Posts Tagged ‘Synopsys’

Dunbar’s Number and #48DAC

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

DAC Badges

My apologies for the recent hiatus in my blog posting. It’s been a difficult time personally for me the past few months, dealing with family illnesses. Hopefully, I can get it going again.

With all that I had going on, it was a relief to escape last week for a few days to DAC in San Diego. After several years attending as a blogger (what DAC calls “independent media”), it was exciting to be on the floor representing Xuropa at the Synopsys Cloud Partners Booth. I still got to see several friends like JL Gray, who wrote up what he heard from us, and Peggy Aycinena, who accused me of being a sellout since I was in the Synopsys Cloud booth and had a Synopsys badge lanyard. And of course, what DAC would be complete without Eric Thune of AtopTech telling me that cloud will never work for EDA. 

One of the downsides of being in the booth was not being able to attend a lot of the other sessions. I missed The Woz, and the Logan & McLellan show, and Gary Smith, and a lot of the panel discussions. I was, however, able to sneak away for the EDA Cloud Computing Panel discussion, featuring the usual suspects and a few new ones. A highlight was when John Bruggeman of Cadence offered to buy John Chilton of Synopsys a beer at the Denali Party and work out a joint Synopsys/Cadence solution on the cloud. No word yet how that turned out. Another highlight was the audience poll at the end where 1/3 of the audience felt that most of EDA would be on the cloud in 3 years. I don’t know if this is correct or not, but this is the 3rd year we had a cloud panel at DAC, and each year the expectations increase. Richard Goering has a good writeup on the panel.

One booth I did visit and get an interesting demo was Duolog. Duolog is a Xuropa customer (you can try out their tool here), which is why I knew a little about them going in. They have a tool called Socrates Bitwise that does register management for processor based designs. In this tool, you specify all the processor accessible registers, their type (RO, RW, etc), the locations (base and offset), and the tool automatically generates the RTL, verification code (OVM, UVM, etc), register package, C APIs and documentation. If something needs to change, you change it in one place in the tool and all the subsequent files are regernerated correct by construction. With many designs having hundreds or thousands of registers to manage, this is a growing problem to be solved. Duolog has a few competitors as well, but their biggest competition is in-house home-grown scripts.

Of course, there were my 150 closest friends I know from years gone by, too numerous to mention, lest I leave someone out. I’m reminded of Sean Murphy’s perfect description of DAC:

The emotional ambience at DAC is what you get when you pour the excitement of a high school science fair, the sense of the recurring wheel of life from the movie Groundhog Day, and the auld lang syne of a high school re-union, and hit frappe.”

An overall impression I, and many others, had was that the show floor was smaller and there were fewer attendees than in the past. The official preliminary numbers, however indicate that DAC was larger than last year, so I’m not sure whether to believe my eyes or the numbers.

For me personally, it was my annual chance to connect with the entire industry, so I got a lot out of it. At a minimum, it provided me with a lot of good ideas that I can work on for the next year.

harry the ASIC guy

Brian Bailey on Unconventional Blogging

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010


(Photo courtesy Ron Ploof

I had the pleasure yesterday of interviewing Brian Bailey in the Synopsys Conversation Central Stage at DAC. We discussed his roots in verification working with the initial developers of digital simulation tools and his blogging experiences these past few years. There are, of course, even a few comments on the difference between journalists and bloggers ;)

You can listen to this half hour interview at the Synopsys Blog Talk Radio site. I’d be interested in your comments on the show and the format as well. It was pretty fun, especially in front of a live audience.

At 12:30 PDT today, I’ll be doing another interview on Security Standards for the Cloud. You can tune in live on your computer or mobile device by going to the main Synopsys Blog Talk Radio Page. So, even if you’re not here at DAC, you can still partake.

harry the ASIC guy

Where in the DAC is harry the ASIC guy?

Friday, June 11th, 2010

dac_logo.pngLast year’s Design Automation Conference was kind of quiet and dull, muted by the impact of the global recession with low attendance and just not a lot of real interesting new developments. This year looks very different; I’m actually having to make some tough choices of what sessions to attend. And with all the recent acquisitions by Cadence and Synopsys, the landscape is changing all around, which will make for some interesting discussion.

I’ll be at the conference Monday through Wednesday. As a rule, I try to keep half of my schedule open for meeting up with friends and colleagues and for the unexpected. So if you want to chat, hopefully we can find some time. Here are the public events that I have lined up:


10:30 - 11:00 My good friend Ron Ploof will interviewing Peggy Aycinena on the Synopsys Conversation Central stage, so I can’t miss that. They both ask tough questions so that one may get chippy. (Or you can participate remotely live here)

11:30 - 12:00 I’ll be on that same Synopsys Conversation Central stage interviewing Verification Consultant and Blogger Extraordinaire Brian Bailey. Audience questions are encouraged, so please come and participate. (Or you can participate remotely live here)

3:00 - 4:00 I’ll be at the Atrenta 3D Blogfest at their booth. It should be an interesting interactive discussion and a good chance to learn about one of the 3 directions EDA is moving in.

