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ISA Vision Summit 2009: Growing influence of embedded software on hardware world

March 7, 2009 Comments off

This session on day 1 of the recently held ISA Vision Summit had a good mix of speakers. Moderated by Anil Gupta, managing director, ARM India, the speakers included V.R. Venkatesh, Senior Vice President, Product Engineering Services, Wipro Technologies, Kishor Patil, MD & CEO, KPIT Cummins, and Raju Pudota, MD, Denali Software. This is a slightly longer blog post, so bear with me, friends.

The pic here shows Wipro’s Venkatesh making a point, watched by Raju Pudota, Amil Gupta and Kishor Patil.

Kicking off the panel discussion, ARM’s Anil Gupta highlighted the strength of the Indian embedded software industry. As per IDC, embedded software accounts for 81 percent of the projected share of overall revenues in 2008, at $5.98 billion. This will go up to $7.29 billion, while still accounting for 81 percent of the projected share of overall revenues in 2009. The projected share of the overall workforce in this industry segment stands at 82 percent — at 125,663 — which will be maintained during 2009, even as this figure rises to 149,978! Quite impressive!!

Incidentally, a recruiter recently requested information on the workforce numbers in the Indian semiconductor industry. I hope this partly answers your question, friend.

Gupta further added that embedded design had now entered several sectors such as automotive, aerospace and defense, consumer and home products, household appliances, industrial controls, infrastructure and construction, medical electronics, transportation and traffic management, security and telecom. In short, a bright future for this segment ensured, especially in India.

Trends in embedded design include: more demand for features, embedded is driving complexity, and prices have been generally constant/going down. As a result, all of the innovation happening has been giving new experience to the consumers.

Wipro’s V.R. Venkatesh cited the example of medical devices, which are adding functions via embedded software. He presented the case of an efficient infusion pump, which ensures that the five rights of medication safety — right person, right dose, right medicine, right time, and right way — are never violated!

Another example cited was of adding functions in mobile devices. Such mobile devices are making use more dual core chip solutions to run multimedia and MIPS intensive apps on a separate applications processor. They use open operating systems (OS) such as Symbian, Linux, etc., and also have built in sensors, such as motion sensors.

Consequently, usability is now becoming the focus, rather than pure user interface of the mobile. On the impact of software complexity, he said that OSs and middleware are now becoming more complex to enable quicker and easy to develop mobile applications, and also develop complex mobile application with the right API support. He also cited new advances in automotive telematics and navigation. These are implemented through complex software and demanding more hardware features.

Challenges in developing embedded software
However, increasing embedded software has also brought its own challenges. Today, the share of software is ~50 percent of the total cost of development.

Some of the challenges while developing embedded software include multiple regulations; split personality: display (local and remote), compute and communicate; UI; low-power design, application specific accelerators; wireless as de facto connectivity; integrated sensors and geospatiality for enhanced applications; built for untrusted environments (security, virtualization); and integration with service providers and enterprise systems.

Hardware and software in an embedded system are complimentary to each other. Software (middleware and applications) should be used as a ‘Differentiator’ to add more winning features to any new product, he added. There is a need for a platform approach for embedded software development to enable scaling of features and usage across applications. Finally, developers need to keep the cost vs. functions vs. efficiency tradeoff in mind.

Embedded systems landscape trends
KPIT Cummins’ Kishor Patil touched upon the growing need of convergence for hardware and software. According to him, the key driving forces are:
* Low cost and high performance;
* Low power and green;
* Maximum storage and least area/cost;
* Development: Faster TAT (turnaround time);
* Mechanical centric => electronics centric; and
* High value and low cost.

Trends in hardware include silicon shrink at 0.7x, technology challenges at 45nm and below, and business challenges — high volumes for amortizing high mask costs.

Commenting on the embedded systems landscape: market trends and implications, he cited these to be: electronics and applications emerging as distinctive factors; increased electronics in automobiles (~100 MCUs/ECUs per car); silicon shrinkage reaching its limit w.r.t. geometry and costs; and enhancing system performance with the same hardware.

