Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Intel launches Xeon 7500 processor series

Capping off its largest ever data center refresh, Intel Corp. has launched the Xeon 7500 processor series.While the global launch was yesterday, Diane M. Bryant, CIO Corporate VP Intel IT, Intel Corp. and R. Ravichandran, director, Sales & World Ahead Program – Asia, Intel Technology India Pvt Ltd launched the Xeon 7500 processor series in Bangalore, India today.

Intel culminated the transition to the company’s award-winning Nehalem chip design with the launch of the Intel Xeon 7500 processor series. In less than 90 days, it has introduced the all-new 2010 PC, laptop and server processors that increase energy efficiency and computing speed and include a multitude of new features that make computers more intelligent, flexible and reliable.

Expandable to include from two to 256 chips per server, the Intel Xeon processors have an average performance three times that of Intel’s existing Xeon 7400 series on common, leading enterprise benchmarks, and come equipped with more than 20 new reliability features.

Some statistics were also provided. For instance, there is said to be a growing demand for big servers, such as:
* Data growth and information demand: 650 percent data growth.
* Real time business intelligence” $6.8 billion market by 2013.
* High performance computing: $11.1 billion market by 2013, supercomputers $3.8 billion.

Some of the breakthrough capabilities of the Xeon 7500 series include scalable performance — with modular scaling from 2 to 8 Sockets with QPI and 256 Sockets via OEM NCs, flexible virtualization — up to 8x memory bandwidth and 4x memory capacity increases, and advanced reliability — over 20 new RAS features including MCA recovery.

It is said to be a historic Xeon performance leap — up to 3X vs. previous generation and up to 20:1 consolidation. Some other features are:
• Breakthrough capabilities – scaling from 2 to 256 sockets, and 4X memory capacity up to 1TB,
• Mission critical catalyst – over 20 new RAS features and MCA recovery in x86.

Breakthrough capabilities of the new series include scalable performance — with modular scaling from 2 to 8 sockets with QPI and 256 sockets via OEM NCs, flexible virtualization — up to 8x memory bandwidth and 4x memory capacity increases, and advanced reliability — over 20 new RAS features including MCA recovery.

Some other capabilities include super nodes for high performance computing, large scale consolidation and virtualization — offering up to an estimated 92 percent annual energy cost reduction and 12-month payback, Machine Check Architecture Recovery — for the first time ever on x86 servers, which allows recovery from otherwise fatal system errors.

Intel also announced the Xeon processor 5600 series — which allows a 2-socket platform refresh. Features include better energy efficiency — up to 30 percent lower power and up to 15:1 consolidation, more performance — up to 60 percent increase and secure virtualization. In this case, Intel estimates up to 95 percent annual energy cost reduction and as low as five-month payback.

Approximately 1 million servers have had their replacement delayed by a year, according to a Gartner study. The monthly costs for not refreshing 50 single-core servers with three Intel Xeon 5600 servers is said to be close to $10,000.

There are some new security features in the Xeon 5600 series. These are the Intel Advanced Encryption Standard New Instructions (Intel AES-NI) and the Intel Trusted Execution Technology (Intel TXT).

Intel also announced the Xeon processor C5500/C3500 series. Features include scalability from 1-4 cores — 2S for multiple design options, high Integration — improved performance density, and better energy efficiency — up to 27W reduction vs. previous generation.

Global semicon industry update Mar. '10: Time for a reality check...pessimism has swung too far, says Future Horizons

Here are the excerpts from the Global Semiconductor Monthly Report, March 2010, provided by Malcolm Penn, chairman, founder and CEO of Future Horizons. There are a lot of charts associated with this report. A separate post will cover market trends and semicon developments. Those interested to know more may contact Future Horizons.

January’s WSTS results continued to follow the underlying industry recovery trend, with ICs sales up 4.8 percent versus December (on a five-week month adjusted basis). They were also up 73.7 percent versus January 2009, a relatively meaningless number other than to recall just how bad things were this time last year.

The real significance of January is its potential impact on first quarter sales. Were this run rate to continue through February and March, first quarter sales would be up 8 percent versus Q4-09. That would make 2010 grow a staggering 40 percent on 2009. This is by no means a forecast but it does serve to illustrate the strength of the recovery from the abyss this time last year.

Ignoring the structurally (and typically) wild individual monthly fluctuations – which simply means no single month is a good indicator of the underlying trends – the month on month numbers will not settle down until the second quarter of 2010. That being said, given the likely strength of the first quarter versus Q4-09, our current 22 percent forecast for the total year now looks far too low.

Our 22 percent forecast for 2010 was based on the relatively benign quarterly growth pattern of -1.0, +1.0, +6.2 +2.0 percent; in essence a very weak year. No one we speak with is seeing a negative first quarter, with a consensus now building for at least 3 percent positive growth. That alone would bring the year on year growth up to 28 percent.

At the same time, almost everyone is also boasting a strong Q2 backlog with price stabilisation, even increasing; low inventory levels; and tightening supplies, which places severe doubt on the credibility of our plus 1 percent second quarter growth forecast. Were this to be say plus 3 percent, the year on year growth would be 30 percent.

It does however give us further confidence in our analysis and now places our forecast at the low end of the forecast range. Barring an epic 9/11, Act Of God or immoral banker style disaster, growth of anything less than 22 percent in 2010 is now all but impossible.

We fully expect to be increasing our forecast to around the plus 30 percent level at our forthcoming IEF2010 International Electronics Forum in Dresden, May 5-7 bringing the 2010 market within spitting distance of $300 billion in revenues.

The real irony behind this recovery is it is taking place in the first half of the year when things are usually quiet and the strength of the recovery is therefore understated. In addition no one believes (a) what they see it or (b) that it will last, even though there is not a shred of evidence to support a second-half year market collapse, quite the contrary. This is really a very serious problem indeed.

With everyone still running on empty – neither hiring nor spending money – the industry is in a very weak structural position to grow. Capacity is maxed out, wafer shortages are becoming rife, lead times are stretching and some firms are even paying their foundries a price premium to jump the delivery queue.

Some are also finding the low-ball orders they took at rock bottom margins are now loosing money due to foundry wafer price increases. Both of the issues (wafer deliveries and cost) are a fundamental problem of the fabless, and now fablite, business models. Never forget the sole reason for the FSA’s (now renamed GSA) formation in 1994 was to address the wafer shortage issue during the then market boom, following three years of low market growth and capacity under investment.

The chip market sentiment pendulum has clearly swung to far towards pessimism, driven in part by the 2000s decade of ‘lost’ growth. The overall IC market CAGR for 2000-2009 was a paltry 0.8 percent, the worst decade ever for the semiconductor industry, prompting cries of despair that the chip market glory days are over. We strongly disagree. Clearly, from a mathematical perspective the 0.8 percent CAGR number is correct but the conclusions to be drawn from this need to be interpreted with care.

For a start, the data range covered happens to measure a peak (2000) to trough (2009) period; the CAGRs one year either side of this period were 7.8 percent for 2001-2010 and 5.4 percent for 1999-2008. Moreover, looking at the corresponding values for IC units rather than US dollars shows the underlying annual 10 percent IC unit growth rate intact.

Herein lies the fundamental danger of statistics though. You can derive any CAGR value you want simply by choosing the right start and finish points. In so doing you can then ‘prove’ virtually any scenario you like, providing amply fodder for the optimists and pessimists alike.

The fact that IC units showed growth in line with their average points to the fact that the ‘problem’ with the 2000s was one of declining average selling price (ASP) not growth. The 2000s were thus a decade of depressed ASPs. The real question is thus not the low market value growth – this was the effect – but whether the cause – an above average decline in ASPs – was a bell weather of things to come, as many believe, or a temporary occurrence, the result of a coincidence of events? We believe the latter, as first reported in our November 2009 Report.

