ARM CTO Mike Muller's keynote followed, a lively, creative romp through the last 25 years of microelectronics. Muller offered 4 truths to live by: 1) Formal proving, 2) Hardware guys cannot be trusted, 3) Systems dominate, 4) Every answer is 0.1 or many. Before he was done, we learned the world is becoming strange, Amdahl's Law is bogus, and software as a service, plus multicore, is great news for hardware designers, but not so great for the software guys. Anytime someone like Muller - rife with personality and a sense of humor - takes the stage, everybody should be in attendance. At DATE, it looks like they were.
A more serious and technically complex keynote was offered up by CNRS' Joseph Sifakis, a 2007 ACM Turing Award winner. Sifakis parsed his topic, Scientific Challenges in Embedded System Design, into Reactivity, Autonomy, Dependability, Functionality, Granularity, and Cost. By the end of the talk, the world knew it has its work cut out. Operating systems are too undependable and too complex. System architecture needs to be simplified, with improved observability. Thread-based programming must be the new paradigm, while constructability and predictability must become the norm. Sifakis's message was not an optimistic one. Too many problems, too few brains to solve them.
Oh well, off to the Exhibition Theater for some lighter fare. Nani De Micheli moderated "Consolidation, a Moor of Venice Tale," a discussion with Synopsys' Anton Domic, STMicro's Marco Montaiti, ARM's Mike Muller, and Mentor Graphics' Joe Sawicki, which cast the conflict between adopting new tools or sticking with tried-and-true EDA vendors as an Othello-like tragi/comedy of epic proportions.
ARM's Muller said the cost of infidelity is high. But ST's Montaiti said most EDA suppliers cannot offer a complete tool suite, while De Micheli said it could all be resolved with better standards. It fell to Domic and Sawicki to declare the EDA industry is not complacent. Per Sawicki, "We are still bringing young people into this market!" Per Sawicki, "We are sponsoring significant innovation!" So there!
Tuesday at DATE closed with another Exhibition Theater discussion, "Open Source Hardware IP," moderated by Sun Microsystems' Shrenik Mehta, currently Chair of Accellera. Mehta's company has just been purchased by Oracle, an interesting development for those who follow the Open Source community, MySQL in particular. That topic was not on the table during Mehta's panel, but skepticism was. The audience clearly was not fully on-board with the concepts and implications of Open Source. No matter that the professors on the panel, University of Arizona's Vazgen Melikyan, University of Texas' Jacob Abraham, and Europractice's John McLean attested to the usefulness of Sun's open source OpenSPARC architecture as a teaching tool.
Before leaving the Convention Center on Tuesday, I did pop in at the back of the room to hear OSCI President Mike Meredith addressing a packed house about developments and updates in SystemC. Although, I did not stay for the session, it was clear that the European design community is very committed to system-level design as a paradigm, and SystemC as the language of that paradigm.
Wednesday's focus at DATE for me was the late-morning panel in the Hermes Theater that I moderated debating the pros and cons of vertically integrated organizations versus a disaggregated industry of multiple players. Panelists included Wipro's Denis Audoly, TSMC's Chris Longchampt, Virage Logic's Yankin Tanurhan, and Mentor Graphics' Wally Rhines. Clearly, these people all have vested interests in a highly disaggregated industry, where IP providers, fabless houses, EDA vendors, and third-party foundries can provide products and services through partnering and/or competing with fellow companies in their various niches.
For the sake of argument, I chose to defend vertical integration, where everything from IP to tools and manufacturing data is readily available up and down the organization. Although I was playing devil's advocate with that stance, after reconsidering the discussion during the panel, I think there actually is lots to be said for the coordination and cooperation that exists within a vertically integrated whole. The fact that TSMC is beginning to wield so much power back up into the design flow adds to my conclusion that integration is a natural outcome.
Meanwhile, Rhines vigorously defended the historical swings, integration to disaggregation and back again, and said they were the natural outcome of disruptive technologies. Tanurhan said the IP industry has matured to the point that IP is no longer suspect, even if provided by a third-party vendor. Audoly said external providers of IP and services optimize investments for all involved. Longchampt said it's all about partnerships and resource management. I still say I'm not convinced. This disaggregation thing still looks like messy stuff, albeit it's the real world. A top-down approach only lasts for so long.
The next session for me was Engineering & Technology's Chris Edward's Exhibition Theater panel evaluating the move to 65 nanometers. Per Rainer Kaese, Toshiba's focus is 65 nanometers for digital RF designs, and 130 nanometers for analog/mixed-signal designs. They've skipped 90 nanometers. Trevor Robinson, of Desix Technology, said the incremental performance improvements between single nodes have not been motivating, hence skipping nodes has become the norm. EDA Tech Forum's Paul Dempsey posed a question from the audience, "To what extent does your progress through nodes reflect influence from your manufacturing partner?" SIDSA's Fernando Barberio said, yes there is influence. Trevor Robinson agreed: "We are intimately tied to choices suggested by foundries." Rainer Kaese added that Toshiba is only able to offer a variety of flows to customers at mature process nodes. Otherwise, the foundry partners do indeed influence the choice of flows.
[ Editor's note: My coverage of Chris Edward's panel first appeared in real time on Twitter. Thanks to Chip Design's John Blyler for encouraging me to jump onto the Twitter Train.]
[ Additional note: I was disappointed to have missed a session in the Exhibition Theater on Wednesday at DATE, moderated by Gary Smith. Initially, I thought Gary's panel was not in the printed conference material, hence my oversight. Later I saw the panel was in the program, but listed after the Friday workshops. Way too confusing for the average conference warrior!]
The next session in the Exhibition Theater was hosted by SAME, the Sophia-Antipolis MicroElectronics Association of southern France. Jacques-Oliver Piednoir, President of SAME, favorably compared the technical excellence and business opportunities for design houses choosing to pursue operations in Sophia-Antipolis with opportunities in India, China, or Silicon Valley. His argument: If you do not utilize quality design personnel, whatever savings you may realize in salary in less-expensive labor markets, you will lose in multiple re-spins of faulty designs. Per Piednoir, "First time silicon success is a key part of success for your company." Clearly SAME believes they make a compelling argument for companies to relocate to Sophia-Antipolis.
Closing out Wednesday, I attended a late-afternoon session on Health Care Electronics and heard two talks, Bart Volckaerts from the Cochlear Technology Center speaking about cochlear implants, and one on brain implants for deep brain stimulation as a treatment for Parkinson and other neural-type afflictions, this second work being done at IMEC.
Both systems have been developed with a recognition that the human body is not an ideal location for conventional electronics. Electronic devices want a dry environment; biological systems need fluids to succeed. Physiology and physics, ergonomics and social implications, not to mention governmental oversight of invasive technologies, all play a role in the R&D in these two research areas. Although this session was the last of the day on Wednesday, the room was packed, with people paying close attention to all of the details and asking many questions. Clearly, there is no complacency in the population engaged in pushing the envelope in health care electronics.