SAN JOSE, Calif. – Call it the rumblings of re-verticalization in the electronics industry. Call it the Semiconductor Sandwich. Call it whatever you like, but semiconductor companies are experiencing a shakeout that’s altering the relationships between themselves, intellectual property (IP) providers, and system OEMs in astonishing ways.
Fellow Chris Rowen and I have
talked about this a few times this year. Last week, Kurt Shuler, VP of marketing at Arteris, articulated his version of the
story during a presentation at the Semico
Research IP Impact event here.
Gorillas in the midst
simple version of Shuler's argument is this: Companies including Google,
Facebook, Apple, eBay, Amazo,n and Microsoft are wielding enormous
silicon-design influence today. They're doing it because they can; they're
doing it because they have to. Their system needs are so tightly defined and
requirements for optimization are so unique that they've had to assemble huge
engineering teams to create customized or semi-custom designs.
either doing it themselves all the way to the foundry door, or their
engineering teams are attached to the hips of their silicon partners.
"The algorithms you
need to do web search are different than what you need to do e-commerce are
different than what you need to do social networking side."
addition, they're often responsible for vast server farms that must be
optimized for energy usage. In some cases, 3% of the power flowing into these
farms is used for useful data analysis, Shuler said. Referencing an Electronic Design article
by Cadence's Arif Khan and Osman Javed, Shuler added that often a third of it goes to
cool the system itself. That puts even more pressure on the design team.
"What big data
enterprise companies have is a heat dissipation problem. They are struggling to
figure out how can they make servers and routers do a better job of converting
power into something useful and not just heat."
the traditional silicon vendors are challenged to meet these custom or
semi-custom design requests within the confines of their traditional (and
non-custom) manufacturing models.
some cases, these system houses have bypassed silicon vendors and designed
their own chips, leveraging commercial IP such as ARM cores.
raises the level of fear, uncertainty, and doubt among silicon vendors.
in Shuler's slide nearby you can see how silicon vendors might be squeezed from cash-rich customers above and by IP vendors below (vendors who could bypass them
altogether to get designed in).
vendors are sandwiched. Between these guys who have tons of money to ... design
their own chips and these guys down there who are enabling anybody to build
for silicon vendors, it's not yet time to hit the panic button. That's because
some of these OEM/systems houses won't take on the cost risk of designing their
addition, the Googles, Facebooks, and Apples of the world represent a fraction
of the world's system OEMs-albeit they're very large and influential ones.
argues that silicon vendors need to:
- Understand where they
best fit on the design spectrum (from COTS to custom)
- Work farther upstream
(talking with a Comcast or AT&T) to understand market requirements
- Be flexible and focus on
The future of IP, EDA
does this mean for IP vendors? Huge opportunity. Today, IP vendors sit at one
end of the innovation food chain. While their value proposition includes design
flexibility, IP vendors can struggle with pricing because their semiconductor customers
can always threaten to design that particular block themselves.
in this brave new world for IP vendors include:
- Working upstream to
understand market and tech requirements better
- Re-engineering business
models to get licensed farther upstream
- Reconsidering licensing
The EDA play
then there's the consolidation angle. It's no fluke that EDA vendors have been
buying IP companies at a feverish pace in recent years.
technology not only adds a tool to the software sales belt; it facilitates a
conversation with customers farther upstream as well.
-- What Do Applications Dream About?
-- We Need to Move "Past EDA": Tensilica