Functional - Keeping Your System Cost Low with Embedded ICs -- Lou Kai Chee, Fujitsu Microelectronics Asia Pte Ltd
* Highest Quality MCU Portfolio Drives your Ideas to Business -- Ravi Kishore Ivaturi, Infineon Technologies
* Introducing nanoWatt XLP MCUs for eXtreme Low Power -- Kanad S. Joshi, Microchip Technology Inc.
* Low Power Flash FPGA Technologies -- Jijeesh M, Actel Corp.
* Embedded Processing with Xilinx -- Akshat Jain, Xilinx

Having represented EDN Asia for quite a number of years in the past, I was extremely pleased to be part of this show. Another reason, Kirti Varma of EDN Asia and yours truly -- our association goes back a really long time -- starting from 1991 at Electronics For You, New Delhi, through to Global Sources and later, Reed Business!

I hope to add more information on some of the tracks, time permitting!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Telecom enhances globalization in every possible way!

Is it any other way, apart from this? I was quite surprised on being asked whether telecom growth somehow blocked globalization! Quite the opposite!!

Take the Indian telecom industry for instance! Those who have followed the Indian telecom closely -- right from the days of C-DoT developing 256-switch RAX, down to the introduction of mobile phones -- after massive overbidding by folks such as HFCL in 1994, to the introduction of the Internet in India -- on the eve of India's independence day in 1994 -- the growth of satellite communications in the country in the mid and late nineties -- remember DAMA? -- to the introduction of CDMA in the early 2000s, to the great proliferation of mobile phones that we now see around us!

Does any of this indicate anywhere that India has not been able to globalize, thanks to telecom?

When C-DoT had introduced RAX in the late 1980s, it really brought about a telecom revolution. Today, we don't talk of C-DoT in the glowing terms that it really deserves. Who would have ever imagined that mobile phones would take off the way they have done now! And well, we just can't survive without the email and the Internet!

Let's trace the global telecom history from the late 1980s a bit more. When AMPS gave way to GSM, you had the feature called roaming! People wondered what they would do with this feature? Today, we complain, if we can't roam!

ARIB, Japan, had visited India in early 1994, to try and sell PHS. In those days, PHS and DECT were the hot WiLL technologies. Later, Japan, thanks to Takeshi Natsuno and NTT DoCoMo, saw the advent of i-mode, and well, it indicated the first signs of what mobile Internet would really do!

Pages and pages were written, screaming, "WAP is CRAP"! Now, all phones are WAP enabled and no one says a word! We love to surf on the mobile phone now, isn't it? What about all those MMS messages, including the sleazy ones? You can do mobile blogging now, can't you? Also, update your Twitter!

In optical networking, in the early nineties, PDH gave way to SDH! We later saw the advent of DWDM and also VCSELs. With the advent of 3G in the late nineties, we discovered W-CDMA. China came up with TD-SCDMA, another 3G technology. For some time, LAS-CDMA tried to make its mark, then I don't know what happened to it!

How many of you know that a simple SMS led to the famous second people power revolution in the Phillipines in early 2001, a peaceful revolution that overthrew Philippine President Joseph (Erap) Estrada!

Why, I still remember, during a spot survey at a Frost & Sullivan's telecom conference in Singapore in 2001, I was one among the three who used the mobile phone to check my Yahoo mails. I received such stares! Today, we can't stop talking about Blackberry and iPhone! In Hong Kong, in the early 2000s, I used my Siemens WAP phone to locate Indian restaurants! When Nokia added GPS via HS-CSD in Hong Kong's Citybus in 2000, it was sensational! Today, we talk about LBS and GPS, and all that!

I can go on and on with such anecdotes! If there was no telecom, the world would not have progressed in the manner it has done now. Still having doubts?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How semicon firms can achieve high performance -- Part II

Friends, as promised, here is the second part of the discussion I had with Accenture's Scott Grant, based on Accenture's recent study: Managing Through Challenging Times!

4. Reducing the time to cash for new products.
When companies industrialize the market concept, and they procure design win opportunities, we tend to see critical components involved with this: a) maintaining relationships of requirements from market analysis through final manufacturing build plan; b) leaders who use consistent lifecycle management of a product development flow; and c) IP management with integrated roadmap portfolio capabilities.

