Loyal readers fondly recall the first appearance in April of last year of an article in this writer’s EDA WEEKLY series that focused on a privately-held EDA enterprise, after five consecutive articles that preceded it had covered four public companies :
- Mentor Graphics MAD - Flomerics CFD Acquisition (Dec 07, 2009)
- Virage Logic - Electronics Intellectual Property (IP) (Dec 22, 2009)
- Agilent EEsof EDA I - Hi Frequency Design & Simulation (Feb 01, 2010)
- Altium Limited - Affordable PCB/FPGA/Embedded Software (Mar 01, 2010)
- Agilent EEsof EDA II - Hi Frequency Design & Simulation (Mar 29, 2010)
That first privately-held EDA enterprise was of course:
Most EDA afficiados quickly forgave the writer’s allusion to the 1950 movie All About Eve in the title of the April 26, 2010 EDA WEEKLY, when they realized that EVE (Emulation Verification Engineering) occupied a unique niche in the esoteric world of EDA Hardware/Software Co-Verification, ASIC Emulation, RTL Emulation, Hardware Emulation, ASIC Validation, ASIC Prototyping and FPGA Prototyping.
Readers may refresh their memories at any time by accessing last year’s article:
Indeed, when the writer recently spoke to the principal figure referenced in that article, Dr. Lauro Rizzatti, it was in connection with his willingness to participate on our ONE YEAR LATER program, wherein each enterprise featured last year has a chance to provide 500 words to update readers on that company’s progress after 12 months had passed.
However, given the frequent appearance of EVE in the industry news lately, plus the excellent progress technically and business-wise that EVE has made, the ONE YEAR LATER plan quickly evolved to a full article. Of course, the fact that the other two privately-held companies featured to date in these pages (Real Intent & Lynguent) had already garnered two articles... well, that fact had nothing to do with Lauro’s enthusiasm.
The writer caught up with the peripatetic Rizzatti recently in between Lauro’s flight from Japan to the SF Bay Area, followed only a few days later by another trans-oceanic flight to EVE HQ in Paris. Such frequent flying probably explains Dr. Rizzatti’s fascination with his “airplane analogy,” as we shall see in the sequel.
EDA WEEKLY: Lauro, the worldwide economy got back on the road to recovery in 2010 after what many experts are calling the “Great Recession” of 2008-09. How has your relatively young and relatively small company EVE performed during these trying years?
2010 was a heck of a year. As the world economy struggled to convince us that it was summoning the wherewithal for growth, EVE’s sales rocketed ahead by 50% year-to-year. That’s pretty heady stuff in the best of times. And yet, compared to 100% compound annual growth rates in the past, and on the heels of some tough times, perhaps it represents more of a sigh of relief than a lusty huzzah.
Piloting a small company to significance is not unlike piloting an airplane. You’ve got lots of ground prep before you can even think of going airborne. If everything is done right, you can then take to the air. And, given skills and, perhaps, some favorable conditions, you can streak skyward at a dizzying pace.
But if you try to take too much air at a time, the plane will ultimately refuse to cooperate, and your ascent will stall. Once this happens, it takes all the effort you can muster to get the plane back on a sustainable forward course and keep it from crashing earthward.
This pattern – prep, take-off, stall – is not uncommon to companies that grow more quickly than they can keep up with. Sometimes it’s a result of management pushing too hard; sometimes it’s the “good” problem of customers pulling too hard and the desire to fulfill that demand. The question is, what phase comes after “stall”?
EDA WEEKLY: Is that airplane analogy how you would describe EVE’s fortunes over the last few years?
Oui, EVE experienced just such a ride. At this point, we have the luxury of looking back at how it all happened. Of course, you already know the ending – we’re here to write about it from a position of restored growth in 2010 after a very challenging 2009. But it’s a chastening story that reminds us that past success entitles no one to continued good fortune. You can plan for when something goes wrong, but such plans can buckle when several things simultaneously go awry, not all of them within your control.