Content growth has been quite notable in automotive electronics. According to Patil, in 2000, an average automobile had 1 million lines of code, 20 ECUs, electronics worth $400, and software constituted 2 percent of the cost of the car. By 2010, an average car will have 100 million lines of code, 50 ECUs, electronics worth $1,100 and software cost at 13 percent of the cost of a car. Of this, 50 percent will be infotainment and 30 percent will be power train.

Impact on stakeholders
So what is the impact on the stakeholders? For OEMs, tier 1s, and semicon companies, it brings new business opportunities, and application specific solutions — common/configurable hardware differentiated by software.

It allows R&D to migrate from proprietary interfaces to open and standard-based interfaces. The impact on software developers includes use of heterogeneous processors, managing parallelism, as well as dealing with scalability, compatibility and re-usability.

Embedded software’s growing importance
Denali’s Raju Pudota focused on current trends, such as growth in UMPC (ultra mobile PCs) designs; multimedia and automotive. For hardware, it means higher integration, multiple embedded processors in one SoC, and multiple microcontrollers (MCUs) with independent functions. Most importantly, embedded software is needed to make all of this work!

He said that more software is required to run all of the IPs integrated on the chip. These can be procured from hardware IP vendors, or developed in-house or contracted to third party providers. Also, different processors require different skills and capabilities. Finally, integration and embedded OS level capabilities. Incidentally, embedded software has become a requirement on the semicon provider. However, third-party IP has been evolving slowly.

Semicon providers’ activities are manifold. These involve developing software for in-house hardware components, sourcing software from hardware IP providers, integrating various software components, and also test software offered to the system integrator.

These growing activities present its own challenges, typically: quality of software provided by hardware IP vendors, high integration time, software verification, and increased investment in software capabilities — and emergence of a new area of core competence.

What can the ecosystem do?
Given this scenario, the ecosystem has a major role to play. These include:

Ease of generation of hardware-aware software — define methods to abstract design to enable auto-generation of device drivers; define methods to auto-generate device drivers; few companies investing in this area.

Define framework/platform to integrate software — similar to on-chip interconnect; leverage mature general software development processes; and customize to specific requirements of embedded area. Finally, make software offerings open-source; leverage large independent developer community.

Ease testing of embedded software
There is also a need to ease the testing of embedded software. Some points to note: Leading semicon providers have home grown software integration and testing platforms; making use of traditional methods — hardware-software co-simulation, simulation acceleration, emulation, and FPGA testing. However, no standard methodology is said to be evolving.

Many industry solutions currently exist for hardware-software integrated testing, such as CoWare, SystemC, Mirabilis, etc. Then, there’s also simulation accelerators (parallel processing), and emulators (FPGA based).

Challenges include: huge investment in model development, high cost of ownership, the ability of third party IP provider to enable integration, and large turnaround time per test. A proper framework for the integration and testing of IPs and embedded software is the need of the hour.

Pudota added that while this is a tough challenge, it would improve time-to-market for complex SOCs, develop a third-party IP ecosystem, and enable the semicon provider to focus on core competencies.

ISA Vision Summit 2009: Indian design influence, ideas to volume

February 28, 2009 Comments off

This post is slightly delayed given the fact that I’ve been travelling! Here it is: Session 2 of Day 1, ISA Vision Summit 2009!!

The still quite young, Indian semiconductor industry has come a long way! Making his opening remarks during the session: Indian Design Influence, Ideas to Volume, Jaswinder Ahuja, Corporate Vice President & MD, Cadence Design Systems India, and chairman, pointed out that earlier, it used to be ‘made by the world, FOR India.’ However, globalization of design has now put India on the world semiconductor map. Today, it is ‘made by the world, IN India.’

The picture here shows Ahuja making a point, while Freescale’s Ganesh Guruswamy, TI’s Dr. Bobby Mitra and Intel’s Praveen Vishakantaiah are all attention.

The electronics systems production is clearly moving eastward. Even though the chip fabs may not happen in India, systems manufacturing is certainly happening. The emerging markets today offer a $5 trillion opportunity. However, the transformative challenge is: how to marry low cost, good quality, sustainability and profitability simultaneously!

