Monday, January 31, 2011

What’s happening with Karnataka semicon policy?

What’s happening with the Indian semiconductor industry? Rather, what’s happening with the Karnataka semicon policy?

I was rather surprised to receive an invite to an event held last Friday at the Lalit Ashok Hotel in Bangalore.

First, I did not make it to the event! However, one finds that the India Semiconductor Association (ISA) has organized an event, along with the Government of Karnataka, and that too in early 2011!

Excuse me, what is the Government of Karnataka doing in 2011 with a policy, which it is itself responsible for placing late! Okay, even if it is doing something, or well, trying to do something, why not in 2010 itself, especially when the Karnataka semicon policy was announced!

Now, the focus of the policy is:
a) Retain its edge in design by attracting fresh investments and expansion by existing companies within the state.
b) Attract manufacturing related investments by focusing on three key activities.
I. Promote Karnataka as a semiconductor design hub.
II. Attract investments in high-tech semiconductor manufacturing.
III. Promote generation and use of green energy, specifically, solar energy.
IV. Focus on manpower development.

All of this is fine! It is very well known and quite clear to the Indian semiconductor industry as to what’s required to be done in Karnataka.

Unless, the government of Karnataka found out that there have been no takers for the state semicon policy so far!

It seems to be the latter case!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Time to stop agonising; 2011 will be a strong year!

This is a summary by Malcolm Penn, CEO, Future Horizons. For those who wish to know more, please get in touch with me.

November’s WSTS results were distorted by a billion dollar downgrade (restatement) to the year-to-date numbers. These things do happen from time to time, but one of this size quite rare.

The overall impact was to reduce the year to date market by around half a percent; not so bad per se but, due to its leverage, it reduced the overall year-on-year market growth by a couple of percentage points!

As a result we have downgraded our 2010 forecast to (a still very reasonable) 30 percent. This falls into the category of ‘tweaking the final number’ though … it is not a change to our underlying forecast sentiment or outlook.

Re-statements aside, what then for the outlook for 2011?

Looking at our four horsemen of the semiconductor apocalypse:

1. Economy – grew ~4.8 percent in 2010 (IMF) and is forecast to grow 4.2 percent in 2011.
2. Capacity – effectively sold out; with Cap Ex spending now flat and the book-to-bill below parity.
3. ASPs – have been increasing now since Q2-2009 … six quarters in a row.
4. IC units – are in a ‘steady as you go’ mode with NO excess inventory and NO excess capacity to build any.

In short, whereas this time last year the problem was getting any orders, the problem today is getting semiconductor product. The chip market fundamentals really do not get any better than this, yet industry pessimism it at its highest since the Lehman Brothers collapse.

What concerns us is the industry perception that moving from a 30 percent growth year to single digits in 2011 heralds yet another classic chip market boom turned to bust. It does not.

The same is true everywhere you now look in the food chain … few people or firms will commit anything to any one beyond the immediate deal; business is now turn’s driven, not for strategic long-term vision or gain.

The current Mexican standoff in the 450mm wafer transition debacle is another industry supply chain mismanagement example, with the chip industry saying ‘yes please’ and the equipment suppliers saying ‘no thanks’. Yet where is the SIA and SEMI in this debate? Siding with their members rather than orchestrating a solution.

Likewise, who in the infrastructure is counting and measuring real industry demand? The WSTS in its (lack of) wisdom stopped publishing orders, and the associated book-to bill, data several years ago, despite the latter being one of the key original measurement tools when the system was created under the directionof data visionary Jack Beadle (then with Motorola).

Needless to say it was dropped for all the wrong reasons … to try to keep the financial community offindustry’s backs. As a result, the industry now has no structured order visibility!

Entering 2011 we thus see the industry fundamentals in especially good shape, a fact that can clearly be seen if you redraw the graphs to take out the ‘data crash’ caused by the Lehman Brothers collapse.