EDA WEEKLY: Why don’t you take us through the short history of EVE, using your airplane analogy if you like?
OK, let’s talk first about the Ground Prep. EVE was formed in 2000 by a group of R&D leaders that had worked for Meta Systems in France, a company that was purchased by Mentor Graphics in 1996. The departure of these engineers after 4 years at Mentor was not without some drama; it’s fair to say that it did not end with a happy handshake and godspeed, given the remarkable results achieved by that R&D team for Mentor at that time. They had developed what you might say was a state-of-the-art emulator called Celaro, which was really a hit in Europe and Japan in 1999/2000:
Much as the Big Bang has a lingering echo in the form of cosmic background radiation, the departure of the Meta engineers from Mentor was somewhat of a resentful event that may itself be echoing into the present.
EDA WEEKLY: OK. How did the ex-Meta guys get their new company up and running? Where? By the way, was it called EVE then?
Some of those engineers regrouped under the leadership of Luc Burgun, and Emulation Verification Engineering (EVE) was incorporated in Paris in April 2000. The initial mission of EVE was to offer emulation services and, in particular, to create custom transactors while laying the groundwork for an emulator product.
While it’s hard to grow a service business, the income from services helped fund product development. It – along with flexibility on the part of the team – let them bootstrap the company without seed investment.
EDA WEEKLY: Wait. Were you part of the new Company EVE at this point?
No, I was not. I already left Mentor in 1999 to join Synopsys in a marketing position in a small verification consulting group. Since 1996, at Mentor I had the role of technical marketing manager in their emulation division formed after the acquisition of Meta Systems. My 1999 departure from Mentor was motivated by the frustration of being prevented from performing my technical marketing tasks in the US. That was due to a litigation initiated by Mentor against Quickturn in 1996 that turned into an epic battle that lasted several years.
After a relatively short time at Synopsys, a startup by the name of Get2Chip really got my juices flowing. They offered me in Silicon Valley the opportunity to take on more and more marketing responsibilities, and they allowed me basically to “run my own show” for a year and a half as I wished.
It was not until the Spring of 2002 that Luc Burgun offered me a chance to join EVE and set up operations in the USA. EVE’s first emulation product was almost ready and they needed to launch the newborn system onto the market. My experience at Get2Chip turned out to be fundamental in getting me going.
EDA WEEKLY: EVE Paris already had a product by then? Had they even raised any outside funding yet?
No, they hadn’t. The first emulation product, called ZeBu-ZV – ZeBu stands for Zero-Bugs – had been funded entirely by the internal cash flow from services provided to customers by the EVE team.
Those were heroic days. In fact, for about a year after joining EVE I worked from home, converting my second bedroom into a temporary office. For the first 5 months I did not have a salary. My compensation was in the form of stock (this was also true for all the worldwide executives of EVE at the time).
By June of 2003, I was finally able to move the EVE-USA operations into a formal corporate office complex in downtown San Jose:
EDA WEEKLY: OK. Tell us the rest of the first product story.
The original team had made a number of key strategic and technical decisions during the product #1 development project.
The first critical decision was about how the emulator would be implemented. The standard approach of the day would have involved creating a custom ASIC with the necessary logic, routing, and observability/controllability resources for implementing, testing, and debugging complex logic.
But even then, and at the 180-nm node, the cost of doing an ASIC was daunting, and it was, practically speaking, out of the reach of such a small organization.
So the EVE team decided to adopt commercial programmable logic instead, taking advantage of the logic and routing resources already provided in large FPGAs.
The next big question we had to answer was which FPGA to use. Both Xilinx and Altera made (and make) large FPGAs that could handle the kinds of projects we were targeting. Altera had the edge in cost and size of device, but Xilinx had a key feature that ultimately gave Xilinx the edge, called “readback™.”
EDA WEEKLY: Please elaborate.