6:00 - Cadence is having a Beer for Bloggers event but I’m not sure where. For the record, beer does not necessarily mean I’ll write good things. (This event was canceled since there is the Denali party that night).


8:30 - 10:15 For the 2nd straight year, a large fab, Global Foundries (last year it was TSMC) will be presenting their ideas on how the semiconductor design ecosystem should change From Contract to Collaboration: Delivering a New Approach to Foundry

10:30 - 12:00 I’ll be at a panel discussion on EDA Challenges and Options: Investing for the Future. Wally Rhines is the lead panelist so it should be interesting as well.

12:30 - 1:00 I’ll be back at the Synopsys Conversation Central stage interviewing James Wendorf (IEEE) and Jeff Green (McAfee) about standards for cloud computing security, one of the hot topics.


10:30 - 11:30 I’ll be at the Starbucks outside the convention floor with Xuropa and Sigasi. We’ll be giving out Belgian Chocolate and invitations to use the Sigasi-Xilinx lab on Xuropa.

2:00 - 4:00 James Colgan, CEO of Xuropa, and representatives from Amazon, Synopsys, Cadence, Berkeley and Altera will be on a panel discussion on Does IC Design have a Future In the Cloud?. You know what I think!

This is my plan. Things might change. I hope I run into some of you there.

harry the ASIC guy

DAC Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Friday, May 28th, 2010

About a week ago, I got an email from someone I know doing a story on how the Design Automation Conference has changed with respect to bloggers since the first EDA Bloggers Birds-of-a-Feather Session 2 years ago. I gave a thoughtful response and some of it ended up in the story, but I thought it would be nice to share my original full response with you.

Has your perception of the differences between bloggers and press changed since the first BOF?

Forget my perception; many of the press are now bloggers! I don’t mean that in a mean way and I understand that people losing their jobs is never a good thing. But I think the lines have blurred because we all find ourselves in similar positions now. It’s not just in EDA … many, if not most, journalists also have a blog that they write on the side.

Ultimately, I think either the traditional “press” or a blog is just a channel between someone with knowledge to people who want information they can trust. What determines trust is the reliability of the source. In thepast, the trust was endowed by the reputation of the publication. Now, weall have to earn that trust.

As for traditional investigative journalism (ala All the President’s Men) and reporting the facts (5 Ws), I think there is still a role for that, butmost readers are looking for insight, not jut the facts.

What do you think of DAC’s latest attempts to address these differences, e.g. Blog-sphere on the show floor, press room in the usual location?

Frankly, I’m not sure exactly what DAC is doing along these lines this year. Last year bloggers had very similar access as journalists to the press room and other facilities. It was nice to be able to find a quiet place to sit, but since most bloggers are not under deadline to file stories it is not as critical. Wireless technology is making a lot of this obsolete since we can pretty much work from anywhere. Still, having the snacks is nice :)

What does the future hold for blogging at DAC?

Two years ago, blogging was the “new thing” at DAC. Last year, blogging was mainstream and Twitter was the new thing. This year blogging will probably be old skool and there will be another “new thing”. For instance, I think we’re all aware and even involved in Synopsys’ radio show. This stuff moves so fast. So, I think the future at DAC is not so much for blogging, as it is for multiple channels of all kinds, controlled not only by “the media”, but also the vendors, independents, etc. Someone attending DAC will be able to use his wireless device to tap into many channels, some in real-time.

Next year, I predict that personalized and location aware services will be a bigger deal. When you come near a booth, you may get an invitation for a free demo or latte if your profile indicates you are a prospective customer. You’ll be able to hold up your device and see a “google goggles” like view of the show floor. You may even be able to tell who among your contacts is at the show and where they are. Who knows? It will be interesting.

harry the ASIC guy


Monday, March 15th, 2010

Simon Sinek Golden CircleThe other day, I was listening to John Wall interview Simon Sinek on the Marketing over Coffee Podcast. Simon Sinek is a marketing consultant and motivational speaker and has a book out entitled “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.” In addition to the podcast interview, I also came across the following presentation that Simon gave at a TedX conference a few months ago.

To make a long-story short, the key premise is that companies spend too much time marketing what they do and how they do it better than the other guy. This strategy may win you customers in the short-term, but only until the next guy comes along with a better offering.