* Continuing Cap Ex famine, despite 2010’s 140 percent Cap Ex spending growth.
* Falling Cap Ex book to bill (since August 2010) now less than 1 (December).
* Six successive quarters of flat industry capacity, cruising well below excess capacity threshold levels.
* Supply-chain mismanagement; no trust, no confidence, no commitment … no business?
* Shortages everywhere … from substrates (e.g. 200mm wafers), equipment (try buying an immersion stepper or single wafer epi reactor), to lead frames (especially given the desire to move from gold to copper-based packaging).
* Industrial and automotive products now completely sold out … even memories are starting to get tight.

Do not be misled by the single digit growth number … 2011 will be a very strong year for the chip industry. 2012 will be a double-digit boom.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Introducing SemiWiki — knowledge repository for semicon design and manufacturing!

Friends, it is my pleasure to introduce SemiWiki, a website connected with the global semiconductor industry, a creation of my good friend, Daniel Nenni, otherwise, a renowned blogger on semiconductors and an industry expert!

SemiWiki is projected as a “knowledge repository for semiconductor design and manufacturing, facilitating peer-to-peer communications using Web 2.0 technologies.”

Indeed, it is a site, who’s time has come! As per the site, the SemiWiki project is a cloud based social media platform. It enables mass collaboration using Web 2.0 technologies — such as blogs, forums and wikis — to enable new channels of communication within the semiconductor design ecosystem.

Be careful though — there is REAL user based content and REAL TIME feedback! Don’t be lulled into thinking that some of the content and some (if not, more) of those users are fictitious! In other words, the SemiWiki is a great example of REAL social media having finally come to EDA, semiconductor, IP and foundries!!

I just stopped by the SemiWiki. The site really looks cool! There is a definite attempt to bring the industry together!

There seems to be a problem, or is it due to the newness of the site — the vendor map somehow opens on a page that asks you to sign up. Perhaps, Daniel Nenni should look into this at the earliest. The more content is freely available, the more will be its usage. Of course, the companies involved should look at paying some amount, if possible, and help the site and the owner.

It would be better if the SemiWiki is available in some (or several) languages — since English is not the spoken language in the East and Far East region. There seems to be more of American/English slant as of now! Maybe, that too will change, as SemiWiki progresses.

One post immediately caught my eye — ‘SemiWiki top influencers get Android tablets”! Man, what do I do to get hold of one (is Daniel listening? ;) )?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Novel software architecture for multi-core SoCs

According to Patrick Maccartee, director of product management and James Ready, CTO, Monta Vista, Monta Vista virtualization can be realized. The benefits to developers are clear in terms of lowered complexity, flexibility in development, high performance, first Linux configured for dataplane performance.

These were the conclusions from the seminar, where I was an invited audience, on Beyond Virtualization: The MontaVista Approach to Multi-core SoC Resource Allocation and Control.

Use cases for virtualization in the IT world include server consolidation, underutilization, management of numerous OSs and dependant applications.

Hardware considerations include very uniform server hardware platforms, especially, I/O, and an extensive processor support for virtualization. There also exists a huge uniform market for virtualization, with numerous successful companies of very large scale.

Embedded is different yet again. Embedded devices are already highly optimized, especially, in terms of size, power consumption, CPU utilization, etc. No layer of software makes a processor go faster. So far, it is not a big market.

Also, multi-core does not automatically mean either RTOS for data plane, hypervisors/virtualization and multiple OSs. In this scenario, what’s useful for embedded virtualization? The answer is MontaVista virtualization architecture

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What's with attack toolkits and malicious websites?

What do you do with attack toolkits and malicious websites? Well, nothing much, unless you are attacked! And then, you run around, trying to restore your lost website!

According to Shantanu Ghosh, VP, India Product Operations, Symantec, attack kits are more accessible, relatively easy to use, and are being utilized much more widely. They are also driving faster proliferation of attacks. The profitability of attack kits has attracted criminals who would otherwise lack the technical expertise for cybercrime, fueling the growth of a self-sustaining, profitable, and increasingly organized global underground economy. These are the key findings from Symantec.