Both Altera and Xilinx have the capability of reading back the bitstream that configure the devices. This is critical for ascertaining that the devices have been programmed correctly. But Xilinx devices take this one step further: you can also get the state of each register in the device, providing complete observability on the state of the implemented system. Before the introduction of the Xilinx Virtex family in 1999, you had to read out the entire configuration bitstream to access the registers; since then, they have refined it such that you can read out selective chunks of the design state.
This capability provides any user of a Xilinx FPGA the ability to observe the internal state of his or her function at any point for verification or debug purposes. Such observation of a design is powerful, whether for a function destined to stay in the FPGA in production or for one that is developed in an FPGA for eventual implementation in a custom chip. This tipped the scales in Xilinx’s favor, and, since then, EVE has ridden the Virtex roadmap to develop successive families of emulators.
EDA WEEKLY: What else was different about EVE’s first system?
As we put our first system together, we made one other strategic technical decision that has proven to be of great value. An emulator needs two key functions that will vary according to the needs of the design being emulated. First is, of course, the design itself – the so-called “design under test” (DUT). But the DUT needs to communicate with a host computer, which may be simulating other portions of the design and/or the testbench. A specific interface standard, the SCE-MI interface, exists to facilitate this communication. And, to keep the system running quickly, the interface runs at the transaction level. This means that transactors must be provided in the emulator. Those transactors must run as quickly as possible, and will vary according to the DUT – or even the test – being implemented.
Traditional emulator design made available a lot of logic resource; that resource was used for both the DUT as well as for the interfacing logic and transactors. The clocking capability was determined by the combined effects of the design and the interface. Multiple clock domains are common today, but, in the early days, the needs of the DUT ended up compromising the speed at which the interface logic could run.
So we made a critical architectural innovation: we reserved a separate FPGA for the interface logic and transactors, calling it the Reconfigurable Testbench (RTB). This provided two critical advantages. First, regardless of the DUT clock speed, we could run the RTB at a very high clock frequency to ensure that communication with the host happened as quickly as possible, without being burdened by the design logic. In fact, in ZeBu-Server - our latest and sixth generation of the emulator – multiple RTB FPGAs can drive the same DUT increasing dramatically the communication speed between the testbench and the DUT to an incredible transfer rate of five million transactions-per-second.
EDA WEEKLY: You said there were two advantages?
Yes. Second, any changes to the testbench could be compiled into the RTB without having to recompile the entire DUT. We completely decoupled the testbench from the DUT, and the impact has been profound enough to form a critical piece of the fundamental architecture that EVE uses.
EDA WEEKLY: So the choice of the Xilinx FPGA over a custom chip, and decoupling the testbench from the DUT were two EVE innovations that no other competitors had at the time?
If we look at the emulation market, standard FPGAs powered the early implementations of the machines but lost their attraction in the late 90s in favor of custom chips. After few mergers and acquisitions, only two players have been active in the marketplace in the past decade: Cadence and Mentor. Both use custom silicon, although in rather different architectures. Cadence’s emulators use chips with vast arrays of simple Boolean processors; Mentor’s chip implements a custom FPGA.
This makes EVE the only emulation provider to use an off-the-shelf device like the Xilinx FPGA.
The decoupling of the testbench from the DUT has been coded in the SCE-MI standard, but the uniqueness of EVE is in the implementation of the decoupling via our RTB approach.
EDA WEEKLY: You know, I kinda miss your “airplane analogy.” Let’s talk about the next phase of EVE’s flight, “takeoff.”
OK. Our takeoff phase began when we started selling a product. Our first model was simple by today’s standards: two FPGAs for the DUT on a PCI card. Users did the partitioning of their design across the FPGAs by hand and used native FPGA tools to generate the bitstreams. The machine was small, it was simple, we could develop it with modest resources, and it addressed a price-point that wasn’t being served by the big emulator providers of the day. We launched the ZeBu-ZV at DATE, 4-8 March 2002, Paris, and signed our first deal that year with TI’s wireless group. The ZeBu-ZV could handle designs up to 1.5 million gates, clocked up to 12 MHz. Our message was, that you could generate your chip masks with Zero Bugs (ZeBu) by verifying the design using EVE’s new emulator card.