Just to recap and bring the situation up to date. ASPs are a very complex issue, driven not just by price increases but also product mix, IC innovation, fab capacity and production techniques. For sure the industry has seen declining ASPs since the 2001 crash but it is fundamentally flawed logic to extrapolate this into the future; a little like saying real-estate prices will forever keep on rising.

They do not; neither will IC ASPs keep on falling. We see the 2000s ASP fall as one side of a cycle; the coincidence of events rather than a sign of more bad news to come. It is vital therefore to understand the events that caused the problem.

First, the industry experienced a major yield bust at the 130nm node, delaying its introduction by a year and destroying the ASP price enhancement it would otherwise have brought. Second was the transition to 300mm wafers, the sole purpose of which was to reduce IC costs. A 2x plus increase in gross die per wafer for only a 40 percent wafer cost increase means a 40 percent die cost decrease.

As is typical in our industry, all of this cost reduction was immediately passed on to the customer meaning all 300mm wafer sourced ICs were reduced in selling price by up to 40 percent. By the end of the decade this was over half of all silicon made.

Third, for DRAMs, where fabs must always be kept fully loaded, the increase in die output due to the 300mm transition was more than the market could use meaning rampant oversupply and the mother of all price wars. It is only now that this massive one-off incremental capacity increase has been absorbed that pricing has return to its ‘normal’ pricing curve.

With DRAM demand hot – 4Gb is the entry point for 64-bit/Window 7 systems; strong demand for servers; new Intel processors in prospect; and a two to four year backlog in enterprise workstation upgrades – and Flash growing too, driven by exploding demand for Smart phones, the memory market has entered a positive cycle for growth and profits.

The last two years of DRAM Cap Ex restraint has now triggered a fab famine, the like of which no amount of die shrinking can offset. ASPs are already now double what they were just 12 months ago, with a minimum two-year period of positive ASP news now in prospect. The DRAMeXchange experts even say three. A fourth factor was the brutal Intel-AMD 32-bit MPU price war that saw ASPs fall around 30 percent from their more normal $100 level to $70. With AMD now bloodied, bruised and losing money, we can expect to see MPU ASPs trending up.

Finally, excess capacity also played its role but is already no longer a factor due to the significant slow down in new capacity investment over the past two plus years. Wafer fab capacity is now essentially sold out, with allocations, extended lead times and price increases the new industry norm. As mentioned earlier, some firms are already paying a price premium in order to jump the foundry wafer delivery queue.

Those that refuse will simply not get their parts. No wafers, no sales; yes it really is that simple. Interestingly overall industry revenue per wafer start increased to $7.70 per sq cm in 2009 from $ 6.96 in 2008, despite 2009 being the worst recession year in the history of the chip industry. Watch for this number to hit its US$8.00 to US$9.00 long-term average in 2010.

With current wafer fab capacity tight, additional capacity will now be driven primarily by Cap Ex, not one-off gains such as wafer size transitions, and this will be governed by industry’s willingness to invest – they currently are not – which translates into no new capacity for at least the next 12 months, due to last year’s incredibly low level of investment.

Even a 50-80 percent increase in 2010 Cap Ex – the current top end of the forecasts – will not significantly increase 2011’s net new capacity; the current starting point is so low. Prices, and therefore ASPs, will rise. 10 percent IC unit growth (the underlying growth trend) coupled with any positive ASP growth means double-digit growth at the IC value level.

This is all really good news for the industry as a whole but not for all companies. For a start, the OEMs will need to get used to a capacity (supply) limited market with increasing, rather than decreasing, IC buying prices. Secondly, the fabless and fablite firms will need to adjust to a world of tight foundry wafer supply and increasing prices. It will be a sanguine moment when they suddenly realise that they are no longer in control of the delivery times and prices they quote to their customers; their business is now at the mercy of their foundry partners. Better start to learn the new industry lexicon: “Please Sir... may I have some more?”

Industry capacity
Overall MOS wafer fab capacity increased marginally by 0.4 percent in Q4 versus Q3-09, from 1,877k 200mm equivalent wafer starts per week to 1,884k. Only 300mm leading edge capacity showed any increase in the quarter, at around 3.7 percent growth. This increase was not enough to offset the previous quarter’s 0.7 percent decline but is a reversal of the 1.6 percent quarterly decline reported this time last year. Overall MOS capacity is down 12.3 percent from Q4-2008 and on a par with where it was in the first half of 2007. Capacity has been essentially flat for the last three consecutive quarters.

At 640.4k wafer starts per week, Q4-09 200mm capacity continued its absolute value decline, from 666.8k in Q3-09, a fall of 4.0 percent. 200mm capacity is now down 22.5 percent versus the same period last year.

300mm wafers now account for 56.3 percent of the total MOS capacity, up from 54.5 percent in Q3-09 and 48.2 percent from the same period last year. 300mm wafers now account for over half the total capacity, with 200mm in second place at 34.3 percent, down from 35.5 percent in Q3-09 and 39.1 percent in Q4-08. Advanced capacity (i.e. 0.06 micron and below) grew 6.9 percent or 40.8k 200mm equivalent wafer starts per week, as leading-edge designs migrate to the 5x and below nodes.

As correctly predicted 15 months ago in our June 2009 Report Capacity review, the combination of capacity cutbacks and recovering IC demand caused total MOS IC Q4-09 utilisation rates to reach near sold-out levels, reaching 89.2 percent, up from 87.0 percent in Q3-09 and 68.4 percent for Q4-08. Advanced IC capacity, i.e., 0.06 micron and below, reached 96.2 percent (from 93.8 percent in Q3-09), whilst 300mm and 200mm wafers checked in at 96.7 percent (Q3 = 96.1 percent) and 82.4 percent (Q3 = 80.2 percent), respectively.

It doesn’t get more ‘sold out’ than this... and this at the START of the IC recovery cycle. Given the further 46 percent cut back in 2009 Cap Ex spending, 2010 capacity will be scarcer than hen’s teeth. Foundry price rises, extended lead times, allocations and premiums for priority delivery will dominate the landscape... watch out for an awful lot of fabless and fablite firms to be caught with their trousers down committed to woefully low IC ASPs based on anticipated continuingly low foundry wafer prices.

2010’s capacity cannot increase much beyond today’s level, so any increase in die output is dependent on shrinks and yield improvements. 2011’s capacity increase will depend on 2010 Cap Ex, off to a flat start on Q4-09. This means capacity will be tight through at least mid-2011 yet industry is STILL in collective denial.

We have said it before and we’ll say it again. There is already not enough capacity in place to meet 2010’s demand, 2011 will be even worse... the fablite model will be the worst hit by this shortage; depending on who you are, the fabless firms won’t escape unscathed either. Never forget the FSA (now renamed GSA) was formed in 1994 as a direct result of the wafer starvation caused by the early 1990’s Cap Ex underinvestment and the 1993-1994 market boom. Déjà vu?

Part two of this update will look at market trends and semiconductor developments.

Clear mixed signals from Magma @ MUSIC India!

Clearly, Magma Design Automation is banking heavily on mixed signal designs, as well as analog, as evident from the number of announcements made at the MUSIC India 2010.

Rajeev Madhavan chairman and CEO, Magma Design Automation, stated in his keynote: "A few years ago, we observed that most customers were moving toward mixed signal designs. Four years ago, we started investing in a lot of analog areas and mixed signal areas. He added that Magma had introduced five new products this month, and five others were slated for release later this year.Rajeev Madhavan speaking at MUSIC India 2010.

New product announcements
At MUSIC India 2010, Madhavan made several new product announcements. First, the Tekton -- next generation static timing analysis (STA) tool. "We already have 32 beta sites under way," he said. A tradiotional STA tool apparently has about 21 scenarios and it possibly takes over two hours runtime per scenario. With Tekton, the runtime gets reduced to less than 30 minutes for all of the 21 scenarios.

Magma announced the QCP -- the standalone extraction tool as well. This scalable tool features an advanced architecture, which claims to deliver 10x performance. Another announcement was made about the SiliconSmart ACE memory characterization tool.