"Firms at times are not able to convert concepts to cash quickly. The process to integrate them has several gaps including innovation lifecycles, conversion of R&D concepts to volume products, and ability to optimize the engineering capacity constraints within their P&Ls."

Product lifecycle management, portfolio & market analytics, and engineer skills/human resource management help to address these gaps. Portfolio management and roadmap planning process are a must. When done, semiconductor companies will be able to map quickly with the customers and the market insights.

5. Sharpening customer focus through more in-depth and accurate customer insight.
Most firms won't survive if they are unable to gain rapid adoption of their product offering. From our experience, high performing companies build detailed customer usage-models and insight into end-device markets early in their R&D process.

The challenge many find is that without this baseline of understanding it is difficult to convert concepts into cash once the end-product is delivered to the market.

Many of the insights are available from Point of Sale trends, which can help a semicon firm exist at either an OEM (PC, handset, etc.) or distributor. High performers have enhanced the relationship with their work collaborators and customers to gain access to this data. They also build a "Trusted Advisor" relationship where they build scenarios for each end market to better predict what their end-customer may desire in features or functions.

It is difficult for a semicon firm to know how a product will be used. It is really the beginning of gaining insight into utilization, the consumer, and what usage model should be employed. So a semicon firm should study carefully how things can be used in the market. User behavior is crucial. If companies don't understand that, they may be missing out.

6. Pursuing alliances to share the cost burden of new product development.
The point here is to make sure that semiconductor companies are taking a strategic view and look at the right places to pursue alliances. There's a lot of impact in pursuing alliances. When semicon companies do this, they can absolutely share the burdens, but it can impact the operating model.

Other recommendations for the industry
What are the other recommendations that Accenture have for the semiconductor industry going forward?

Grant recommends the industry to focus on achieving high performance business results. Those include sustained leadership in various financial metrics such as return to shareholders, profits, and revenue growth.

"Recognize and adapt to the reality that we are now living in a multi-polar world. This is a world in which a growing number of emerging countries and economies are becoming more financially powerful, competitive and relevant in competing against the traditionally more developed parts of the world such as North America, Asia and Europe. This means there are a multitude of growing business opportunities in these emerging nations for semiconductor companies to capitalize on.

"Proactively invest during a recession rather than pull back investments and just wait until the economy pulls out of this down cycle. History has shown that those companies that invest the most perform better in the years after the market recovers."

Companies repeating mistakes?
Now, these recessions always have a bad habit of occuring cyclically! Therefore, why do semiconductor (and other) companies tend to repeat those same mistakes again and again?

According to Grant, one reason is they tend to indiscriminately and rapidly cut costs without thinking more strategically and carefully about what costs to cut. "They tend to lay off workers who they need when the market recovers, but they can't hire them back because those employees have moved on with their careers. These semiconductor companies don't think hard enough about what employees and assets they will need when the market recovers."

Layoffs? What about design and development?
Finally, are layoffs the only solution to combat recession? What happens to design and development?

Grant agrees that layoffs are absolutely not the only solution to combat recession. Investing in core competencies is crucial, and spending less time and effort on non-core capabilities is important.

"Employee morale tends to fall within design and development during a recession because they see some of their colleagues lose their jobs and they take on more work. And they lose more control of what work they are assigned to do. And they're less secure about their job security.

"But, much of this can be alleviated by giving employees a chance to share their ideas and concerns at regularly scheduled Town Hall meetings, to communicate with them regularly and candidly, and to focus them on achieving high performance business results."


Monday, May 4, 2009

How semicon firms can achieve high performance by simplifying business!

Engineers in the global semiconductor industry have typically have had considerable control of their work. Processes are pretty straightforward, sequential, and logical -- and satisfying for an honest day's work.

However, due to the ongoing global economic downturn, many of these engineers are rapidly losing control of more of their professional lives. Caught like the rest of the world in a recession, they are losing more control of what work they are assigned to do, how they do it, in what sequence, by when and with whom.

Given these inter-related problems, many semiconductor companies need to make rapid and fundamental changes in their business operations, strategies and workforce management practices to emerge from this downturn, and for year beyond, as high performers.