Fantastic opportunity for investing in technology
Praveen Vishakantaiah, President, Intel, added that India has a fantastic opportunity ahead for investing in technology. He cited Intel’s examples, such as: products designed in India for global market — Intel Xeon 7400 processor; designed in India for India and emerging markets — Classmate PC, which was prototyped in India; and designed in India and customized for the local market — PoS retail kiosk solution.

Internal factors related to volume development include: unique market needs, designing for reliability, enabling customers — standard globally but varied in India. External factors include: access to customers — which can be challenging in a varied market such as India, access to employable talent, predictable supply chain, robust infrastructure — digital infrastructure should scale simultaneously with design and development, and proactive policies and regulations.

According to Vishakantaiah, there is a need for a call to action and seize opportunities. This means, capitalizing on opportunities for local and global product designs, increase the impact and build end-to-end competencies, and to continue to move up the value chain. There is a need to address the internal factors. This would enable increasing the quality of products and extend local products into global markets. There is also a need to focus on the enabling the local market for global product companies.

As far as the external factors are concerned, there is a need to be proactive to remove barriers. There is a need to also encourage research, faculty development and new curriculum. India also needs to build energy efficient power, logistics and manufacturing capabilities, and also reduce e-waste and think green for all product designs.

Downturn creates huge opportunities
Ganesh Guruswamy, Director and Country Manager, Freescale Semiconductor India, remarked that even the deepest downturns can create huge opportunities for companies and countries. “Continuing to innovate during the downturn is important,” he added. It is therefore, time for India to step up, put the right innovations in place and grow.

He stressed upon several custom solutions for emerging markets, such as two-wheelers, which dominate, e-bikes, which are said to be the future, LED lamps, power inverters, irrigation pumpset powered by solar, smart energy meters, and solar/PV base station and carrier based equipment for telecom.

Medical tourism is an emerging focus area for India, as it is growing by 30 percent each year. Medical tourism is likely to bring $1-2 billion to India by 2012. In this context, Guruswamy highlighted Freescale’s ECG-on-a-chip solution. According to him, the way forward would involve moving away from a design mindset to a product mindset!

Don’t be dwarfed by glamorous industries!
Dr Bobby Mitra, MD, Texas Instruments India, said that India is witnessing a change in its semiconductors agenda — from R&D to R&D + market growth. If followed properly, it can become a game changing agenda. “India has nearly 2,000 OEMs designing electronics products. That’s the untapped potential,” he said.

Most of the customers are smaller companies — the proverbial long tail. They know semiconductors and electronics very well. Such companies need to be measured by the firebrand innovation going on at those places.

Dr. Mitra said: “The products have to be the right kind of products. If they are complex, it is incidental.” He cited defense and aerospace as very strong spaces, while industrial is also an equally strong opportunity area. “We should not be dwarfed by glamorous industries,” he cautioned.

In the near term, the Indian semiconductor industry needs to develop two new stripes. These are: a high degree of customer centricity so it can be brought into the R&D engineer’s minds, and have an application mindset — India is very good in design work; it now needs to develop applications in the current context.

Dr. Mitra also called upon having research as an agenda for the industry. This can be done in areas that would assume importance in future. “By working with customers, we can make products more intelligent, by adding electronics and semiconductors,” he advised. “All of us have a key role to play in this transformation.”

SMEs, in particular, have a major role to play. Intel’s Vishakantaiah said that MNCs would need to mentor and coach such companies. Freescale’s Guruswamy added that MNCs can either help them grow or buy them out.

Dr. Mitra advised that even if customers didn’t provide business, it would pay to remain close to them. He also referred to TI’s Beagle Board, an open and low-cost platform, which enables development of applications. However, he advised the industry to be realistic about mass customization.

What India now offers to global semicon industry!

February 24, 2009 Comments off

This semicon blog post is very timely as I keep getting a lot of questions on the topic: what does India NOW offer to the global semiconductor industry in this recession! In fact, several industry friends asked me this question during the recently held ISA Vision Summit 2009.