Magma also announced the Titan ADX v2.0, its analog IP optimization software. Madhavan added, "We have provided all of the base library of IP with the tools." It has been licensed it to the largest fabless company (or fab? both names were taken!), with the release likely to be made in June 2010. v2.0 features auto mapping.

The fifth product announcement was about the FineSIM Fast Monte Carlo, which is being used by TSMC. Fast Monte Carlo uses a unique statistical approach to significantly reduce the number of simulations required to determine yield.

Magma's product updates
Madhavan also announced some product updates. One, Magma has been managing 'big chips' on Hydra, an auto interactive floorplanning and hierarchical design planning solution. Advanced hierarchical aware capabilities automate complex tasks. There is 10 percent reduction in TAT (turnaround time) for macro placement vs. manual approach. Two, it is managing 'big blocks' with Talus. This is v1.1, and has a new MCMM accelerator.

Three, Magma's momentum continues with the Titan. Twelve customers are said to be using this tool. Madhavan also updated on the Quartz DRC and LVS -- which are ready to go. AMD, Samsung, Nvidia, etc. are among the users.

Finally, FineSIM SPICE and FineSIM Pro. This is said to have been a big success for Magma. Madhavan also added that there will be some unique technology announcements from Magma in the June time frame. "We have five very new technologies that will be launched at DAC 2010," he added.

Magma's India strategy
Madhavan also introduced Alok Mehrotra as the new managing director of Magma India. He noted: "Over the next couple of months, we will be beefing up our profile in sales and marketing. We also want India to be the hotbed for some of the new technologies we are bringing in."

Madhavan said: "For about 18 months, we looked at our technologies and tried to determine how we can differentiate. We are now launching 10 tools. We have also had three good quarters. As the economy improves, we will get these differentiated tools out." On India, he said: "Over the last five years, India's semicon designers have achieved a lot of credibility. We are fairly bullish about our prospects."

According to him, Magma has lot of traction in the mixed signal and analog areas.

Mehrotra added: "We are financially stable. We now see a huge growth in mixed signal designs. We are going to be providing technology leadership. Third, consolidation and growth -- it will help drive adoption of new technology."

Points to note
Some thoughts on Magma's MUSIC India 2010 event itself. Now, I really hate comparing, but if I may, for a moment, compare the event with Mentor's User2User, Cadence's CDNLive India, and Synopsys' SNUG India, certain things really stood out this time.

One, I've attended past editions of MUSIC India, but this year, the attendance was low, and I am not even comparing it with the other EDA events. Two, the keynotes at other EDA events are generally held in the early part of the program and the global CEOs normally spend a good time on it. This time, at MUSIC India, Magma's CEO keynote was held way beyond noon, really behind schedule, and appeared to be a bit rushed.

One really fails to see the need for paper presentations, while the keynote is held back! Or, is it that India is not considered important for keynotes, which, in this case, was all about product announcements?

Also, not everything announced is new. I've either read or heard about some of those already, and a few releases are already on my PC's Semicon Blog! Am sure, many others have either heard or read about those. For instance, if five products had already been launched, it would have been good to have some papers, on say, Tekton.

I also expected Magma to reveal something about its YieldManager for solar fabs, but well, didn't hear anything about it, although clean tech was mentioned a couple of times.

Finally, a warm welcome back to Magma and to India to Alok Mehrotra, the new managing director of Magma India. I was very fortunate to meet Alok in New Delhi -- during his visit back in March 2004, to set up Magma India.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Semicon rankings 2009: Global revenue dips, but did anyone tell that to Apac suppliers?

Recently, I received a report from iSuppli, which boldly stated that Asia-Pacific semiconductor suppliers defied the downturn in 2009. It said: “combined revenue for semiconductor suppliers headquartered in the Asia-Pacific region actually grew by 2.3 percent in 2009 to reach $44.5 billion, up from $43.5 billion in 2008. In contrast, global semiconductor revenue in 2009 fell by 11.7 percent to $229.9 billion, down from $260.2 billion in 2008.”

Today, there’s a report from Gartner stating that the total worldwide semiconductor revenue reached $228.4 billion in 2009, down $26.8 billion, or 10.5 percent, from 2008.

Which report would you prefer reading first? I’d go with iSuppli’s report!

Final Total Semiconductor Revenues by Region (Revenue Millions of US Dollars)Source: iSuppli, USA

One, it is no surprise that Asia based semicon suppliers have done so well. That’s not all! Only two major semiconductor product segments escaped the downturn of 2009: LEDs and NAND flash memory. Korean and Taiwan based suppliers have led the way.

Let’s look at iSuppli’s list of top 25 suppliers for 2009. First, the movers or suppliers that had positive growth in 2009 or improved their rankings. The movers were:

* Samsung at no. 2 with 3.5 percent growth
* Hynix at no. 7 with 3.7 percent change over 2009; in fact, Hynix improved its position from no. 9 in 2008 to no. 7 in 2009
* Elpida Memory at no. 15 with 9.7 percent change over 2009; Elpida improved its position from 19th in 2008 to 15th in 2009.
* Mediatek at no. 16 with 22.6 percent growth; Mediatek also improved its ranking from no. 24 in in 2008 to no. 16 in 2009 — a sizeable jump up.

Interesting, isn’t it? All of these suppliers are from Asia! Two Korean and one each from Taiwan and Japan, respectively.

Also, if you look at the top 25 suppliers, barring these four, none of the others managed a positive growth or change in 2009.

If you need to look at some other movers in iSuppli’s table, here they are:

* Qualcomm — moved up from 8th in 2008 to 6th in 2009.
* AMD — moved up from 12th in 2008 to 8th in 2009.
* Micron — moved up from 16th in 2008 to 13th in 2009.

Nothing much to speak about the rest! Is that expected? Perhaps, it is! 2009 has been a year best forgotten.

Now. when I look at Gartner’s top 10 semiconductor vendors, it also indicates Samsung and Hynix as the only two suppliers within the top 10 to register some positive growth in 2009.

Top 10 semiconductor vendors by revenue estimates, 2009 (Millions of US Dollars)Source: Gartner, USA

LEDs, NAND beat downturn
Coming back to iSuppli’s report, with LEDs and NAND beating the downturn, it said: “with expanding demand from mobile products such as cell phones, the NAND Flash market grew by more than 15 percent in 2009. LEDs saw a rapid rise in adoption in a wide range of applications, especially in backlighting of LCD-TVs, causing their revenue to rise by more than 5 percent.”

iSuppli even goes on to mention the creditable performance of Seoul Semiconductor in LEDs. Also, it mentions that more than half of Taiwanese suppliers achieved revenue growth in 2009. MediaTek, Nanya Technology and Macronix International led the way for Taiwan with growth of 22.6 percent, 21.2 percent and 14.4 percent, respectively.

So, it seems no one told the Asia Pacific suppliers that there was a downturn going on!

I am hoping that with India’s thrust in LEDs, one Indian supplier will at least make it to the top 250 or 300 list!

Now, I am reminded of a recent report from The Information Network! It said that the chip market growth is likely to slow in the second half of 2010, before picking up again in 2011! That’ll be interesting!

The Information Network has also said that semiconductor revenues will grow 11.2 percent in 2010 to $245 billion, up from $220 billion in 2009. Worth the watch! Am sure that the Asia Pacific suppliers will continue to play a major role in all of this!

Meanwhile, IC Insights has raised its worldwide 2010 IC market growth forecast to +27 percent. It all leads to a very eventful year in semiconductors one can look forward to!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

FPGA and MPU trends: Intelligent mixed-signal FPGA to be part of Xilinx's TDP strategy

Friends, here's part two of my discussion with Vincent Ratford, senior vice president, worldwide marketing and business development, Xilinx. This post will discuss FPGAs and Xilinx's estimate of the global FPGA industry, as well as its university development program.