Once this recession ends, these people will be entering a market with a different landscape than the market that existed when the downturn began. They need to figure out how to restart their businesses, regain their footing and connect to a new purpose.

They need to address the so-called 'soft' aspects of business, such as the engineers who design chips and how they feel. It's time for them to pay more attention to the little things that may seem innocuous but are actually central to achieving high performance.

Thanks to Charlie Hartley, Accenture, US, I was able to get hold of Accenture's recent study: Managing Through Challenging Times!! Quite an interesting read!

Naturally, it led to a conversation with Scott Grant, Executive Global Lead of Accenture's Semiconductor Operating Unit (see image here), who led the research and analysis of this new Accenture report released now about these issues and recommended solutions.

Accenture's report has seven suggestions or recommendations.

1. Divesting the business of unproductive assets.
2. Infusing a higher degree of operational excellence into the business.
3. Maintaining morale and energy in the workforce, especially in the key area of innovation.
4. Reducing the time to cash for new products.
5. Sharpening customer focus through more in-depth and accurate customer insight.
6. Pursuing alliances to share the cost burden of new product development.
7. Acquiring key assets.

Let's take a look at those, one by one!

1. Divesting the business of unproductive assets.
From Accenture's perspective, it has become evident during the past few years that among the top 20 semiconductor a growing number are fabless. That trend will continue in the future mainly because fabless companies have more competitive cost structures than semiconductor manufacturing companies that incur such high fixed-asset costs for their operations. Accenture's clients (customers) are seeking to understand the business operating model that best fits their desired position in the market. Our assessment leads to having a leaner product portfolio.

The first thing we look at is true cost at length. Traditionally, industry looks at cost per wafer metrics. Accenture studies what the hidden costs are. We look at Total Cost to Land including NPI re-spin costs, complete organization costs, advanced manufacturing process costs, plus the traditional material and labor costs. The goal is to find a fair comparison with an external manufacturing model that presents key improvement opportunities.

We also look for an integrated roadmap for manufacturing, design technology and intellectual property (IP). There are opportunities to better use IP investments across both leading products and derivatives, resulting in reduced cost in product ramp/readiness. To divest of unproductive assets, high performing firms build an accurate and balanced cost baseline for comparison.

In addition, we also look at strategic sourcing. Semiconductor companies often ask how they can lower costs. Sometimes this has the adverse affect within material quality. Strategic sourcing is an important factor to balance both sides of this equation. We suggest that our clients compare costs objectively against their peer groups and external suppliers. Many times we see lower direct material costs through use of external manufacturing models, because of the manufacturing supplier's economies of scale.

2. Infusing a higher degree of operational excellence into the business.
Traditionally, semiconductor companies were all about operational excellence. In the late 90s and early 2000s, the industry was about R&D excellence. Now, we see operational excellence in terms of sales and marketing -- with the amount of feet on the ground, the amount of time invested per design wins. Accenture strives to understand how companies better integrate sales operations into the manufacturing and production operation process.

Given the focus on external manufacturing, operational excellence is now being applied to the IP Ecosystem. IP management is critical for the current industry landscape. Semiconductor companies need to have a compelling argument to differentiate their IP. IP management and external management have been the crux of the strategy. Companies see the design importance growing. They see the change in their clients' requests towards a focus on sales operation and the IP ecosystem.

We see a few shifts in sales opeations. Many of Accenture's clients are challenged when they take emerging products into certain regional and local markets. One key challenge is the ability to maintain consistency in quoting, contracting and ordering. The other challenge is training and investing in sales. Sales is being asked to do more. They seem to spend 45 percent of their time in non-sales activities such as administrative tasks. However, they need to spend much more of their total time than that on sales activities and have others do more of the administration.

When Accenture examines the sales cycles of semiconductor companies, we tend to see limited performance metrics that follow. These companies tend to adhere to regional sales models -- and the complexity arises regarding how to be consistent with quoting, contracting and ordering.

3. Maintaining morale and energy in the workforce, especially in the key area of innovation.
One of the key decisions during a downturn is workforce reduction. For those employees remaining with the companies after reductions, it's key for these companies to re-enforce their connection to the new strategy, and how can they re-adjust from a training perspective to prepare such employees for innovation.