By the way, I have two good sessions from the ISA Vision Summit 2009 to blog about, and those will happen after this post! So, stay tuned folks!! 🙂

Back to the key question: What does the Indian semiconductor industry now offer to the world?

My quest for answers took me to S. Janakiraman, former chairman, India Semiconductor Association (ISA) and President and CEO-R&D Services, MindTree. Incidentally, Jani Sir, had highlighted some time ago that despite the lack of wafer IC fabs, fabless India continues to shine brightly! And, I agree with him! Even at Dubai last year, during the IEF 2008, Jani Sir had talked about India’s growing might in global semicon. I consider him to be the right person to discuss how India should frame its semicon path forward.

According to Jani Sir, we will remain in a tough economic scenario for some more time to come. “The cost of R&D, be it development or re-engineering or support is critical for the survival of semiconductor companies, but all of this needs to be done at lower costs. India will continue to be a cost leader to get more engineering done at the same cost or the same engineering done at a lower cost. India will continue to be a safe haven for such investments,” he contends.

India itself is a high growth market that will get sizable in the next five years for the semiconductor companies. No one can understand India and the emerging market requirements than the companies who are located here. That can be leveraged by the world to create value for many products that will serve the emerging market needs.

Janakiraman said: “Indian companies are also investing in technologies and creating intellectual properties/building blocks of technologies. These are the essential elements to create products/solutions in a shorter time-frame when the market starts recovering and builds up the appetite for consumption. Hence, Indian companies need to invest more in such areas and position themselves as value-add vendors to source technologies.”

Newer markets such as electronics in healthcare and renewable energy space provides a level-playing field since India’s maturity level is no less inferior to the western world. “We need to invest, and create solutions and products that can establish India not only as a market, but also a leading technology provider for the global market,” Janakiraman advises.

Has Indian semicon lost its way a bit?
Some folks believe that the Indian semiconductor industry has slightly lost its way since the SemIndia fab debacle late last year. I’ve mentioned earlier that hardly anyone wants to speak about having fabs in India at this point of time. Nevertheless, we’ll need to explore whether the Indian semiconductor industry is still on track!

According to Janakiraman, while the global consumption of semiconductors has seen a drastic drop in Q4 of 2008 and is likely to see a negative growth in H1 of 2009, India will be one among the few markets that will see an increasing consumption through the sales of electronic products.

He added: “The captive and design services companies serving the semiconductor market are facing a head wind, no doubt. However, the impact on them is much lesser compared to what is happening in the rest of the world.”

With the Indian semiconductor market continuing to grow, while the global market is in decline, it is possible that India may end up seeing a slower growth, but with an increased market share.

Janakiraman said: “I see the dynamics in the market will lead to India gaining way for the longer term, even though we can’t escape the short term pains. When the recovery starts, India will gather much stronger and faster momentum of growth as it will be a lucrative market for selling and the lower cost market for sourcing for any of the global semiconductor players.”

Finally, what really needs to be done to get the industry in India buzzing? For starters, don’t give up hope!

Added Janakiraman: “Look at it as an opportunity to get into a level-playing field rather than a losing ground. Consider India as a potential future market. Look at and invest in the emerging opportunities such as healthcare/security/energy, and build products like telemedicine, surveillance systems and power management systems. Invest in idea creation and product management systems, and get ready for the new model of business when recovery starts.”

I wonder why Jani Sir didn’t deliver the keynote at the ISA Vision Summit 2009! He is just the right person as far as propping up Indian semicon is concerned!!

ISA Vision Summit 2009: Local products, emerging opportunities!

February 17, 2009 3 comments

The first session on day 1 of the ISA Vision Summit 2009 focused on local products and emerging opportunities in India, especially in healthcare, automotive electronics and mobility. It was great to see companies present solutions developed for India, by Indians. If earlier, it used to be “made by the world for India,” today, it has changed to “made by the world, in India.” This focuses highly on India’s well known strength in design services.

In the picture, you can see Ajay Vasudeva, Head R&D, Nokia India, making a point, with Prof. Rajeev Gowda, IIM-Bangalore, Ashish Shah, GM, GE Healthcare, and Dr. Aravind S. Bharadwaj, CEO, Automotive Infotronics, listening very attentively.