Estimate of global FPGA industry
Ratford said that in 2010, Xilinx sees tremendous growth opportunities for programmable platforms in electronics infrastructure applications, such as wired communications, 3G and LTE wireless deployment -- all of which will require high performance DSP processing in excess of 1000 Giga operations per second and packet processing at a rate of more than 100 Gbps.

He added: "Green IT will need power efficient, high performance, compute architectures that will exploit the high level of parallel computing. The smart grid will rely on programmable, flexible appliances and metering. And finally surveillance and security will require sophisticated image processing algorithms. These compute-intensive applications are ideally suited to the performance and flexibility of today’s leading edge FPGAs.

"This trend bodes well for the PLD industry to outperform the overall semiconductor industry over the long term, as the technology ‘most responsive to change’ displaces costly, high-risk application-specific solutions for all but a narrow set of high-volume commodity markets.

Is there still a debate regarding FPGAs vs. ASICs?

As per Ratford, there is no debate! "From our perspective the market has spoken. FPGA design starts are on the rise, as ASIC design starts continue their steep decline. Today, ASICs can only be justified for a short list of ultra-high volume commodity products, such as video games (Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox360), hard drives for PCs, mobile/smartphones, etc."

The ability to quickly create differentiated products — and the freedom to innovate — is why more and more companies in India and all over the world are choosing FPGAs. Due to their inherent flexibility, Xilinx silicon, software, IP, evaluation kits and reference designs are used by more than 20,000 customers to:

i) get to the market in a matter of weeks;
ii) drastically reduce research and development costs; and
iii) change or upgrade end product features and functions “on the fly” to meet new market demands and adapt to changing industry standards.

On intelligent mixed-signal devices
Early this month, at the Embedded World conference, Actel Corp. had unveiled SmartFusion, the world’s first intelligent mixed signal FPGA. I was keen to find out whether Xilinx has plans for similar devices, or rather, when is its intelligent mixed-signal FPGA planned.

Ratford agreed that introducing analog/mixed signal capabilities in FPGAs is a good idea. "We are looking at ways to provide that in the future, but it needs to be as part of our TDP (Targeted Design Platform) strategy including IP, software, reference designs."

On microprocessor trends
I was also keen to learn about any updates regarding trends in microprocessors.

According to Ratford, ARM has announced the availability the new AMBA 4 specification that will provide increased functionality and efficiency for complex, media-rich on-chip communications for SoC implementations.

He said: "The AMBA specification is the de facto standard for system on-chip interconnects, and was introduced by ARM more than 15 years ago. Xilinx participated in the development of the AMBA 4 so that the specification would be optimized for FPGAs.

"FPGAs are increasingly being used alongside microprocessors, both discreetly and on single chip, to improve overall system performance. Standardizing on a common interconnect enables developers to combine the high-speed parallel processing performance possible in FPGAs with traditional processor based systems. We believe our work on the AMBA specification will accelerate this trend."

On Xilinx's university development program
Finally, on to Dave Tokic, senior director, partner ecosystems and alliances, worldwide marketing, Xilinx, to get an update on the company's university development program in India.

Tokic said: "India has a good pool of talent for high-tech companies to tap into. Through the Xilinx University Program, we have ongoing initiatives at several IITs, IISc, Bangalore and several other leading engineering institutions of the country to provide access to Xilinx’s full suite of FPGA design tools and necessary hardware development boards both for teaching and research.

"A couple years ago we set up a team in CoreEL, who is our university representative for India, to engage into the next tier of engineering institutes in India. We have now reached more than 500 engineering institutes in India who have access to Xilinx tools, development boards, course material, etc. We conduct about 12-14 professor workshops in a year around the country to enable them to be able to both teach and have research projects using our technology. Our employees in Hyderabad also helped develop curriculum for an entire semester focussed on FPGAs, and they volunteer to teach this course at a reputed local engineering institute.

"We also have an ongoing exchange of best practices between Indian academia and universities around the world for example we facilitated:
* WARP wireless platform workshop from Rice University at IIT Madras - Chennai.
* NetFPGA workshop from Stanford University at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

To be concluded.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tremendous opportunity for programmable technology in India: Xilinx

It was a pleasure to catch up with Vincent Ratford, senior vice president, worldwide marketing and business development, Xilinx, during his recent trip to India on the occasion of the Xilinx India Alliance Program event.

A lot has changed globally and in the Indian semiconductor industry since our previous interaction over 18 months ago. This discussion will be in two parts. This first part looks at how Xilinx currently estimates the Indian semiconductor industry and the role it has been playing. The second part, which will appear later, will focus on trends in FPGAs, microprocessors, etc., as well as the company's university development program.

On the Indian semiconductor industry
So, how does Xilinx now estimate the Indian semiconductor industry?

Ratford said there is a tremendous opportunity for programmable technology in India, especially with the emergence of rapidly growing new markets in diverse domains such as communications, defence, healthcare, green electronics and computing.

Xilinx has established a strong and growing customer base in diverse markets that include:

* Global electronic systems companies, local OEMs, independent design and captive design centres.
* Primary end markets include wired and wireless communications, A&D, medical, green electronics and computing

India also plays host to a vibrant and rapidly growing semiconductor ecosystem, particularly for Xilinx. The company has established a robust Alliance program with 15 members, focusing on design services, IP development, software development, systems and applications development.

Xilinx has been active in the Indian market for over a decade through sales partners and directly for approximately the last five years.

Ratford said: “We have also established our own R&D centre in Hyderabad, which has doubled its headcount to 260 in just last 12 months or so. We also expanded our facility recently to be able to now accommodate 450 people.

“In order to align with our local and global customers in India, Xilinx is heavily investing in technical support resources to augment the sales teams. We are the only PLD company to have a dedicated 16 member technical support team in Hyderabad adjacent to our R&D talent, which allows them to be very effective.”

On the role that Xilinx sees itself playing in India, he added: “We are rapidly moving to a platform based approach through our Targeted Design Platform Strategy. We are now increasingly being adopted by our customers in the heart of their system design replacing ASIC/ASSPs.

“With the release of our base and domain platforms, we are executing on our strategy and we are pleased with the customer feedback on these platforms. Moving forward, we have planned releases of several market specific platforms. This is where we are engaged with our worldwide ecosystem partners who provide IPs, Reference designs and development boards.”

In the same context, Xilinx India recently held its Alliance Program event in Bangalore where it invited the Alliance Program members in India and updated them on Xilinx's product roadmap, ecosystem strategy and Targeted Design Platform – both from the business and technical perspectives.

“The Indian Alliance program members will increasingly play an important role in executing on our platform strategy both for local as well as global needs. Our role will be to jointly define the platforms and facilitate joint go-to-market plans that will include the right business model to ensure business success for us as well as our ecosystem partners,” he added.

On Xilinx's embedded opportunity in India
In our previous interaction, Ratford had said 'we have just scratched the surface on our embedded opportunity in India." What's the status now?

Ratford said: “There are several customers in India who use our embedded solutions like the PowerPC and Microblaze soft processors embedded in our FPGAs. The usage is obviously growing. Late last year, we announced a development collaboration with ARM, we are collaborating to enable ARM processor and interconnect technology on Xilinx FPGAs. We are adopting ARM IP for our future programmable platforms. In addition we worked with ARM to define the next generation ARM AMBA interconnect technology that is enhanced and optimized for FPGA architectures.”

With the tremendous expertise on embedded software and hardware available in India especially with ARM, Xilinx is quite excited about the future prospects to leverage the Indian design capability as well as the burgeoning embedded design market here.

Part two will appear later this week.

Friday, March 19, 2010

India to miss NSM target? No, it’s likely a mistake (in reporting)!

March 18 was yet another momentous day in the history of India’s solar industry with the formation of the Solar Thermal Federation of India (STFI) in New Delhi. While I wasn’t able to attend this event personally, the agency was kind enough to share the release and photograph.K. Subramanya, CEO, Tata-BP Solar will be the chairman of STFI, while Hemant Revankar, managing director, Bipin Engineers will be the vice-chairman. Jaideep Malaviya, an industry veteran with two decades of experience will steer the federation as its full time president. Senior executives of major players in the industry will play an active role in STFI in various capacities.

