Archive for April, 2010

Monterey Pop and Mookie

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

MookieLast week I wrote that the EDP Symposium in Monterey was going to be interesting on four different accounts. I was more right than I could have known.

First, it certainly proved to be unique. Having coffee before the first session on Wednesday morning, I got to meet Tom Williams of Synopsys, which was a real treat for me. You see, my first job out of college back in 1985 was to design a BIST system for a wafer-scale chip. Back then, there really were not any automated DFT or BIST tools, so I spent a lot of time reading IEEE papers and other publications written by Tom Williams (one of the inventors of LSSD at IBM) and other pioneers of DFT like Johnny LeBlanc (a buddy of Tom’s I found out). We shot the bull like old friends and reminisced about the early days of DFT

As it turned out, Dr. Williams gave the first presentation, which was sort of a keynote for the Symposium. Entitled “An Inconvenient Truth”, patterned after Al Gore’s Oscar winning documentary of the same name, Dr. Williams put forth some very convincing arguments that the end of scaling is very close at hand. The first reason is that leakage current increases ~10x for each 70 mv in Vt reduction. Even today, reductions in device size yield little to no power benefit. Combine that with the cost of moving to a new node and you can see that advances in process node will certainly slow down. The solution? Go 3-D. System-in-package techniques will be the next logic step to increasing density and lowering power, including optical interconnects. OK, nothing we haven’t heard before, but considering the source, it’s something to be aware of.

At lunch, David Stanasolovich, a GM at Intel, described some of the challenges in managing a data-center comprised of 70,000 servers. It was interesting to hear how they try to maintain > 80% CPU utilization while providing reasonable job queue wait times within a fixed budget. Intel uses > 100 tools in its design flow and completes almost 20 million compute jobs per week. Wow!

The early afternoon was dedicated to discussions of high performance computing and multi-core for EDA. Richard Goering had a very good writeup on these sessions, so check that out for more details. Let’s just say that there were some differences of opinion. In the end, I think the jury is still out as to whether EDA tools can really take full advantage of large scale multi-core parallelism.

Dinner was out on a restaurant on Monterey Bay and included a presentation by Andreas Kuehlmann who leads Cadence Berkeley labs. Rather than a dry, boring presentation, he looked at the wackier side of EDA and EDA benchmarks as well as the early pioneers of EDA. I’m still trying to figure out who was in the hot tub photo circa 1980.

Second, this definitely was a conference for EDA people and not for shmoozing customers. The coffee was bad and the continental breakfast provided calories and not much more. The room was small and the sound system didn’t work. Instead of freebie handouts such as backpacks we got a tiny pad of paper and a hotel pen to take notes. Don’t get me wrong … I’m not complaining. Indeed, it was exactly the kind of meeting I expected where content was more important than appearances. And if a customer came to hear some marketing pitch for a tool, he would have been shocked to hear developers openly discuss buggy software and even share ideas between competitors.

Third, moderating my sessions was much less of a big deal than I thought. The session, entitled “Moving to a Brave New World” included presentations from James Colgan of Xuropa, Cliff Sze of IBM, and Shameen Akhter of Intel. James of Xuropa described how Cloud Computing is being used for EDA and Intel seemed to take notice. Cliff described how IBM has held contests to develop new EDA algorithms and how they got such good results that they actually incorporated the new algorithms into their production tools. And Shameen described how research into the biology of the brain can be used to understand multi-processing systems better.

Fourth, my family did not end up coming on the trip after all. You see, my wife had a bad cold, so we decided it was best that she and the kids stay home rather than take a vacation while sick. I was very disappointed, but as it turns out, it was a blessing in disguise. The day I left, our dog Mookie became very ill all of a sudden and needed an emergency surgery to save his life. Had he been in the kennel, he might not be with us anymore. And that would have been very sad.

Indeed, an interesting few days that I will never forget.

harry the ASIC guy