In his opening remarks, Prof. Rajeev Gowda, IIM-Bangalore, said: “As the world is in recession, we are still cheerful, and we are still growing.” He called upon the industry to focus on healthcare, which is an area where work is going on. Agriculture is yet another area to look at! According to him, Bangalore had become an IT center, it had yet to become a knowledge center. “As an industry, think about reaching out to colleges, and get people to think innovatively and creatively,” he added.

Dr. Aravind S. Bharadwaj, CEO, Automotive Infotronics Pvt Ltd, a a joint venture between Ashok Leyland and Continental AG, in his presentation, highlighted that infotronics for automotives is an opportunity for India. He added that the infotronics content in automotives was growing, and is likely to touch around 40 percent by 2010. In India, the auto industry was growing at a CAGR of 11.4 percent, and auto electronics was growing at a CAGR of 21 percent.

What is the India advantage here? “We definitely have a high level of expertise. India can also become an automotive embedded powerhouse,” he said.

Dwelling on the current trends in automotive electronics in India, he said that there has been an increase in demand by customers for technically advanced in vehicles. Also, there are strict emission and safety regulations in place. Some other trends include the increase in automotive exports, and fuel economy in Indian driving conditions.

Dr. Bharadwaj cited the example of the fleet management telematics solution at the Koyambedu bus terminus in Chennai. He added that embedded automotive applications will dominate the future automotive applications.

Healthcare market to explode!
Ashish Shah, General Manager, GE Healthcare Global Technology Organization, India, said that two sectors will undergo tremendous growth in India: healthcare and energy, and added that the country is now ready for growth. He highlighted the fact that about 20 percent of GE’s engineers were Indians, thereby indicating a huge talent pool within the country itself.

The drivers for Indian healtcare market include: medical tourism: About 175,000 foreign nationals; up 25 percent; huge investments: government spending up 1-2 percent of GDP; disease patterns: such as lifestyle diseases; and increased spending in healthcare.

The bottom line is that growth is for real! The Indian healthcare market is about to explode,” said Shah.

Shah displayed an ECG, the MAC 400, which has been developed for India. While the company shipped 3,600 units last year, and of these, about 500 units in India, GE projects selling 10,000 units during this year. The selling price of this device is an affordable $700. GE is also making maternal infant products, as well as x-ray programs. It is also developing an MRI application, which would not require the injecting of a contrast agent, thereby, leading to 50 percent savings!

In his presentation, Ajay Vasudeva, Head R&D, Nokia India, focused on the tipping point for mobility today. More people have access to a mobile phone than a PC, and most use it to access the Internet.

He highlighted some of the applications Nokia is developing, such as those for mobile rural/irrigation applications, mobile banking and NFC (near fied communications), and mobile healthcare and diabetes checking — all using the mobile phone! Livelihood, such as agriculture, and life improvement, such as education, services are highly relevant in India. Of course, entertainment has the widest appeal!

Vasudeva concluded by remarking, “Together, let’s create devices, products, services and solutions, that can change peoples’ lives.”

In his concluding remarks, Prof. Rajeev Gowda, session moderator, called upon India to devise policies on e-waste, and to think about how can we convert semiconductor waste into energy.

ISA Vision Summit 2009 lacks the punch!

February 16, 2009 Comments off

Yes, that’s how I felt, at the end of the opening day of India Semiconductor Association’s (ISA) Vision Summit 2009! Won’t know much about how others felt!!

The picture here shows the ISA Vision Summit 2009 being inaugurated by the Guests of Honor, Dr. Debesh Das, Honorable Minister-in-Charge, Department of Information Technology, Government of West Bengal and Dr. Arunachalam, Chairman & Founder, Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP), Bangalore. Standing by are Jaswinder Ahuja, ISA Chairman, and Ms Poornima Shenoy, ISA President. Congrats on putting up a great show to the India Semiconductor Association, despite all the recession around us.