Keen to learn more, I searched the Internet and was stunned to find a couple of websites showing the story headline — India to miss solar mission target, says body! And even, Govt. to miss target under solar mission: STFI

I simply could not believe my eyes! How can an industry body, which is being formed today, come up with such a grand statement? Something has to be wrong somewhere. Is it a case of misreporting or perhaps, using a headline that’ll get more eyeballs? I really don’t know!

Here are three references that I found on the Internet. These are all very prestigious portals.

Now, I have had the pleasure of meeting K. Subramanya, CEO, Tata-BP Solar. I got into a conversation with him, seeking clarification on how the government of India will be missing the NSM target!

Here’s what K. Subramanya said: “It is a wrong inference by the press. And I had no contribution on this. There was a slide shown on the dias, an extract from an MNRE website. But there was no issue at all! It is simply a bad and negative pick up and attitude of press in India. Missing the moment and spirit of the occasion. A sad commentary.”

I asked him what steps can be taken by STFI to promote solar thermal products such as solar water heaters and cookers in the country. He added that it would include some suggestions as well as awareness building, bank finance, promotion and publicity by the manufacturers.

According to the release, players in India who control over 75 percent of the market have come together to float the STFI to expand solar water heating usage, and promote applications beyond that as well. Subramanya said that as of now, solar water heating is the only subject in focus.

On the subject of STFI working on setting up a talent pool in the country, he said that members would be deliberating among themselves to take this forward.

I hope to have further discussions with STFI on its agenda sometime later. In the meantime, congrats and welcome to this industry body.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Currently profitable global semicon industry needs to remember lessons of downturn!

Early this week, iSuppli reported that the global semiconductor industry is currently at its ‘most profitable level in a decade.’ So, I asked iSuppli whether it was too early to call the semicon industry most profitable, given that we’ve survived the worst downturn and the fact that lot of capacities are being built up? However, this is indeed a noteworthy performance.

According to iSuppli, ‘The overall semiconductor supplier operating profitability rose to 21.4 percent in fourth quarter of 2009, the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2000 when it reached 24.7 percent. Industry profitability soared in 2009, rising throughout the year after falling to negative 5.3 percent in the first quarter due to the impact of the global economic downturn.’

In a quick chat, Derek Lidow, president and CEO of iSuppli, said: “The semiconductor industry profitability is likely to improve further from this point as fab utilization rates improve and also because prices have been going up recently due to spot shortages and long leadtimes. So, we do not think this is too early to congratulate the industry on a job well done.”

So far firms have done a great job in checking against overcapacity situations. How long, before we all get greedy all over again? (LoL) And well, the whole thing starts! Crisis has led to newer styles of management — so, have the firms really learned?

Lidow added that the industry executives have demonstrated more restraint on capacity additions than in any previous recovery. “Indeed, the slowness to add assembly and test capacity has lead to the spot shortages, that the industry has then used as a reason to increase prices. This has further re-enforced the benefits of being more cautious on major capacity increases.

“Another noteworthy factor in this restraint is that a larger proportion of all semiconductors are being produced from wafers fabricated at independent foundries. With such a high concentration of production going through relatively few foundries, the industry is much better able to balance wafer supply and demand – and, again there are fewer incentives to add capacity speculatively.

“Of course, the memory producers have been the most prone to add speculative capacity in the past and in this cycle the major memory producers have been in weaker financial condition, Samsung excepted, than ever before, so they have been ‘constrained to be restrained’.

Has the industry learned its lessons?
The key question remains: Has the industry really learned its lessons from the past year?

Lidow said: “The semiconductor industry has learned, the question is whether they will remember the lessons! The industry has learned that when capacity is added slowly, pricing is better. They have learned that often OEMs, their customers, are willing to reduce margins on their TVs and cell phones in order to keep up consumer the demand, and that the semiconductor supplier can keep some of the benefits of their economies of scale and still keep the industry growing.”

Finally, with all these signs of recovery, are the VCs now taking some interest in the senicon industry or is it still out of bounds?

Lidow’s reply is interesting. He added: “VCs have started to come back, but with more semiconductor companies than ever (the downturn did not stimulate any meaningful industry consolidation!), the criteria for investing in a new semiconductor startup are higher than ever.”

Thanks a lot, Jon and Debra.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

ST’s dual-interface EEPROM helps remotely program and update electronic devices

STMicroelectronics recently introduced a dual-Interface EEPROM. Featuring an innovative EEPROM memory architecture, which opens new perspectives to customers, this EEPROM enables cost reduction and flexibility at all product life steps.

The dual-interface EEPROM has an EEPROM memory accessible via two different interfaces, namely:
* A standard I²C interface for integration into almost any electronic device or equipment; and
* A standard ISO15693 RF interface, which does not consume any on-board energy.

Users can remotely program and update the parameters of electronic devices or equipment, anytime during the product lifetime, anywhere in the supply chain. Other benefits include convenient remote and «zero on-board power» RF access to electronic devices enabling communication with hermetically sealed devices (medical, metering. etc.); high-reliability memory, featuring 40 years of data retention and 1 million erase-write cycles; unique and flexible password protection scheme for data protection, and industry-standard interfaces for easy integration.

These devices will now enable makers to update product parameters, regionalize or even activate software without connecting a programmer, or opening a retail packaging. This unique way to access memory could now see businesses add new functions and capabilities to their products, besides sreducing manufacturing costs, simplify inventory management, and respond more quickly to changing market demands.

The M24LR64 is an EEPROM memory with a standard I2C serial interface, providing communication with most MCUs or ASICs. It has a standard ISO15693 RF interface for RFID readers.

The ISO15693 standard is passive RFID, which gathers energy and the data from the RF system. No power is required to operate the M24LR64 in RF mode, which enables on-board energy savings and provides easy and convenient remote access to electronic product parameters.

Damien Leconte, Marketing Director, Memories & Secure Microcontrollers; Greater China & South Asia Region for STMicrocontrollers, said: “We have a full family of products, which can be used in consumer, industrial, telecom, automotive, etc. The added value products are system products, etc.

“We also have the RFID version — with an RF interface. This is typically what you see in transportation applications. These have two interfaces — serial and RF. This is the origin of the dual interface products.”

“The dual-interace EEPROM uses an innovative EEPROM memory architecture, which opens new perspectives to our customers. It enables cost reduction and flexibility at all product life steps. The cost red will be in managing inventory, efficient prodn line, maintenance costs, etc. The targeted applications include industrial and medical, automotive, peripherals, communication and consumer, RFID, etc. We beileve that customers will also go on to find newer use cases.”

Users can remotely program and update the parameters of electronic devices or equipment, anytime during the product lifetime, anywhere in the supply chain. You may also want to change some parameters in the PCB, due to a variety of reasons. Hence, with the dual interface, you can change the content of the memory. It will help reduce costs, and avoid doing a lot of handling on the ground.

The reader, which is powering the device, and the modulator communicates information to the memory. In an RFID system, the memory side is not powered. The reader is powering the RFID memory. It is sending information to the memory by modulating. You don’t need power on the go. The power is obtained from the RFID field.

Leconte added: “We have a password protection scheme, You can enable this unique and flexible password protection scheme for data protection and to prevent unauthorized users.”

Users can now upgrade the firmware remotely. A use case example is metering — all you need to do is to download data from a reader without any human intervention. The maintenance can be done via live firmware update.

Another example is in medical. You have a reader that reads data — it is connected to your computer, which you send to the doctor. If the data is incorrect, the doctor can contact you.

The EEPROM family is currently sampling and will be ready by H2-2010.

EEPROM market trends
Commenting on the EEPROM market trends, Leconte said: “The market is currently in the range of $800-900 million. The market has been quite stable in terms of value, but growing significantly over the last five years. Our share is in the range of 27-28 percent. We have been no. 1 in the market for the last four to five years, according to iSuppli.