Instead, Sinek contends that companies need to inspire customers by talking about why their company exists and how they intend to change the world. All people, and this includes customers, want to be inspired and to follow leaders with vision that matches theirs. Companies that can inspire effectively will gain loyal customers that will continue to buy even when a competitor offers a superior product at a lower cost.

Dell and HP and Gateway are busy telling us what they do, that they make computers that are higher speed, lower power, lower weight, better graphics, and lower in price than the competitor. And they can certainly sell computers in that manner … until a competitor beats them on one or more of these metrics. These companies are closing transactions, not gaining customers.

In contrast, Apple tells its story something like this: “we exist to challenge the status quo by making products that are elegant and easy to use”. To Apple’s customers, it doesn’t matter that PCs are less expensive or have longer battery life or support more software. Or that other smart phones can run multiple applications or have an open source OS or support a carrier with better 3G coverage. Or that other tablet computers have a camera or 3G or a phone built in. Apple’s customers are inspired by Apple’s story and will buy whatever Apple sells. Some call them blindly loyal, but who wouldn’t want to have customers like that.

There are lots of other examples. Nike inspires us to “just do it”. Harley Davidson inspires the Hell’s Angel in each of us. The Chicago Cubs prove that you can have an inferior product for a long time and still have the most loyal customers. (For the record, not a strategy I recommend). The Oakland Raiders, on the other hand, prove that loyalty doesn’t have to have a positive message, just one that inspires us.

And it’s not just about the customers. Employees can be inspired as well. An uninspired employee will leave if the pay is better or the commute is shorter or the work is more interesting elsewhere. An inspired employee will enthusiastically work longer hours for a lower salary just to be part of something special. And he won’t leave.

I admit that this idea is not really new. Seth Godin contends that people want to join Tribes and be led by leaders with vision. It’s really the same thing, put a little differently.

This seems to make sense in the business-to-consumer (B2C) market, but what about business-to-business (B2B). Can businesses really be inspired? Would they ever ignore their tradeoff charts, evaluation criteria, benchmarks, and ROI calculations and just go with their “gut feel”?

What about EDA? Clearly, this is an industry where marketing has been all about features and benefits. Has there ever been an EDA company that really inspired customers?

I may be a bit biased, but I think Synopsys was one of those companies when it first started out. As a Synopsys customer, I was inspired by the gospel of high-level design. So much so, that I got myself a job at Synopsys as an AE evangelizing the good news. (That’s really what we called it … evangelizing). To be part of a movement that changed the world (at least the EDA world) was exciting. It helped that we were small and close to the founders who had the original vision for the company. After all, we could carefully hire only those who shared our vision and would faithfully represent us to our customers.

But what about EDA today? Are there companies that inspire you, that you’d buy from even if their product is not the best? Does loyalty exist today anymore?

And if you run an EDA company, does your company inspire? Do you tell people why you exist, or just what you do? If it’s the latter, it might make sense to try the former.

Why not?

harry the ASIC guy

My Obligatory TOP 10 for 2009

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

2009 To 2010 / CC BY 2.0

What’s a blog without some sort of obligatory year end TOP 10 list?

So, without further ado, here is my list of the TOP 10 events, happenings, occurrences, observations that I will remember from 2009. This is my list, from my perspective, of what I will remember. Here goes:

  1. Verification Survey - Last February, as DVCon was approaching, I thought it would be interesting to post a quickie survey to see what verification languages and methodologies were being used. Naively, I did not realize to what extent the fans of the various camps would go to rig the results in their favor. Nonetheless, the results ended up very interesting and I learned a valuable lesson on how NOT to do a survery.
  2. DVCon SaaS and Cloud Computing EDA Roundtable - One of the highlights of the year was definitely the impromptu panel that I assembled during DVCon to discuss Software-as-a-Service and Cloud Computing for EDA tools. My thanks to the panel guests, James Colgan (CEO @ Xuropa), Jean Brouwers (Consultant to Xuropa),  Susan Peterson (Verification IP Marketing Manager @ Cadence), Jeremy Ralph (CEO @ PDTi), Bill Alexander (VP Marketing @ Blue Pearl Software), Bill Guthrie (VP Marketing @ Numetrics). Unfortunately, the audio recording of the event was not of high enough quality to post, but you can read about it from others at the following locations:

    > 3 separate blog posts from Joe Hupcey (1, 2, 3)

    > A nice mention from Peggy Aycinena

    > Numerous other articles and blog posts throughout the year that were set in motion, to some extent, by this roundtable