Attack kits allow unskilled attackers to enter the market with sophisticated tools. Attack kits feature easy to use icon-driven GUIs that include checkboxes and pull down menus. Centralized administrative interfaces provide easy access to various toolkit functions. Also, the increasing sophistication and “user-friendly” features is further evidence of the increasing organization and profitability of the underground economy.

Ease of use
Statistics and information on compromised hosts can be gathered for further use. Tasks can now easily be done with a few clicks of the mouse.Complex exploits are simplified for the toolkit user.

Increased utilization
Toolkits account for nearly two-thirds of all threat activity on malicious websites. As kits become more robust and easier to use, this number will likely climb

Faster proliferation of attacks
New exploits are quickly incorporated into kits. This allows newer attacks to proliferate rapidly so they are seen by more users soon after release. A single attack kit installed on a popular website can exploit a large number of users in a short period of time.

Toolkits are relatively easy to find for purchase through simple Web searches. Advertisements can be found on the underground economy and web forums. Both creators and users of kits profit from them. Creators profit by selling the kits while users profit through information theft.

Malicious web pages
During this reporting period, Symantec observed more than 310,000 unique domains that were found to be malicious. On average, this resulted in the detection of more than 4.4 million malicious Web pages per month.

Attack frequency
Frequency of attacks rises when new exploits are released, then declines over time. As new kits become well known, sites hosting them are shut down faster and more often.

Malicious websites by search terms
Here are the categories of search terms that led to malicious websites. Blackhat search engine optimization is often used to lead users to malicious sites through searches.Source: Symantec.

The Symantec Report on Attack Toolkits and Malicious Websites, developed by the company’s Security Technology and Response (STAR) organization, is an in-depth analysis of attack toolkits.

The report includes an overview of these kits as well as attack methods, kit types, notable attacks and attack kit evolution. It also includes a discussion of attack kit features, traffic generation and attack kit activity.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Congrats TSMC, for raising R&D spend! But, what about Indian firms?

Congratulations to TSMC for making it to the top 10 R&D spenders during 2010! If you look at the IC Insights' table (see here), you'd understand what I am referring to!

First the table itself. It has no major surprises, barring TSMC, which again is not really a surprise. As IC Insights itself says, "The industry is increasingly dependent on the success (and hopefully not, failure) of the foundries to continue advancing their IC manufacturing capabilities."Source: IC Insights, USA.

TSMC has jumped up from 19th to the 10th place in the latest R&D spend. IC Insights expects that TSMC’s R&D spending in 2011 will grow another 20 percent, putting its budget over $1.1 billion for the year.

Otherwise, the top 9 in the list consist of Intel, Samsung, ST, Renesas, Broadcom, Toshiba, Qualcomm, TI and AMD — all big, strong players. However, TSMC, is the only foundry in that list, at the 10th spot.

Now, all of this makes great reading! Everyone connected with the global semiconductor industry is very well aware of TSMC’s strengths and capabilities.

The more TSMC grows in stature, the more will its capabilities grow. A lot of firms have already exited the manufacturing industry, leaving all that to the likes of TSMC and others, and some more are due soon.

However, I am thoroughly disappointed by some folks who touch upon India missing out on the R&D story. More of that in a bit!

First, where is the R&D strength of Indian semicon firms? There are firms, based outside the country, managed by Indians, who seem to look down on the country. I even received an email from a gentleman, which says: ‘Without semiconductors, India cannot gain technological advantage. Semiconductor should be funded by the defense budget.” I am appalled!

Well, we are trying, aren’t we? There are names that come to the mind — Procsys, Ittiam, SoftJin, eInfochips, MindTree, and so on! Yes, I know they aren’t exactly world beaters. But hey, they are all doing their own thing reasonably well!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

AnXplorer: New generation analog and RF circuit optimization

Analog and RF design is rapidly growing. Risk of respin remains high with predominantly manual design process.