“Our main competitors are Atmel, NXP, OnSemi, Microchip. On an average, the market has been growing in volume. The year 2009 was a bit exceptional. Now, we are seeing a full recovery. So, we will see similar range of growth in 2010 as we saw in 2008.”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Flash will be bigger than you ever imagined in the coming decade: Dr. Eli Harari, SanDisk CEO

Flash will be bigger than you ever imagined, in the coming decade, said Dr. Eli Harari, SanDisk chairman and CEO! He was speaking at a Thought Leadership Forum organized today by the India Semiconductor Association (ISA).He said that flash is ubiquitous and growing. Today's smartphone is equivalent to the "new PC" and it allowed a route to flash SSD as well. The mobile Internet is still in the early stages of its innings and will go on to become even bigger than anyone could imagine.

Further, cloud computing, the last node on the network, would soon be in your pocket. Finally, it is getting hard to do highly scaled flash. Systems solutions are now becoming key. SanDisk, he added, is currently playing to its strengths.

He said that predictions made by SanDisk way back in 1999 -- flash would be going neck and neck with HDDs and SRAMs/DRAMs -- had turned out to be true in 2010!

The period from 1990-99 were the early days for flash memory storage, finding applications in industrial, military, etc. It was also the period of the early development of digital film, as well as emergence of early PDAs. This period was marked by the early days of the Web.

The period from, 2000–2009 has been one of digitial consumer revolution. Flash is now a ubiquitous, strategic enabler for portable personal content. This period marked the early days of Mobile Internet. We also saw 3G networks take off, and iPhone and mobile applications taking off as well. Similarly, this period also witnessed the birth of the revolution called social networking.

On NAND, he said that 2005–2009 witnessed 45-55 percent annual cost reductions.
* SLC –> MLC (~90 percent of bits).
* 200mm –> 300mm, mega-fabs, automation, immersion lithography.
* Unprecedented productivity thru rapid technology transitions.

During the period 2010–2013, the segment will witness 25-35 percent annual cost reductions.
* MLC –> X3 (~50 percent of bits).
* NAND technology more challenging at 1x nm, 1y nm.
* EUV lithography will likely be required below 1x nm.

SanDisk is developing 3D read/write memory in scalable cross-point diode array. The joint development with Toshiba, is proceeding at Yokkaichi, Japan. While it is said to be making good progress with R/W layer, it is not yet ready for production.

At x8 equivalent, and given SanDisk’s knowhow in 3D diode arrays, D. Harari said 3D R/W is the most likely successor for NAND in the coming decade. This could usher a second SSD wave.

Growth in coming decade
Reflecting on the coming decade, he said the industry shipped 6 hexabytes in 2009, but by 2013, this will go up to 70 hexabytes. He cautioned that bringing in new capacity in the industry could turn out to be expensive and tough.

Flash markets are still young, and most of the growth lies ahead. Especially, in areas such as legacy/consumer, mobile and computing. Flash is present in legacy/consumer devices such as digital cameras, digital camcorders, GPS, MP3 players, gaming, USB flash drives, eBooks, as well as in mobile/computing, such as netbooks, notebooks, tablets, MIDs, servers, enterprise, etc. Flash is also to be seen in automotive, industrial, medical and military applications.

Dr. Harari pointed out that the iPhone/smartphones and tablets had now emerged as the ‘new PC’. The year 2006 was the inflection point where notebook PCs and smartphones shipments broke away from desktop PCs. Now, the shipments of notebook PCs and smartphones were dwarfing shipments of desktop PCs.

He presented an interesting example of the growing semiconductor content in iPhones:
* 2007 — iPhone 2.5G — 4, 8, 16 GB.
* 2008 — iPhone 3G — 8, 16 GB.
* 2009 — iPhone 3G S — 16, 32 GB.

NAND accounted for nearly 40 percent of the semiconductor content in the iPhone, closely followed by the LCD. Other key ingredients getting into an iPhone include the camera/module, baseband, AP, DRAM, WiFi and RF.

Flash SSD to be massive
According to Dr. Harari, flash SSD will grow significantly in the coming decade. While the SSD adoption is still in the early stages, the market is likely to accelerate in 2011 with 2x nm NAND. The tipping point had been reached with1x nm NAND.

Further, SSD will come in all kinds of form-factors (e.g. thin), and optimized for specific usage models, fostering new architectures/innovation. The SSD price elasticity will also serve to correct the industry excess supply. He added, “We see SSD as playing to our strengths in systems, IP and captive supply, and expect to be a long term SSD participant.”

He also touched upon SanDIsk’s JV fabs. In 2009,
* ~1.5 million 300 mm wafers output (SanDisk)
– returned to 100 percent utilization in H2.
* Bit output growth ~38 percent
– includes JV restructuring
– 43nm >90 percent bit production
– X3/X4 ~50 percent of bit production

Dr. Harari said that the SanDisk-Toshiba partnership has been building on 10 years of NAND collaboration. Eight generations of MLC and three generations of X3 have been developed jointly for over 10 years.

The two companies have also done R&D collaboration and cost sharing, especially in NAND and 3D read/write. They have two existing flash manufacturing JVs in Fab 3 and Fab 4. SanDisk and Toshiba combined 300mm NAND capacity is more than 4 million wafers/year. The cost benefits capture the full scale of production in Fab 3 and Fab 4. Dr. Harari said that building a similar fab today would cost $8 million.

SanDisk has an assembly/test facility in Shanghai, China, which adds to its competitive advantage. SanDisk’s NAND roadmap includes going to 24nm X3 in 2011 and up to 1xnm X2, X3 in 2013. “We moved from 90nm in 2006 to 24nm in 2010,” he added.

Dr. Harari further mentioned that the iPhone had changed the mobile communications landscape. It also gave birth to two dramatic threats that carriers could face — the dumb pipe dilemma and the clogged pipe dilemma. These threats can be significantly addressed by flash, and SanDisk is uniquely equipped to deliver.

Finally, SanDisk’s global reach is stronger than ever. It is a premium brand in memory cards in retail. It has 242,000 retail storefronts globally, and five of the top 10 customers in 2009 were global handset manufacturers (OEMs) SanDisk has also been witnessing an increasing contribution to its revenue from the emerging markets. Marketing campaigns to enhance brand awareness and premium have been the keys to its success in BRIC nations.

SanDisk entered India and set up its Bangalore R&D center five years ago. The Bangalore center, said to have a headcount of 150. provides engineering support. Dr. Harari said that the company wants to escalate it to a Center of Excellence (CoE).

India an ideal candidate to propose standards: Dennis Brophy, IEEE-SA

I was fortunate enough to attend the Global Standards at IEEE seminar today in Bangalore, thanks largely to Veeresh Shetty at Mentor Graphics. It was also a pleasure to meet up again with Dennis B. Brophy, Director, Strategic Business Development, Mentor Graphics and IEEE-SA Corporate Advisory Chair.Brophy kicked off proceedings with a presentation on the IEEE-SA Corporate Program and the IEEE Entity Standards Development (see image above).

The IEEE-SA corporate program helps the industry to accomplish business objectives. It also provides a venue to nurture emerging and existing technologies. It fosters company based standardization as well. The IEEE also allows for networking within the IEEE-SA corporate constituency.

Brophy highlighted some examples of entity based projects such as batteries, design automation and cognitive radio. According to him, good standards are a blend of technology alternatives, economic needs and global requirements. The IEEE standards are developed throughout the world.

He cited an example of the IEEE P1888 draft standard for ubiquitous green community control networking protocol. This protocol had been proposed by Chinese companies. The corporate project is being developed entirely in Asia.

Brophy added that India is an ideal candidate to propose such types of standards for development.

Dr. Mark Epstein, Senior Vice President, Development, Qualcomm Inc. and IEEE-SA Corporate Advisory Group member, presented on the IEEE Standards Intellectual Property Rights Policy.