We followed up the first product’s takeoff with a €3 million funding round in 2003, our first outside funding, to build some upward thrust, helping us promote the current product and feeding the development of follow-on product.
EDA WEEKLY: And then?
The ZeBu-ZV caught the eye of a large (un-named) company that was interested in bundling up a number of them into a box, treating the whole box as a single emulator. This may sound like an obvious thing to do, but scaling the hardware like this requires one critical additional step, and it’s a big step. It was no longer reasonable to expect users to partition their design across the many FPGAs inside such a system: you need to provide a compiler.
But this company said that they’d handle the compiler themselves; all it needed was the hardware. So we built the hardware for them – indeed, a brand new chassis with entirely re-designed boards that we called ZeBu-XL.
And the customer was delighted.
Of course, as you might expect, EVE had arranged with this customer in advance, that EVE could commercialize the box itself. Which meant that we had to create our own compiler.
EDA WEEKLY: So, suddenly, EVE found itself entering into the software business!
Well, we had already done a small amount of software development in ZeBu-ZV when we did a run-time environment that was unique in supporting transaction-based co-emulation via our RTB technology.
But you’re right, the really intensive software effort at EVE began with the development of the compiler, an ongoing effort that continues to this day: we currently have about 10 software engineers for each hardware engineer (a ratio not unlike that of the rest of the systems industry).
The ZeBu-XL took our capacity up to 50 million gates, although clock speeds eased to 5 MHz as a result of the multi-board clocking burden. Our own commercial version of the ZeBu-XL was launched in April of 2004.
EDA WEEKLY: So you had achieved take-off, but then what?
Oui, our take-off was successful, but, to maintain climb, we engaged in two further fund-raising rounds, in 2004 and 2006, bringing our total to €14 million. While the original ZeBu products were based on the Xilinx Virtex II family, we took advantage of Virtex 4 to do another generation of products, following the original serendipitous model of having a card version and a box version of the emulator. ZeBu-UF was released in mid-2006, bringing the PCI card emulator to 6 million gates at a top speed of 20 MHz on smaller designs; the boxed version, ZeBu-XXL, was released at the end of the year, with 100 million gates at a top speed of 10 MHz on smaller designs.
EDA WEEKLY: Sounds like EVE continued to gain altitude?
Absolutely. Our sales were growing at a 100% compound annual growth rate. Such high rates of growth aren’t unheard of for small companies; after all, it’s easy to have a high number if the denominator is small.
EDA WEEKLY: And this is where you began to have flight problems?
Indeed. As you know, small companies have fewer resources, making it a challenge to meet all the demands that new customers make. And no one wants to turn down new customers – what if they don’t come back when you’re not so busy? So you try to do it all. And in all that clamor, no one notices the burbling at the wing, and people don’t hear the “stall alarm” over the cacophony of frenetic activity. And suddenly the climb is threatened.
EDA WEEKLY: And?
We ignored the warnings and kept flying. In November of 2007, Xilinx released its Virtex 5 family. At this point it was clear to everyone that our taking the FPGA route early on, had been the right decision. Since a 180-nm ASIC would have been out of our reach, a 65-nm version would have been unthinkable. Yet here we were now, taking advantage of early 65-nm technology in the form of the Virtex 5 LX330. Using FPGAs let us ride the leading edge of technology in a manner that would have been simply impossible using any other strategy.
We used this new Virtex family to drive a new generation of product. The PCIe-card version, ZeBu-Personal, would keep roughly the same amount of logic as its predecessor, while driving the speed up by 50%; it was launched in June of 2008.
