August 04, 2008
Tensilica and Customizable Processors
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Jack Horgan - Contributing Editor

by Jack Horgan - Contributing Editor
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According to Wikipedia the name Tensilica comes from a combination of the word tensile, meaning capable of being extended, and the word silicon.

Tensilica has two main product lines of 32-bit processor cores for SOC design: the Diamond Standard processors and the configurable and extensible Xtensa processors. The Diamond Standard processors are a set of off-the-shelf synthesizable cores that range from area-efficient, low-power controllers to an audio processor, a high-performance DSP, and a video processor. Xtensa processors are synthesizable processors that are configurable and extensible. Using Xtensa technology, the system designer molds the processor to fit the application by selecting and configuring predefined elements of the architecture. Additionally, designers can optimize the processor by inventing completely new instructions and hardware execution units that can deliver performance levels orders of magnitude faster than alternative solutions.

In interviewing EDA personel a common theme is that it is fairly easy to sell a solution that is plug compatible with a prospect’s existing design flow and that offers demonstrable and substantial improvements in execution speed, capacity and/or quality of results. A simulator offering 5x speed improvement would be a classic example. An improvement of 2X in speed is generally insufficient to generate much excitement. It is much more difficult to sell a product that requires a change in design flow or methodology regardless of the benefits that may be claimed by the vendor. It is also difficlut to prove to a prospect that they can achive the tauted benefits. It is not as simple as running a benchmark. In the case of Tensilica it is eaiser to convince prospects to purchase the off-the-shelf Diamond Standard processors rather than the configurable and extensible Xtensa processors. In fact the former are used to gain credibility with prospects and help persuade the prospects to purchase the more capable Xtensa processors.

I had an opportunity to discuss the situation with Jack Guedj, the newly (July 16th) appointed CEO at Tensilica

Jack, this is Jack.
Jack, this is Jack
This is going to be confusing.

How do you pronounce your last name (Guedj)?
Gage. It is interesting. Over the weekend I saw someone who has the same type of name but spells it Gaige. I am guessing some other people have the same type of name but it is just a case of different spellings.

Is your real name Jack?
That’s my middle name.

My name (Jack) is a nickname. A lot of people called Jack are really Johns.
Mine is Jacques. I am originally French.

I noticed that on the Tensilica website. Perhaps we could begin with a brief biography.
Sure. Before Tensilica I was running Magnum Semiconductor. Magnum is a spin out from Cirrus Logic. I started with Cirrus and then we spun Magnum out, raised $24 million and took the group private out of Cirrus which is still focusing on mixed signal products. There are no more digital products at Cirrus. Then last year (June or July 2007) we acquired the consumer products group of LSI Logic which was largely the old C3 company that LSI acquired a few years back. Prior to Magnum and Cirrus I was with TVIA, a company making streaming video processors for broadband set-top boxes and digital TV. That was the era of the Internet everywhere. But at the time the Internet was too slow. So it was hard for consumers to use that in their living rooms. We were into set-top boxes for GI and Microsoft. GI which is now Motorola; Microsoft set-top boxes, MSTV, as well as a number of digital TVs like Sony and Mitsubishi. We took Magnum public in August 2000. This was one of the last company to go public at that time. We raised $65 million in an IPO which was five times oversubscribed.

Prior to TVIA I was with Faroudja and National Semiconductor. I don’t know if you are familiar with Faroudja. They were making all the high end video boxes. At that time most of the world was in standard definition. Those boxes were converting standard definition into high definition. Faroudja is now part of Genesis Microchip Inc in their display processor division.

At National I was directing residential broadband and consumer market segments. There was a very interesting thing that Gil Amelio did after he put National back on its feet financially. National had been losing tons of money. He stabilized the company. National had a bunch of product lines. They were all operating, doing what they should do which is to focus on their own product lines and their own market segments but there were too many of them. So he created a superstructure on top of the product lines to create business plans that would tap the different product expertise the company had. The only way he thought about changing their behavior was to drive their R&D investment based out of this strategic market segments, to just pick a few of them and make a total play. That was very interesting because we recovered some relationships. At Motorola it took six to nine months to do that because of past bad history. We were able to install Sub23 which National had and TI was buying 270 million Sub23 at that time. That was one avenue. It turned out that several designs for other applications that had been done were a perfect fit for that set-top box. We had RF products, memory products, specialized products, .. It was really working well as an overall system play.

Prior to National most of my career was more involved with broadband communication starting with TI where I was involved with the broadband communication sector. That was in France. Also at TRW with RF devices where we were doing track amplifiers for cable TV as well as power amplifiers. We did the first TV airflow system Gigabit Logic which merged with Triquint going Gallium Arsenide and high speed communication. At that time I was fairly involved with the then fledging fiber channel SSCI channel standard.

You have advanced degrees in electronics from the University of Paris. How, when and why did you transition from the technical side to the operational side?
I have an engineering degree. I just saw a movie which portrayed the lives of Pierre and Marie Curie. The engineering school where I studied was where radioactivity was discovered. It was pretty interesting. I did a doctorate at the University of Paris. But I would say that I had an eye to be a generalist in business rather than having a technical career. While most people selected the school of Physics and Chemistry because of its very good research program, I selected it because it gave me an overview of many fields. I thought that it would help me in the business world later on. If you look at semiconductors, you have these fields including software, semiconductor design and semiconductor physics and processors. If you can span your knowledge at a broad level, I thought that it could help me. While studying physics and chemistry I started a club as part of the National Chamber of Finance. We started with a couple of people and grew that to close to a hundred people. This was a funnel for the national association. They were able to have people who would join that organization later on. That was done in conjunction with a lot of business schools in France.

One more thing. The reason I came over to the US, what basically drove me to take a one way ticket was to get my MBA at UCLA was because a lot of business theories come from US schools. That is where I wanted to get first hand information.

Editor: Some people know from the moment of their conception what profession or career they wish to pursue. A fraction of these people achieve their goal. Many simply change their mind over time. Changing majors and therefore career choices is a well established college tradition. Some are impacted by personal issues such as health or finance that disqualify them or make it very difficult to follow their desired career path. Some are impacted by external circumstances. Many an aeronautical engineer was forced to abondon their chosen profession when diaster befell NASA. The economy can wreek havoc on a career.

Jack Guedj’s planned to be a business executive in high tech and choose what for an American would be a highly unusual path towards that end, namely a doctorate in electronics by studying physics and chemistry at a prestidous French engineering school before earning an MBA at UCLA.

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-- Jack Horgan, Contributing Editor.


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