He advised that the IEEE-SA’s patent policy is consistent with those of the ‘Big Is’ — ISO, IEC and ITU, as well as ANSI and other standards development organizations (SDOs).

On the question of who determines essentiality, he said that a court, and not the IEEE, decides on whether a patent is infringed. As per the IEEE-SA model, it is the participants’ obligations to disclose identity of holders of potentially essential patents claims. The IEEE-SA then seeks the LoA (letter of assurance) from the the identified holders. The LoA is irrevocable once submitted and accepted.

Patent policies of many SDOs are said to be Reasonable and Nondiscriminatory terms (RAND) based, and rely on assurance, not disclosure. According to Dr. Epstein, the IEEE’s patent policy is modern and leading edge.

Synopsys makes good use of social media to connect with customers!

The IEEE, the world’s leading professional association for the advancement of technology, hosted a Global Standards at IEEE seminar in Bangalore, India, today at the Leela Palace Hotel, Bangalore.

As part of its program to reach out to global technologists, the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) offered this seminar as part of a full outreach program in India. Bringing together leaders from industry, the seminar focused on global standards development at the IEEE and collaborative efforts among organizations and industry. It covered an overview of the IEEE standards development process, including discussion of the IEEE-SA Corporate Program and the IEEE standards intellectual property rights policy.

One of the speakers, Karen Bartleson, Senior Director, Community Marketing, Synopsys and IEEE-SA Corporate Advisory Group member, had a presentation on IEEE Standards for Design Automation: Their Impact on an industry. I managed to catch up with Karen alongside the IEEE seminar. We discussed a host of things, such as Synopsys’ activities in the social media, its role in the IEEE and the University program.

One of Karen’s focus areas is the Synopsys standards program. The program is about ensuring the proper participation by Synopsys in the standards that its customers need.

She said: “We are involved in over 60 standards committees. We sit on the boards of several standard development organizations (SDOs). I am involved in four governing committees of the IEEE-SA. These are: Standards Board, Corporate Advisory Group, Procedures Committee (ProCom), and Audit Committee (AudCom) — they audit policies and procedures.”

Last year, Karen was a member of the New Standards Committee (NesCom). This committee approves of all the project authorization requests (PARs) made to the IEEE.

The IEEE 1800-2009 SystemVerilog standard has been recently approved. The new IEEE 1800 defines a single, comprehensive standard language that is designed to help boost the productivity of electronic system design and verification engineers and make possible broader and improved Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tools to more quickly bring complex system-on-chip (SoC) devices to market.

1800-2009 changes from the previous version: The most important enhancement was the assertion "checker" blocks that encapsulate assertions and their supporting code, providing a mechanism for defining assertion libraries, and letting designers add assertions without needing to learn SVA (SystemVerilog assertions).

Karen added that now the IEEE is preparing a new PAR to take this standard to the next level. In fact, participants contributed their proposals last Friday (Mar. 5). “That shows the vitality of the standard,” she added. All of this also shows the dynamic nature of EDA.

She also touched upon the IEEE 1801 standard, which is based on the Unified Power Format (UPF). It was ratified last year by the IEEE.

Synopsys’ university program
According to Karen Bartleson, Synopsys has a worldwide university program. She said: “We have approximately 1,000 universities globally under the program. We highlight is our rich curriculum. As we have actual course materials, etc., professors can start a brand new class or add to the existing or new material.” Synopsys’ goal is to prepare the next generation of engineers with hands-on experience.

The Indian university members in Synopsys' worldwide university program: In the 2009 annual site update, there were a total of 119 sites in India up from 77 in 2008. This includes one site for D’gipro, who has about 20 universities getting tools through them and who do not have individual sites of their own. Of the 119, a total of 38 are Tier 1. This doesn't include the ones who are joining the Seer/Synopsys program.

According to her, there are three aspects to build a global IT company. These are: a) A university system to train engineers; b) An industry — to hire graduates; and c) A government — that supports institutions and perhaps, provides incentives to the industry.

Synopsys currently works with some national governments, especially in places such as Armenia and Dubai — at the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA), which I happened to visit during the International Electronics Forum (IEF) 2008.

Focus on social media
To my pleasant surprise, social media is high on the agenda at Synopsys. Karen said: “We are discovering that social media can be an extremely powerful medium for connecting with customers. On the Synopsys website, we currently have blogs as well as some forums. We call it as G2G (geek-to-geek communications.”

Synopsys started “The Buzz” at DAC 2009. It started ‘Conversation Central’ — where Synopsys set up 27 sessions. Synopsys also did the ‘Twitter Tower.” A 16-foot pedestal was set up with several monitors — all of those were displaying the various tweets being made during DAC.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

What should the Indian semicon/electronics industry do now?

Borrowing a quote by one of my acquaintances on LinkedIn, as they say, “winners find solution to every problem, while losers find problem in every solution.” Let me attempt to find some solutions for the Indian semiconductor and electronics manufacturing industries and qualify (or highlight) myself as a winner (LoL)!

If you stepped back and took a long, hard look at the Indian semiconductor industry, things look really fine. Design services and embedded are thriving, as always. Lot of senior executives from the overseas industry keep visiting the country every now and then.

However, India lacks in manufacturing, especially, electronics manufacturing. And here, the absence of a fab is glaring! Okay, I know, it is perhaps too late to wish for one, but I am a dreamer. Can’t help it!

To one of my earlier blog posts titles Union budget 2010: Solar, UIDs all the way, there have been several interesting comments on LinkedIn. I’m taking some of those, here, and try and determine what should India do!

First, a friend commended the Government of India’s NSM and focus on solar, and correctly so. India needs solar and the initiatives are great steps in the right direction. According to his calculations: Consider how much energy a 100 W solar panel will generate over its lifetime:
* Rated capacity: 100W.
* Power generated (at 50 percent efficiency) = 50W (because of dusty environments in which our panels live in).
* Number of hours sunlight stays: average of six hours per day.
* Days with no cloud/smog etc: 200 a year.
* Power generated over 25 years: 50×6x200×25=1.5 million watts!!

He says that even if India can store the power and use the power with 50 percent efficiency it will still clear 750 KW of power over 25 years. Is that a bad return for Rs 15000 of initial investment? Quite right! India has taken all the right steps so far that will help it to go on and become a global solar power player in the future.

Yet another friend feels that after 2005, India has had several opportunities for investment in semiconductor manufacturing. However, by the time an investment package was finally put in place, a few had already gone over to China and then it was followed by the economic crisis. He added that investment into semiconductor manufacturing is in terms of a few billion dollars, and therefore, it requires a very reliable and robust infrastructure (mainly power and water) in place. Today, infrastructure is seen as the biggest risk. Again, very valid points.

Notwithstanding the great initiatives made in solar PV in India, the fact remains that it is NOT semiconductors, and can never will be! Even though some say that many of the equipment and processes used in semiconductors are also used in solar, not to mention the personnel and the industry players.

However, how will all of this help the Indian semiconductor industry? We are still at design services and embedded! There are some product development companies, as most saw at the recent ISA Technovation Awards 2010. However, much more needs to be done to really have India on the global semicon map.

Another acquaintance from the US feels we would need a lot of investment for a 22nm fab. It is like building steel! We need semiconductor as the basis for infrastructure. G7 has it. The government of India should have an organization like the MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry), Japan, [now, METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry). Semiconductor is used in every segment of the food chain. Now is the time to invest and make rapid progress in this field.

This is indeed, interesting! Will India ever have a METI? For that matter, how about having something like Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs?

I have my doubts as to whether a 22nm fab is even worth considering for India. First, India started rather late in its quest to build semicon ecosystem — by 16-17 years at least, and you may agree or disagree with my estimate. The best it can hope for is to focus on fabless and design services. Second, I’m not sure whether 22nm is the right node to target for, at least in India. India can and should have made some attempts — at least a decade ago, to develop 90nm and even 65nm space. I believe that the time is still not lost or gone!