While the board version was impressive, the box version was where the action was. We had started our little business by focusing where the big guys weren’t: smaller, lower-cost designs. And we had been successful there. Yet, as we gained the ability to emulate larger designs, we naturally started bumping into the kinds of designs that the big guys had owned up until then. We were entering the big time.
The ZeBu-XL box, being the first of its kind, had, of course, been a new design. The ZeBu-XXL was another new design, the original design not being scalable. But again, the XXL couldn’t be scaled to dramatically larger designs, and so yet another architecture was created, this time in a way that would accommodate growth over many generations. This means that we only need to revise the FPGA module with each new generation of FPGAs, and the box will naturally flow from that.
EDA WEEKLY: So the new product’s hardware was eminently successful...
Very. It let us leap forward to handle a billion gates at a top speed of 30 MHz on small designs. It was (and is) a big deal, and we had to let the world know. It would be a major announcement, and it had to be properly timed to be effective.
As the summer of 2009 approached, the new box was ready to go from a hardware standpoint; the software needed only “a couple more months to complete.” That would have put an announcement in the middle of summer, something no one wants to do. Also, no one wants to have a product ready to go, sitting on the shelf while waiting for summer to end and then making the announcement. So we decided to pre-announce before the summer started. This would put us on the map before people went on their summer vacations, and the system would be ready for purchase when they got back.
EDA WEEKLY: Oh no. This sounds like dangerous territory!
Yep! With great fanfare, we announced ZeBu-Server before the summer of 2009. And we got people’s attention.
In fact, we got too much of their attention. And the Osborne effect kicked in. The new box looked so good that people stopped ordering the old box. And the new box wasn’t yet available. This might not have been so painful if that had just coincided with the summer doldrums. But, instead of taking two months to finish the software, it took six months. So we were gripped by a sales gap of a half year.
EDA WEEKLY: Yep, when you become both a software and hardware supplier, it’s always a new ball game. But let’s not change analogies in mid-flight here. Assuming your collective love of the new hardware caused you to ignore the already deteriorating worldwide economy, what other things did you do that finally put the company in real jeopardy?
Well, based on the crazy growth rate we had been experiencing, we beefed up our sales team by tripling its size in just a few months. When you more than triple the size of a team, it’s extremely hard to train and prepare them and coordinate the activities in a manner that makes them successful. So, rather than launching our sales to new heights, we ended up floundering as we tried to smooth out our sales activities.
So we had a pre-announced product that killed much of our sales and we had a sales process that was broken. That’s two strikes.
EDA WEEKLY: The worldwide economy by then was in terrible shape.
Of course. The economy tanked. Strike three. In 2009, our overall sales dropped for the first time in our history, we went into the red, and we had to lay off more than 10 people. While a drop in the bucket, perhaps, compared to what was happening globally, it was, nonetheless, a big layoff for a company of our size. That means significantly fewer resources for execution, and it’s a bunch of real people that will no longer have an income. That’s when reality hits home. Fun and games are over, folks. Welcome to the real world.
EDA WEEKLY: But EVE airplane didn’t crash and burn. You recovered!
In retrospect, yes. But when you’re in the middle of a crisis, you have no idea when, how or if it will abate. This has been especially true of the current economic meltdown, since it hit hard at some of the very foundations of how things work in our world. When huge amounts of wealth vanish, when money stops flowing, when it seems like the whole world has suddenly realized it has overdrawn its checking account, it becomes very unclear as to what will emerge at the end.
For us, two of the plagues hitting us were of our doing or under our control: the ZeBu-Server pre-announcement and the sales team over-growth. The economy was, of course, completely out of our hands. So there we were, stalled out at the top of our climb, and we were pulling every lever and pushing every button we could to right things and make sure that we stayed aloft, understanding that we were also flying in turbulent air, and there was nothing we could do about that.
EDA WEEKLY: So you focused only on what you could change.