  3. Predictions to the contrary, Magma is NOT dead. Cadence was NOT sold. Oh, and EDA is NOT dead either.
  4. John Cooley IS Dead - OK, he’s NOT really dead. But this year was certainly a turning point for his influence in the EDA space. It started off with John’s desperate attempt at a Conversation Central session at DAC to tell bloggers that their blog sucks and convince them to just send him their thoughts. For those who took John up on his offer by sending their thoughts, they would have waited 4 months to see them finally posted by John in his December DAC Trip report. I had a good discussion on this topic with John earlier this year, which he asked me to keep “off the record”. Let’s just say, he just doesn’t get it and doesn’t want to get it.
  5. The Rise of the EDA Bloggers.
  6. FPGA Taking Center Stage - It started back in March when Gartner issued a report stated that there were 30 FPGA design starts for every ASIC start. That number seemed very high to me and to others, but that did not stop this 30:1 ratio from being quoted as fact in all sorts of FPGA marketing materials throughout the year. On the technical side, it was a year where the issues of verification of large FPGAs came front-and-center and where a lot of ASIC people started transitioning to FPGA.
  7. Engineers Looking For Work - This was one of the more unfortunate trends that I will remember from 2009 and hopefully 2010 will be better. Personally, I had difficulty finding work between projects. DAC this year seemed to be as much about finding work as finding tools. A good friend of mine spent about 4 months looking for work until he finally accepted a job at 30% less pay and with a 1.5 hour commute because he “has to pay the bills”. A lot of my former EDA sales and AE colleagues have been laid off. Some have been looking for the right position for over a year. Let’s hope 2010 is a better year.
  8. SaaS and Cloud Computing for EDA - A former colleague of mine, now a VP of Sales at one of the small but growing EDA companies, came up to me in the bar during DAC one evening and stammered some thoughts regarding my predictions of SaaS and Cloud Computing for EDA. “It will never happen”. He may be right and I may be a bit biased, but this year I think we started to see some of the beginnings of these technologies moving into EDA. On a personal note, I’m involved in one of those efforts at Xuropa. Look for more developments in 2010.
  9. Talk of New EDA Business Models - For years, EDA has bemoaned the fact that the EDA industry captures so little of the value ($5B) of the much larger semiconductor industry ($250B) that it enables. At the DAC Keynote, Fu-Chieh Hsu of TSMC tried to convince everyone that the solution for EDA is to become part of some large TSMC ecosystem in which TSMC would reward the EDA industry like some sort of charitable tax deduction. Others talked about EDA companies having more skin in the game with their customers and being compensated based on their ultimate product success. And of course there is the SaaS business model I’ve been talking about. We’ll see if 2010 brings any of these to fruition.
  10. The People I Got to Meet and the People Who Wanted to Meet Me- One of the great things about having a blog is that I got to meet so many interesting people that I would never have had an opportunity to even talk to. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with executives at Synopsys, Cadence, Mentor, Springsoft, GateRocket, Oasys, Numetrics, and a dozen other EDA companies. I’ve even had the chance to interview some of them. And all the fellow bloggers I’ve met and now realize how much they know. On the flip side, I’ve been approached by PR people, both independent and in-house. I was interviewed 3 separate times, once by email by Rick Jamison, once by Skype by Liz Massingill, and once live by Dee McCrorey. EETimes added my blog as a Trusted Source. For those who say that social media brings people together, I can certainly vouch for that.

harry the ASIC guy

Synopsys Synphony Synopsis

Monday, October 12th, 2009

sheet_music.jpgI was contacted a few weeks ago by Synopsys’ PR agency to see if I’d be interested in covering an upcoming product announcement. I usually ignore these “opportunities” since the information provided is usually carefully wordsmithed marketing gobbledygook and not enough for me to really form an opinion. However, it turned out that this announcement was on a subject I know a little bit about, so I took them up on their offer.

The announcement was “embargoed“, that is, I was not to make it public until today. Embargoes are a vestige of the days when traditional journalism ruled the roost and when PR departments thought they could control the timing of their message. I don’t think embargoes benefit companies anymore since news is reported at light speed (literally) and people will write what they want when they want. Still, I consider it a sort of gentleman’s agreement so I’m not writing about it until today.

I also waited a little bit until the “mainstream press” wrote their articles. That let’s me point you to the best of them and conserve the space here for my own views, rather that regurgitating the press release and nuts and bolts.

(Update: Here is a very good description of the Synphony flow from Ron Wilson).

Today, Synopsys announced a new product called Synphony High Level Synthesis. You can read about this here. Basically, Synopsys is introducing a high level synthesis (aka behavioral synthesis) product that takes as its input Matlab M-Code and produces RTL Code, a cycle accurate C-model, and a testbench for simulation. Since I have not used the tool, I cannot comment on the capabilities or the quality of results or compare it to other tools on the market. However, I have had some past experience with tools like Matlab (specifically SPW) and Synphony (specifically Behavioral Compiler). So, here are my thoughts, observations, opinions that come to mind.