AnXplorer from AgO can automate key manual optimization and simulation activities. High performance optimizer produces designs meeting objectives and constraints. Benefits include design team productivity, yield improvement, as well as reduced respins.

Design methodology has changed little over the years. Manual, iterative design with many SPICE runs are common. In the AgO design methodology, AnXplorer automates device resizing and SPICE runs.

AnXplorer uses industry standard inputs, which are compatible with existing design flows. It generates optimized and centred netlist that meets or exceeds objectives.

It works with existing environments. Supported simulators include Cadence Spectre, Synopsys HSpice, Legend Design Technology MSim and Mentor Eldo. It also provides multi-threading support. AgO’s AnXplorer uses Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 OS.

Why the need?
Do remember that analog and RF ICs are everywhere. Analog and RF circuits are key to many systems. Analog/mixed-signal is also growing at 13 percent CAGR. Besides, analog design is expensive.

Analog circuits account for~2 percent of total transistor count, account for 20 percent of total IC area and 40 percent of total design effort. In fact, it is responsible for 50 percent of design respins. It requires specialist skills. Now, analog designers are in short supply. Design automation for analog lags that for digital design. Tasks are said to be labour intensive.

Analog design further deteriorate in smaller process nodes. For instance, costs of an analog design increase with finer geometries. Design cost per IC cited as going from ~$4 million with 0.18µm to ~$46 million with 65nm (Source: Jim Hogan, “Escape from analog Alcatraz”, DAC 2006 Interoperability Breakfast).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New apps in semicon — smart grid and secure transactions

Happy new year and welcome to my blog.

Let’s start this year by looking at René Penning de Vries, senior VP and CTO of NXP, who spoke this morning at ISA’s CXO Conclave, titled New Applications in Semiconductors (Smart Grid & Secure Transactions) – Role semiconductors play to make our society a better place!

Dr. René Penning de Vries touched upon the role semiconductors play in two of the societal mega-trends: energy and security. In 21st century, IC industry has gone from business driven to society driven and semiconductors play key role in solving problems like energy shortage and security threat. In essence, semiconductors make our lives better.

The first part of this talk touched upon “smart grid”, it’s applications, and associated semiconductor innovations in AMS domain. The second part covered “secure transactions”, innovation, and transition in this domain from “IC hardware focus” to “HW-OS-Apps holistic”. Rene illustrated with real-life NFC example from the recent Google-NXP collaboration.

According to Rene, the IC industry is being driven from business to consumer, and now, to society. Some of the well known areas where ICs are being used today include health and wellness, transport and mobility, security and safety, energy and environment, communication and e-society.

Some of the key macro drivers in electronics include:
Energy efficiency: Includes efficient power conversion and low stand-by power, energy-saving lighting and back-lighting, energy conservation through demand side management, electric/lighter vehicles, and intelligent traffic management.

Connected mobile devices: Includes proliferation of mobile data usage, wireless infra build-out, smart mobile devices: always-on, multimedia, location-based, connected car, many broadcast and connectivity standards, and new user interfaces (e.g., touch, joystick).

Security: Includes secure mobile transactions and secure identity, authentication, tagging and tracking, car and home access, security and remote diagnostics, and radar and (body) scanning installations.

Health: Includes personal healthcare and portable emergency devices, connected hearing aids and implantable devices, car safety and comfort, and electronic diagnostics.

Key application areas include:
Wireless infrastructure: Wireless base stations, satellite, CATV infrastructure and radar.

Lighting: Lighting, LED, backlighting.

Industrial: Smart metering, white goods and home appliances, Pachinko, medical, industrial and ATE.

Mobile: Mobile handset, portable power supplies and hearing aids.

Automotive: Car access and immobilizers, in vehicle networking, car entertainment, telematics, ABS, transmission and throttle control, and lighting.

Identification: Secure identity, secure transactions, tagging and authentication.

Consumerr: TV, satellite, cable, terrestrial and IP set-top boxes, and satellite outdoor units.

Computing: Monitor, power supplies, personal computer TV.