Exactly. We solved what we could. ZeBu-Server was finally finished and made available for purchase, and the sales flow picked up again. We went back to a smaller sales team, only this time we focused hard on making sure they had the training and resources they needed to be successful. We will undoubtedly need to grow this sales team, but now we know how to do it.
Meanwhile the economy has been inching back, and the world is gaining some renewed confidence that, even if some of the past practices weren’t a good idea, at least the entire system hasn’t been scuttled. This reinvigorates investment, and, as a result, 2010 gave us the 50% year-to-year sales boost after a sobering 2009. While perhaps more modest than 100%, it’s a validation that our fundamentals are sound, and that we are now on a firmer footing than we were before the crisis.
EDA WEEKLY: So, for now, the turbulence is at least manageable?
From this point, our roadmap is clear. We have been successful riding the Virtex wave, and, as before, the upcoming rounds of Virtex will enable yet higher capacity and speed. We have a real opportunity to take ownership of a significant piece of the emulation pie.
EDA WEEKLY: But at the moment, the press is full of news about legal issues.
Yes. Success comes with its own challenges. You can fly under the radar with impunity, but once you get high enough, you attract attention. And not all attention is good. Large companies have lots of resources, both for technology development and for legal teams. Twice now we’ve run into legal challenges. The first was back in 2006; we made a tough decision to settle, even though we felt we could have won on the merits of our case. But that would have taken a lot of money and would have distracted from running the business, so we let discretion be the better part of valor and settled.
Today, as if hearing the echoes of the early parting of ways, we again see ourselves being challenged – this time for using the Xilinx readback feature that any designer could have used any time for many years. The first attempt to have imports to Japan shut down failed; now it’s moved from the Customs House to the courts. We believe strongly in our position, and we will need to defend ourselves in a manner that doesn’t take away from daily operations.
EDA WEEKLY: Let’s put the legal challenges aside for the moment. What other issues are on EVE’s plate now?
We see nothing but opportunity as technology moves to and beyond the 28-nm node. With so many gates on a chip, simulation becomes impossible as a full functional verification strategy.
Designers will, of course, still simulate to validate their RTL at the block level, but simulation will simply not be able to keep up with the integration of those blocks into complex SoCs.
Formal verification provided by EDA players like Real Intent, Jasper, and Atrenta, will continue their market penetration, albeit not as replacement for functional verification, but as a complementary verification methodology.
Beyond simple hardware verification, a larger and larger share of chip functionality is being carried out by software. And that software needs to be verified. Not just to prove that the software itself is correct, but also to ensure that the software executes properly on the underlying hardware, and that performance is as desired.
If high-level architectural tuning is required – multicore balancing, cache sizes, context swapping churn, bus contention – all critical real-world parameters that are hard to simulate, it will be more and more important that real software be executed on a real implementation of the design while it can still be changed. Discovering a mismatch between software requirements and hardware platform after silicon is in hand is not an option. Emulation – or co-emulation, along with a virtual model on the host – is the only practical way to validate software/hardware interaction prior to silicon.
All of this means that we have a lot of work to do for as far ahead as we can see.
EDA WEEKLY: So what is your prognosis now for EVE, assuming the legal issues facing the Company go away? How does the flight look from here on out?
Well, here we are, at 20,000 feet and climbing. We are far from reaching our cruising altitude, and it’s not really a good idea to unfasten our seatbelts and order that complementary cognac. On the other hand, we’ve survived some significant clear-air turbulence, we’ve tightened up our operation, and visibility is good.
We anticipate an excellent flight for our team, our partners, and our customers.
EDA WEEKLY: Good for you; we wish you success from now on. And congratulations in sticking with the airplane analogy; I have come to really like it!
 Footnote: The first EDA Weekly in the current series was devoted to, “The Role of Business Planning,” appearing initially on November 9, 2009.