  1. Synopsys, once the leader in behavioral synthesis, is now the follower - When Synopsys introduced Behavioral Compiler over a decade ago they were the first to preach the gospel of high-level synthesis and all the associated benefits. Architectural optimization. Faster simulation. Bridging the gap between system design and ASIC design. Smaller and easier to understand code. Dogs and cats living together. The promises never fully materialized and Synopsys seemingly moved out of the market. Meanwhile, Mentor introduced Catapult C, Cadence introduced C-to-Silicon, and several others including Forte, Agility, Bluespec, Synfora, ChipVision, and AutoESL introduced their own high-level synthesis tools. Now, after acquiring Synplify DSP through Synplicity, Synopsys is finally re-entering the market (at least for ASIC design) with Synphony. The hunted have become the hunters.
  2. Synphony takes M-code from Matlab as its only source - Whereas most (but not all) other high-level synthesis tools input C like languages, Synopsys has chosen to input M-code only, at least for now. According to Chris Eddington, who is Director of Product Marketing for System-Level Products at Synopsys (according to his LinkedIn profile), approximately 60% of those who say they do “high-level design” are using M-code or some form of C (ANSI C, C++, System-C) for some portion of their design activities. Of those, slightly more use the C variants than M-code, which means that somewhere close to 25% of all ASIC designers could be a possible market for this tool.
  3. Synopsys can try to leverage the Matlab installed base - As mentioned above, Synopsys estimates that 25% of high-level designers could use the Synphony tool which is a pretty big market. By targeting mainly algorithmic design, not control logic, Synopsys can try to serve the Matlab installed base with a more narrowly targeted offering which should make it easier to support. It also allows Synopsys to avoid a bloody battle over C dominance and to pursue a blue ocean strategy with Matlab’s installed base. Interestingly though, there is no partnership with MathWorks implied by this announcement.
  4. Synphony leverages existing IP libraries - Libraries already exist for many common functions that were available for the Synplify DSP tool. The library elements are available as well for Synphony, allowing the designer to specify his functionality using this library or using M-code as the source.
  5. An FPGA tool is being adapted for ASIC - This is probably one of the first times that a tool initially developed for FPGAs (Synplify DSP) is being adapted for ASICs. It’s usually the other way around (e.g. FPGA Compiler grew out of Design Compiler). It should be interesting to see if the FPGA tool can “cut-it” in the ASIC world.
  6. Ties to implementation are seemingly tenuous - A tool that can take M-code as its input and produce RTL and C and do all the other things is all fine and good. But for Synphony to become more than an experimentation tool, it has to produce results (speed, area, power) as good or better than hand-coded RTL. However, the ties to the implementation tool (Design Compiler) are not as direct as even Behavioral Compiler was a decade ago. It seems that Synphony takes an approach where it pre-compiles and estimates timing for various blocks (kind of like building DesignWare libraries), but it assembles the design outside of DesignCompiler without all the associated timing views and engines necessary for true design and timing closure. It’s hard to understand how this can reliably produce results that consistently meet timing, but perhaps there is something that I am not aware of?
  7. Focus on “algorithmic design”, not control - As mentioned above, Synopsys is going after the folks using Matlab. And those designers are developing algorithms, not state machines. In essence, Synphony can focus on the fairly straightforward problem of scheduling mathematical operations to hit throughput and latency goals and not deal with more complex control logic. Much simpler.
  8. Conversion from Floating Point to Fixed Point - Anyone who has designed a filter or any DSP function knows that the devil is in the details, specifically the details of fixed point bit width. One choice of bit width affects downstream choices. You have to decide whether to round or truncate and these decisions can introduce unexpected artifacts into your signal. Synphony converts the floating point Matlab model into a fixed point implementation. Supposedly, it then allows you to easily fiddle with the bit widths to tweak the performance. Some earlier Synopsys products did this (Cossap, System Studio) and it’s a nice feature that can save time. We’ll see how useful it really is over time.
  9. Synphony produces real RTL, as well as C-code and a testbench - One of the drawbacks of Behavioral Compiler is that it never produced a human readable form of RTL code. This made it hard to simulate and debug the RTL. Synphony supplies readable RTL (or so I am told) as well as cycle accurate C-code for system simulation and a testbench for block simulation. This should help facilitate full chip simulations for chip integration, since Synphony will probably only be used on blocks, not entire chips.
  10. Couldn’t Synopsys come up with a better reference than Toyon Research Corporation - No offense to Toyon, but they are hardly a household name. It makes me wonder how many partners Synopsys has engaged in this development and how well tested this flow is. Not saying it isn’t well tested, just that Synopsys is making me wonder. Gimme a name I’ve heard of, please.