Later, another friend, a Doctor in the solar/semicon field, said it takes a lot of investment to go to the 22nm node. Utilization of this technology is mostly for the memory market with a smaller subset in logic products with integrated memory (mostly NAND/NOR flash).

With so much glut in the memory market, ask yourself this question: does it make sense for the Indian semicon sector to go for billions of investment for a low pay back (memory) product? Or, would it make sense to implement slightly older technology with a roadmap to evolve to future ones, a la the 193nm node (Intel’s plan) migrating to 11nm node (it is not going to be a whole lot cheaper either). The answer is simple, since much of India’s IP and value addition is in the logic sector.

So what’s the solution for India? What should the Indian semiconductor industry do now?

The ISA Vision Summit 2010 saw some ambitious numbers being thrown up. India is said to be sitting on an electronics consumption opportunity worth $400 billion by 2020. During the Summit, the Karnataka Semicon Policy was announced, and along with it, a state target of $120 billion by 2020 was mentioned.

It is not going to be easy to achieve this target, nor is it going to be easy to achieve the so-called national target of $400 billion by 2020. At least, not with the present state of things. I sincerely hope that at least 50 percent of this is achieved, as it will really help the country make giant strides in semicon.

To achieve these goals, it would require more initiatives on part of the Union government, the state governments, etc., besides the industry and the industry association. Simply announcing a policy and then sit back and wait for things to happen may not help!

For instance, the announcement of the Karnataka Semicon Policy could have been accompanied with news about several other initiatives such as setting up of local plants, or even granting of land to companeis — something that was handled very well during the Solarcon Inida 2009 in Hyderabad last November.

For instance, Solarcon India 2009 saw an MoU signed between the Fraunhofer Institute of Solar Energy ISE and the University of Hyderabad Knowledge and Innovation Park (UoH KIP), in association with the (ISA. SolarCity’s logo was also unveiled and allottment letters were handed to four companies, and later, Moser Baer was allotted land. This is what I mean! All of these were very powerful messages being sent out to the world during Solarcon India 2009. Something similar, though not completely, was repeated at the ISA Vision Summit 2010, where Indian startups were recognized at Technovation Awards 2010. Again, a very powerful message!

So you see, I really don’t have to touch solar PV! It is a different segment altogether that needs all of our support. Post Solarcon India 2009 and the National Solar Mission (NSM), the initiatives will hopefully trigger off a very significant and ground breaking solar revolution in the country and make India a leading power in the segment.

Solutions for semiconductors and electronics manufacturing in India
Coming back to the solutions for semiconductors and electronics manufacturing in India — first, we definitely need to start developing our markets, focus on developing local products, concentrate on developing a local components ecosystem, nurture inland manufacturing, promote startups, and so on and so forth. Activities such as these will start to attract a few foundry players, I hope.

Now, how do we go about developing our markets? Well, a way could be to identify local problems and develop products built to address those problems — a fact mentioned time and again by several industry players. The difference: these products should be developed and manufactured by Indian companies that are into electronics manufacturing.

Here, we would need the support of fabs and foundries. Perhaps, a foundry like Dongbu HiTek, whom I recently met, could bring an ecosystem to India that could include silicon manufacturing, product testing services, failure analysis service, assembly services and sales channels for the Indian fabless companies. This would allow Indian companies to develop and market products for the global markets. I am sure that other smaller (and bigger) foundry players could do the same. But, they would all need a starting point, and we now need to provide some starting point for such foundry players.

Look, I am not supporting Dongbu here. I was simply lucky to meet up when the company visited India! It could easily have been any other foundry player. Well, I did meet Israel’s Tower Semi back in 2007! But I’ve not heard much about its India plans. Will I? I hope so.

I have also seen what Cre8 Ventures recently had to say regarding their plans to help develop product companies in India. If they come here, and do that, or at least, achieve some of that, it will be absolutely brilliant! India will definitely need more such ventures.

Recently, I heard a bit about National Instruments’ Planet NI Foundation, which desires to solve the world’s problem through engineering by providing access to technology. Planet NI is a unique approach to help the SME’s in India achieve economic prosperity through access to technology. India will deinitely need more of such foundations.

One more thought, can the Indian CEOs of MNCs based in India come together and try and do something, or even put together a plan for developing local products and markets? At least, the like minded Indian CEOs of such companies should definitely have a discussion and see what can be done. I am sure and hopeful that something can always be done!

Okay! Was I able to suggest solutions? Or, am I still stuck on the problems?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

FPGAs sizzle, thanks to Actel, Altera and Xilinx at Embedded World 2010!

Three major announcements, simultaneously, from Actel, Altera and Xilinx in quick succession, indicates that ‘all is well’ in the FPGA market. And it seems, the Embedded World Conference is playing a major role in all of these developments. Great!

Altera announced an industrial safety data package for automation applications at the Embedded World Exhibition and Conference in Nuremberg, Germany.

Then, Xilinx introduced the Xilinx automotive (XA) family of Spartan-6 field FPGAs optimized for applications requiring high-speed connectivity and high-resolution video performance. At the same conference, Xilinx and Inova Semiconductors introduced an Automotive Pixel Link (APIX) IP solution for the Xilinx automotive (XA) family of FPGAs.

World’s first intelligent mixed signal FPGA
The best one, I believe, has come from Actel. Also at the Embedded World 2010, Actel unveiled SmartFusion, the world’s first intelligent mixed signal FPGA.

Now, isn’t that interesting? There has been a lot of focus on analog/mixed-signal (AMS), and Actel’s SmartFusion could not have been timed better.

I recall a story I had done some time ago with Cosmic Circuits for the India Semiconductor Association’s (ISA) website. The company said that the AMS market in India is set to expand rapidly in the next several years — driven by consumer, communications, automotive and industrial. The variety of analog chips required and the complexity are no different from those needed in other regions of the world!

Why? About 18 months ago, when speaking with Synopsys regarding the Galaxy Custom Designer, I distinctly remember the company telling me that it improves AMS productivity!

As per information, Actel’s SmartFusion devices feature Actel’s proven FPGA fabric, a complete MCU subsystem built around a hard ARM Cortex-M3 processor and programmable analog blocks on a flash process. This means, embedded designers can now easily build the system they want, with all the features they need, on a single chip.

Wonder what’s taken the FPGA suppliers so long to come out with an intelligent mixed signal FPGA. Am sure, the others have things lined up as well!

By the way, I couldn’t find anything from Achronix! Maybe, something is on the way from this company as well!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Photonics rocks in India @ APW 2010, Cochin!

It was indeed a pleasure and an honour to attend the Annual Photonics Workshop (APW) 2010 at Cochin. Organized by the International School of Photonics (ISP) and Center for Excellence in Laser and Optoelectronic Sciences (CELOS), at the famed Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT). This has been my first interaction with India’s photonics community and students, and the experience has been worth the while.

The workshop was on a subject — Quantum Optics — that is quite far removed from what we would generally get to see in the IT industry. It was targeted at the young researchers and teachers in the various colleges, universities and other research institutions.

How often does one get to see demonstrations of experiments like quantum eraser, thermal lens based logic gates, and so on and so forth? Or for that matter, get to hear about quantum cryptography using quantum and classical optics? Needless to say, there is lot of exciting young talent in the country, especially in the areas of photonics, lasers and optoelectronics.

Corporates working in these areas would do well to join hands with CUSAT for the forthcoming workshops, and help give the workshop the stature it deserves.

Now, I will be writing about some of the happenings at APW 2010 on my blog that is hosted by in the US, and would request all of you to kindly visit that particular blog to know more!

On a personal note, I am extremely indebted to Prof. VPN Nampoori and Prof. P. Radhakrishnan at the International School of Photonics, Cochin, and to Dr. Reji Philip at the Raman Research Institute in Bangalore, for being instrumental in having me over for the APW-2010, and making it an enjoyable experience.

Special thanks to my friends, Priya Ramachandran and Mr Q, for their very warm hospitality!