Loyal readers of the writer’s earliest efforts to produce EDA WEEKLIES in this series, will recall that when it came time about a year ago to do an article on Altium Limited, the writer still harbored hopes of a trip to Altium corporate headquarters, i.e. to Australia:
In fact, Altium's world headquarters are located on the 'upper north shore' in Belrose, Australia, only 17 miles and 40 minutes by car from the Sydney city center.
In as much as trips by this writer to each company HQ's were part of the necessary activity to score most of the interviews associated with his EDA Weeklies up to that time, (e.g. hot spots like San Jose, Fremont, and Santa Rosa, CA), fantasizing about a sojourn to Sydney certainly seemed in order. Until of course it was mentioned that Sydney was 7,420 air miles from San Francisco (or 14,166 miles through Hawaii and Japan to Australia by sea kayak).
Thereupon the writer re-focused his sights on a visit to Carlsbad, CA, the highly-desirable location of the Altium HQ for North America, and base for one Gerry Gaffney, who was to be one of the writer's main Altium interviewees in any case.
Known for its fine golf courses and seven miles of beaches, Carlsbad is a scenic coastal community located 35 miles north of San Diego (and only 465 miles by car (8 hours) from the writer's Albany CA office). Right on!
Of course the rest of the story is now old news. It turned out that
Gerry Gaffney actually resided in the San Francisco Bay Area and simply commuted to Carlsbad as needed. In fact, Gerry and his family had dwelled for the previous five years in Los Gatos CA, located in the southwestern corner of the SF South Bay:
Naturally, on Interview Day, Gerry was right here in the SF Bay Area. So much for the writer's fantasy of an exotic trip!
Nevertheless, the original interview with Gerry Gaffney went well, as did a separate interview with Bob Potock, who is Director of Technical Marketing for Altium. First appearing on March 01, 2010, the EDA WEEKLY entitled, “Altium Limited – Focus on the Americas” can be still be viewed at this URL:
Besides, at that time, the planned interviews with EVE still lay in the future, so visions of a visit to Palaiseau, France through Paris still danced in the writer’s head:
As we now know, those hopes were also dashed when the San Jose, CA office of EVE became the interview location.
Since then, visions of a trip to an exotic locale for an EDA WEEKLY interview have been thoroughly excised from the writer’s expectations.
ONE YEAR LATER
Thus it was that when the time came around for the ONE YEAR LATER observance of the original Altium article, the writer was content to remain in the SF Bay Area when Jeff Hardison of McClenahan Bruer Communications (Portland, Oregon) connected the writer to one Alan Smith, associate director of corporate communications of Altium Limited:
Keeping in mind that this interview occurred some months before its publication here, when Altium's total focus was still devoted to gearing up to launch Altium Designer 10, we begin:
EDA WEEKLY: Thank you Alan, for taking time out to talk with us as part of our EDA WEEKLY ONE YEAR LATER program. What is the theme that Altium is pursuing in its upcoming major software release?
Altium Designer 10 builds on the company's unified data model that continues to serve PCB, FPGA and embedded designers within the one application, but it asks a number of important questions of the board-level design software sector, and then sets out to answer them with Altium Designer 10.
EDA WEEKLY: Thank you. What are some of those questions, based on Altium’s 25 years of experience in the PCB business?
Well, here are two of them, as we see it:
1. How can we be surprised that managing design data has remained an intractable problem when it's complicated by expensive software bolted together in a fashion that the greater technology industry was challenging 10 years ago?
2. Are we not appalled that much electronics design software has not caught up with the needs of a cloud-connected future?
EDA WEEKLY: I heartily agree with the implications of question one. But I wonder about Question 2. Not many computer users in general are familiar yet with “cloud computing,” let alone PCB folks, who tend to adopt new technology more slowly and skeptically than, say, semiconductor folks. How does Altium define “Cloud Computing”?
Altium defines the cloud as the Internet giving remote access to more computing power and storage.
EDA WEEKLY: Some of the advance press about Altium Designer 10 implies a big change in how and when Altium will deliver software to future users. Can you clue us in on what is meant by that?