Only time will tell if Synphony is truly music to our ears, or if it is just SYNthesis that is PHONY.

harry the ASIC guy

The Accidental Blogger

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

As a kid, I always dreamed of being interviewed after hitting the game winning homerun or jump shot or throwing the game winning touchdown pass. Well, at this point in my life, the likelihood of those dreams is pretty much zilch. But, fortunately, I’ve been able to achieve something almost as great. A one-hour interview on Dee McCrorey’s Big Dreamers! The Reinvent Success Show.

Dee McCrorey

So, after a full weekend of watching college football and then NFL football, and listening to those other guys getting interviewed after the game winning touchdowns, you can sit down at 6pm PDT, and unwind as Dee McCrorey, Risk Guru, Innovation Catalyst, and Business Coach asks me about my career from no-name engineer to “Harry the ASIC Guy”. You can always listen to the recording afterward if the time is inconvenient, but if you tune in live you can actually call into the show and ask questions, make comments, remind me of the $10 I borrowed for lunch and never gave back, whatever.

Honestly, I’m both flattered and embarrassed to have this opportunity. I met Dee just this past July at DAC in the Synopsys Conversation Central booth and we hit it off right away. Even after the sessions were over, Dee stayed and continued to ask questions trying to dig deeper and get at the core the topics we were discussing. She really has a desire to get to the essence of things which is a great asset for an interviewer, so I’m looking forward to some tough questions. She also has a thriving consulting business helping professionals reinvent their careers, both within corporations and individually, so I’m looking forward to working with her professionally as well.

For more information on the show, you can go here. I hope you can join me.

harry the ASIC guy

Who Ya Gonna Trust?

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Joe Isuzu - You Have My Word On ItOur summer has been pretty hectic and full of uncertainty, so we put off planning a short vacation until just this past weekend. We usually go up to Big Bear and stay at this one place that is dog friendly and has a pool for the kids and is close to town. We’ve stayed there 3 times before and have always been very happy.

This past Saturday morning, I Googled the name of the resort in order to get the web address when I noticed that there was a Trip Advisor listing for the place. So, I thought I’d check it out. Much to my surprise there was a slew of negative reviews. I dug a little further and found that many of these reviews were placed around the same date (since we had been there last) by people who only rated this one place and who had very similar complaints. These reviews seemed suspicious, but who knew, maybe some had merit. These could be legit or they could be someone posting them on the behalf of competing resorts to discredit their competitor.

As I surfed a little more, I found comments on some other pages indicating that this sort of negative posting on rating sites had become epidemic for Big Bear. Who knew that the lodging industry in this cozy little town in the mountains was so cutthroat? It’s a good example of a lose-lose strategy. Now I can’t trust any of the ratings!

In the end we ended up booking at a different resort, mostly due to other factors, but admittedly also due in part to the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) caused by these reviews.

On Sunday morning I came across an article  that describes how one PR firm allegedly hires interns “to trawl iTunes and other community forums posing as real users, and has them write positive reviews for their client’s applications.” Now, I knew that this sort of mischief happened, but I thought it was all amateurish behavior on the part of overzealous business owners and their fans. I did not realize it was an actual service one could select from a PR firm. How brazen!

On the other hand, maybe this article I read was actually secretly sponsored by a competing PR firm in order to discredit the PR firm being decried in the article. Who is to believe whom? Hmmm…..

Before you say that I am naïve about all this behavior, I’m not. The verification methodology survey I posted back in February was vandalized by VMM and OVM fans. And more than a year ago, someone copied a blog post of mine onto comp.lang.verilog for the sole purpose of posting in response a personal attack on my credibility. I’ve seen this stuff first hand.

A big part of the problem is anonymity and impunity. When someone uses a fictitious name and email address to post such a review as the one described above, we never know who that person is and he never suffers any consequences. After all, who is Vactioner287 after all? However, let’s say that one could only leave a comment by using his LinkedIn profile. I bet that would kill 99% of the issues right there.

(Actually, it would probably result in a proliferation of fictitious LinkedIn accounts, but then you could tell pretty well from those accounts that they are fakes since they’d be very bare. To some extent, like metastability, you can never totally get rid of the problem … you can only make it less likely.)

Most websites that accept reviews require registration. Although the hassle of registration deters some legitimate people from leaving legitimate comments, it also beneficially deters those with malicious intentions to a great degree. Almost all the online communities in EDA require some sort of registration, the Synopsys blogs being the only one that I can name that does not.