Investing in innovation is a huge priority. The transition Accenture sees in workforce reduction includes engineers feeling a loss of control. To maintain moral and energy, semiconductor executives need to continue to communicate strategic objectives to all employees.

Sometimes amid the change, a semiconductor company needs to ask whether it has thought beyond the change event (portfolio, workforce or facility reductions) and also focused on the complete organizational transition. This is a process of communication -- to help employees reconnect with their companies. Getting employees to understand, adapt and connect to the new direction takes a lot longer, and it also impacts productivity. Yet it must be emphasized.

Part II continues tomorrow. Stay tuned, folks!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Cloud computing notion exciting: LSI

LSI is a leading global provider of storage and networking solutions, with a portfolio of more than 10,000 patents and a long history of leading and contributing to a wide range of industry standards and technologies in the storage and networking markets. The company develops innovative silicon, systems and software technologies.

I recently met up with Vic Mahadevan, Vice President of Product Marketing and Management, Engenio Storage Group, to find out more about LSI's foray into cloud computing.

"The whole notion of cloud computing is very exciting. People like Cisco, Intel, etc. are looking at it as a utility-based business model. The ability of flexibility and growth on demand is huge," he said.

LSI supplies its solutions to all the leading makers -- IBM, HP, Dell, etc. "Users get to use our technology under cover. The beauty of the model is -- it is good for both small and big companies," he added.

Why should someone buy a single disk? You can outsource the entire capability to a utility company. If others take it, you can scale and grow without locking your capital expenses. Everything is on demand, and that shift will happen over the next five years.

As for cloud computing itself, Mahadevan agrees that a lot of talk has going on. "The technology to make that happen is happening right now. There'll be an amazing shift over the next couple of years. Customers are also getting excited as they feel they can leverage what they have," he added.

LSI is offering a series of products -- external, mid-range and entry level storage systems. The storage arrays are part of the storage virtualization phenomena.

Mahadevan said: "We have tech that allows you to pool storage on all the servers into a virtual SAN. It is called the serverization of storage. We need to do partnerships -- wtih VMWare, Oracle, Microsoft, etc., to ensure that we can also provide the applications." LSI sells its solutions via OEM partners.

Product roadmap
LSI recently released an 8G Fiber Channel; 446 drive bay enclosure, as well as security encrypted drives. It worked with Seagate as a user would require a key to unlock the drive.

The 8G Fiber Channel is LSI's next transition of the 4G Fiber Channel. As for the 446 drive, you can put in two TB drives and get close up to 1 PB of storage in one enclosure. The security drives gives users an added degree of security. All of these technologies are tied to the applications. Users are only concerned about the applications.

LSI works closely with a number of partners, such as Brocade, Emulex, etc. All of the chips are developed in-house, using LSI technologies. "We are leaders in 2G, 4G, 8G, etc. The 446 drive enclosure was developed in-house as well," noted Mahadevan.

Global and India plans
LSI has sufficiently grown its India facility. Mahadevan said that the company had already touched 700 people in India. "It is good to see the amount of product, chip and application talent in India," he added.

LSI is currently working on a lot of new products. The additional ones will be coming out soon. Especially, LSI will be refreshing its mid-range storage lines in Q3-09.

Mahadevan said: "From a customer point of view, I see them tracking the utility model. It will probably start in India by 2010, that's when the momentum will really start. The interesting thing is, it would be a huge opportunity for the SMB market."

Citing examples, he said that microfinance is available in rural India. If SMBs can avail of the applications for farming, garments, etc., that would make it easy for those SMBs to build new businesses.

"All of this will allow us to unleash the power of the people. Lot of applications will be further developed in India. You can also develop applications that can be probably used worldwide, based on the utility model," he said.

Storage trends
According to Mahadevan, LSI's see a lot of activity going on in FC and iSCSI worlds -- moving from 1G to 10G in 2010. "We are doing a lot of work in that area. 1G iSCSI is coming out in Q3 and 10G in H1-09," he added.

As for cloud computing, that will happen as well. Some enterprises have already done it, while others are in the process of implementing it. He said: "There'll always be a tipping point. We think it could be in 2011, especially in India. Otherwise, it will be in 2010. There's lot of pressure on CIOs to cut costs and make yourself more efficient."