The opening day was largely built around sessions such as Local Products: Emerging Opportunities; Indian Design Influence: Ideas To Volumes; and Embedded Software: Its Growing Influence on the Hardware World! Yes, all of these were very interesting sessions.

However, there was no word on the Indian semicon policy, or even about India’s plans to have (OR not have) a fab! There was very little about how to incubate and handhold start-ups, and help them grow bigger! And, even less about how to go about building a successful product company in India!

It is in all of these areas, I felt, that the ISA Vision Summit 2009, lacked the punch! Last year, the enthusiasm was quite evident! The Indian semicon policy had been announced in late 2007, and the fab plans looked very much in line! However, it seems, this year, no one’s willing to bet on fabs, or rather, even speak about them!

One gentleman discussed my post on the possibility of an Indian investor buying Qimonda, and even cited examples of how looking at certain memory fabs in Taiwan won’t be quite out of line! Yes, this is exactly the time to invest and think really big, India!

Let me also highlight a comment left on my Qimonda article on CIOL by a reader, who calls himself/herself as “The Edge”. BTW, dear friend, I have not at all back-pedalled! Rather, I have been screaming hoarse, and loud enough to perhaps, land in the bad books of some industry folks 🙂 Well, here’s what “The Edge’ says:

“Ed, I happened to read your blog and notice that you have already back pedalled a bit (though the outrageous comment has not provided reasons as to why he/she feels that way.) I’ll provide some reasons as to why India should look to invest NOW and not two years later when the markets start to look up.

1) Fabs are shutting down or idling at the moment: In this scenario, equipment vendors will be more than happy to get rid of inventory even at huge losses so as to keep some business going.

2) Onus on product development: This is evolutionary and will come along with experience; akin to a baby crawling before it begins to walk! How about jumping into the foundry business first and playing a minor role in product development for the time being? The role and the direction of development will evolve over a period of time. Just as importantly, one has to be in total control of the full life-cycle of the product. Else, there will be that missing link/experience between optimum design and subsequent efficient manufacturing.

3) Technical know-how: Reverse brain-drain and attracting of expats to move to India is easier during the downturns, when intelligent folks might get laid off and would be available for a lot lesser (if at all) compared to the boom-times. Most importantly India has NOTHING to lose. This can be the first serious foray into the semicon manufacturing sector, if the money goes in now. NOT two years later, because by then, the set-up costs would be that much higher and personnel/partners/acquisitions would be hard and expensive to come by in a good market scenario. An early start, i.e., right away, will position the semicon manufacturing industry (along with whichever partner/acquisitions) to be ready to make full use of the next peak in the industry. That big name might well be Qimonda or maybe some other innovative company that might have been reduced to a pauper during this downturn.”

This is absolutely something I agree with and am passionate about! Even though others called my post out of line, and outrageous, it does not matter. I have high hopes for the Indian semicon industry, and as I was telling an industry friend today: I will continue to write about what I think should be done!

Coming back to the ISA Vision Summit, this morning, Nandan M. Nilekani, Co-Chairman of the Board of Directors, Infosys Technologies Ltd, in his keynote, highlighted communication, healthcare and energy as the key domains for semiconductor industry to leverage for potential business. The solutions should be scalable and low cost. Quite rightly so! Indian solutions to solve Indian (and global) problems are the need of the hour. Nilekani touched on India’s demographic dividend, which gives the country the rare advantage over the rest of the globe.

However, I wonder whether developing these solutions alone will be enough to pull the Indian semiconductor industry right to the top! A lot of people at the event wanted to hear my views, and as far as I am concerned: A lot more needs to be done!

Prof. Rajeev Gowda, IIM-Bangalore, the moderator for the opening session, Local Products: Emerging Opportunities, struck the nail on its head, when he said in his opening remarks that while Bangalore had become an IT center, it had yet to become a knowledge center. He stressed on the need to get people to think creatively and innovatively. If only, this was as simple as it seems!

Can the Indian semicon industry innovate? Or, will it find it hard to get out of the rut it seems to have run into, as far as fabs are concerned? Will it finally find some way of incubating, building and growing product companies? I am still awaiting a good answer, rather, any answer!

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