So, who ya gonna trust?

Personally, there are 3 types of people who I trust on the internet and they are as follows:

  1. People I already know and trust - These are people who I know personally. Maybe they are current or former colleagues or customers or suppliers or partners or friends. I have reason to trust them because I know them.
  2. People I’ve come to trust - These are people whom I have come to know through the internet who have demonstrated over a period of time that they are trustworthy. Maybe it’s a blogger who has proven to be right most of the time. Or whose advice rings true. Or who provides me with valuable information and insight. Hopefully, I am one of those people for you.
  3. People I’ve been told to trust by others I trust - This is where social capital and influence come into play. If someone I trust links to someone else, then I gain trust in that person to whom he is linking. If he’s on his blogroll. If he’s a guest blogger. If he’s written a book that is referred to. Not that everyone that is referenced is automatically trustworthy, but it helps.

If you were to look at my Google Reader and see who I subscribe to, they pretty much fall into the 3 categories above. That gives me plenty to read.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t help too much with the situation I originally described, because Vacationer287 doesn’t fall any of these categories. What do you do then? Ask yourself the following:

  1. Did he write anything else under this name or did he just join to post this one review. If the former, then he may be legit (you need to look at what they wrote). If the former, that’s suspicious.
  2. Did he use a real name? Vandals often hide behind fictitious and non-descript names.
  3. Does it pass the smell test? I can smell bad milk without a lab test and you can too. Does it all make sense or does some of the writeup just seem too good or bad to be true?

I don’t know if this post helps you or confuses you more. Probably, it confuses you because now you have to consider why and how you come to trust some people and not others on the internet. That’s good. From reconciling confusion comes understanding.

Trust me, you have my word on it.

harry the ASIC guy

DAC Theme #2 - “Oasys Frappe”

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Sean Murphy has the best one sentence description of DAC that I have ever read:

FrappeThe emotional ambience at DAC is what you get when you pour the excitement of a high school science fair, the sense of the recurring wheel of life from the movie Groundhog Day, and the auld lang syne of a high school re-union, and hit frappe.

That perfectly describes my visit with Oasys Design Systems at DAC.

Auld Lang Syne

When I joined Synopsys in June of 1992, the company had already gone public, but still felt like a startup. Logic synthesis was going mainstream, challenging schematic entry for market dominance. ASICs (they were actually called gate arrays back then) were heading towards 50K gates capacity using 0.35 uM technology. And we were aiming to change the world by knocking off Joe Costello’s Cadence as the #1 EDA company.

As I walked through the Oasys booth at DAC, I recognized familiar faces. A former Synopsys sales manager, now a sales consultant for Oasys. A former Synopsys AE, now managing business development for Oasys. And not to be forgotten, Joe Costello, ever the Synopsys nemesis, now an Oasys board member. Even the company’s tag line “the chip synthesis company” is a takeoff on Synopsys’ original tag line “the synthesis company”. It seemed like 1992 all over again … only 17 years later.

Groundhog Day

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray portrays Phil, a smug, self-centered, yet popular TV reporter who is consigned by the spirits of Groundhog Day to relive Feb 2nd over and over. After many tries, Phil is finally able to live a “perfect day” that pleases the spirits and he is able to move on, as a better person, to Feb 3rd.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve seen this movie before. In the synthesis market, there was Autologic on Groundhog Day #1. Then Ambit on Groundhod Day #2. Then Get2chip on Groundhod Day #3. Compass had a synthesis tool in there somewhere as well. (I’m sure Paul McLellan could tell me when that was.) None of these tools, some of which had significant initial performance advantages, were able to knock off Design Compiler as market leader. This Groundhog Day it’s Oasys’ turn. Will this be the day they finally “get it right”?

Science Fair

A good science fair project is part technology and part showmanship. Oasys had the showmanship with a pre-recorded 7-minute rock medley featuring “Bass ‘n’ Vocal Monster” Joe Costello, Sanjiv “Tropic Thunder” Kaul, and Paul “Van Halen” Besouw. Does anyone know if this has been posted on Youtube yet?

On the technology side, I had one main mission at the Oasys booth … to find out enough about the RealTime Designer product to make my own judgment whether it was “too good to be true”. In order to do this, I needed to get a better explanation of the algorithms working on “under-the-hood”, which I was able to get from founder Paul van Besouw.

For the demo, Paul ran on a Dell laptop with a 2.2 GHz Core Duo processor, although he claims that only 1 CPU was used. The demo design was a 1.6M instance design based on multiple instantiations of the open source Sparc T1 processor. The target technology was the open source 45nm Nangate library. Parts of the design flow ran in real time as we spoke about the tool, but unfortunately we did not run through the entire chip synthesis on his laptop in the 30 minutes I was there, so I cannot confirm the actual performance of the tool. Bummer.