With a slight touch of delicious irony, Altium Designer 10 is likely to be Altium's last "major release" for a while. As part of a broader strategy of helping designers stay ahead of electronics design technology, devices and trends, Altium will deliver updates, new software and new design content continuously from Altium Designer 10 onwards, using a new subscription-based content management system.
The notion of waiting for "the next major release” that has conditioned the broader software sector almost since its inception, becomes less relevant in this approach.
EDA WEEKLY: Isn’t there another breakthrough that Altium has been pursuing in parallel to Altium Designer 10?
Yes. Altium has also been developing AltiumLive, a new web-based portal that will help connect people and devices. The company sees AltiumLive as the first step towards the much bigger objective of making designing for the “Internet of Things” a reality for as many designers as possible, and not just big companies. And we’re not just talking about designing smart phones and laptops; we’re talking designing industrial products as well, including small production runs.
EDA WEEKLY: We have heard that your recent acquisition is playing a significant role with AltiumLive?
Absolutly. AltiumLive has been deliberately built to deal with this evolving world that I spoke of just before. No one person knows the size of this connected future, despite the many predictions, but it is a future that most observers now accept as inevitable. And it is a world and a future in which Altium has staked a claim to play an active part. And yes, at the heart of this new ecosystem for professional electronics designers is the Morfik technology acquired by Altium in September 2010.
EDA WEEKLY: So as Altium Desigher 10 and AltiumLive are released in early 2011, the focus will still be PCB design?
Today, the combination of Altium Designer 10 (design software) and AltiumLive (an ecosystem for designers) may be seen in a seemingly-obvious context of PCB design, aimed at minimizing the trials and challenges faced by today’s PCB designers in simply being able to design a device and then get it manufactured as designed.
But this release is a precursor to the future in which designers will want to engage with manufacturers around the world through the Internet cloud, to share design data with partners through the cloud, and create their own ecosystems with their customers so that they can generate new business from product upgrades, and so on.
EDA WEEKLY: Thanks for your time, Alan, and good luck with this new release!
About the Writer:
Since 1996, Dr. Russ Henke has been and remains active as president of HENKE ASSOCIATES, a San Francisco Bay Area high-tech business & management consulting firm. The number of client companies for Henke Associates now numbers more than forty. During his corporate career, Henke operated sequentially on "both sides" of MCAE/MCAD and EDA, as a user and as a vendor. He's a veteran corporate executive from Cincinnati Milacron, SDRC, Schlumberger Applicon, Gould Electronics, ATP, and Mentor Graphics. Henke is a Fellow of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) and served on the SME International Board of Directors. Henke was also a board member of SDRC, PDA, ATP, and the MacNeal Schwendler Corporation, and he currently serves on the board of Stottler Henke Associates, Inc. Henke is also a member of the IEEE and a Life Fellow of ASME International. In April 2006, Dr. Henke received the 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award from the CAD Society, presented by CAD Society president Jeff Rowe at COFES2006 in Scottsdale, AZ. In February 2007, Henke became affiliated with Cyon Research's select group of experts on business and technology issues as a Senior Analyst. This Cyon Research connection aids and supplements Henke's ongoing, independent consulting practice (HENKE ASSOCIATES). Dr. Henke is also a contributing editor of the EDACafé EDA WEEKLY, and he has published EDA WEEKLY articles every four weeks since November 2009; URL's available.
Since May 2003 HENKE ASSOCIATES has also published a total of ninety-three (93) independent COMMENTARY articles on MCAD, PLM, EDA and Electronics IP on IBSystems' MCADCafé and EDACafé.
Further information on HENKE ASSOCIATES, and URL's for past Commentaries, are available at http://www.henkeassociates.net. March 31, 2011 will mark the 15th Anniversary of the founding of HENKE ASSOCIATES.
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-- Russ Henke, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.