Paul did describe, though, in some detail, the methods that enable their tool to achieve such fast turnaround time and high capacity. For some context, you need to go back in time to the origins and evolution of logic synthesis.

At 0.35 uM, gate delays were 80%+ of the path delay and the relatively small wire delays could be estimated accurately enough using statistical wire load models. At 0.25 uM, wire delays grew as a percentage of the path delay. The Synopsys Floorplan Manager tool allowed front-end designers to create custom wire load models from an initial floorplan. This helped maintain some accuracy for a while, but eventually was also too inaccurate. At 180 nM and 130 nM, Physical Compiler (now part of IC Compiler) came along to do actual cell placement and estimate wire lengths based on a global route. At 90 nM and 65 nM came DC-Topographic and DC-Graphical, further addressing the issues of wire delay accuracy and also layout congestion.

These approaches seem to work well, but certain drawbacks are starting to appear:

  1. Much of the initial logic optimization takes place prior to placement, so the real delays (now heavily dependent on placement) are not available yet.
  2. The capacity is limited because the logic optimization problem scales faster than order(n). Although Synopsys has come out with methods to address the turnaround time issue, such as automatic chip synthesis, these approaches amount to not much more than divide and conquer (i.e.budget and compile).
  3. The placement developed by the front-end synthesis tool (e.g. DC-Topographic) is not passed on to the place and route tool. As a result, once you place the design again in the place and route tool, the timing has changed.

According to Paul van Besouw, Oasys decided to take an approach they call “place first”. That is, rather than spend a lot of cycles in logic optimization before even getting to placement, they do an initial placement of the design as soon as possible so they are working with real interconnect delays from the start. Because of this approach, RealTime Designer can get to meaningful optimizations almost immediately in the first stage of optimization.

A second key strategy according to van Besouw is the RTL partitioning which chops the design up into RTL blocks that are floorplaned and placed on the chip. The partitions are fluid, sometimes splitting apart, sometimes merging with other partitions during the optimization process as the design demands. The RTL can be revisited and changed for a new structure during the optimization as well. Since the RTL partitions are higher-level than gates, the number of design objects in much fewer, leading to faster runtime with lower memory foot print according to van Besouw. Exactly how Oasys does the RTL partitioning and optimizations is the “secret sauce”, so don’t expect to hear a lot of detail.

Besides this initial RTL optimization and placement, there are 2 more phases of synthesis in which the design is further optimized and refined to a legal placement. That final placement can be taken into any place and route tool and give you better results than the starting point netlist from another tool, says van Besouw.

In summary, Oasys claims that they achieve faster turnaround time and higher capacity by using a higher level of abstraction (RTL vs. gate). They claim that they can achieve a better starting point for and timing correlation with place and route because they use actual placement from the start and feed that placement on to the place and route tool. And the better placement also runs faster because it converges faster.

What Does Harry Think?

Given the description that I got from Oasys at DAC, I am now convinced that it is “plausible” that Oasys can do what they claim. Although gory detail is still missing, the technical approach described above sounds exactly right, almost obvious when you think about it. Add to that the advantage of starting from scratch with modern coding languages and methods and not being tied to a 20 year old code base, and you can achieve quite a bit of improvement.

However, until I see the actual tool running for myself in a neutral environment on a variety of designs and able to demonstrate faster timing closure through the place and route flow, I remain a skeptic. I’m not saying it is not real, just that I need to see it.

There are several pieces of the solution that were not addressed adequately, in my opinion:

  1. Clock tree synthesis - How can you claim to have a netlist and placement optimized to meet timing until you have a clock tree with its unique slew and skew. CTS is not address in this solution. (To be fair, it’s not addressed directly in Design Compiler either).
  2. A robust interface to the backend - Oasys has no backend tools in-house, which means that the work they have done integrating with 3rd party place and route has been at customer sites, either by them or by the customer. How robust could those flows be unless they have the tools in-house (and join the respective partner programs).
  3. Bells and whistles - RealTime designer can support multi-voltage, but not multi-mode optimization. Support for low power design is not complete. What about UPF? CPF? All of these are important in a real flow and it is not clear what support Oasys has.
  4. Tapeouts - This is probably the key question. For as long as EDA has existed, tapeouts have been the gold standards by which to evaluate a tool and its adoption. When I asked Paul if there are any tapeouts to date, he said “probably”. That seems odd to me. He should know.

However, if Oasys can address these issues, this might actually be the game changer that gets us out of the Groundhog Day rut and onto a new day.

harry the ASIC guy