The hardware is FPGA. We use Xilinx Virtex devices, the largest at any given time. We started with Virtex-2, then moved to Virtex-4 and then to Virtex-5. We are developing products for Virtex-6 based machines. Obviously they are not available yet. That is the commercial device we use in our boxes and boards. Most of the innovation comes from the software. Just to give you a data point, the composition of our R&D team includes 90% software developers and 10% hardware developers. Most of the R&D effort and dollars is in software. The compiler that will take your RTL design and automatically synthesize and map it into the box is a very challenging task in today’s designs. You have to deal with not just sheer complexity but also with clocking schemes, clocking trees, low power designs that have very complicated architectures. The mapping of a design in an automatic way without human intervention is a major challenge. The same goes for mapping memories (we support DDR2, DDR3 and whatnot). We want to do that automatically. We do not want the user to do anything manually. Lots of efforts are put into that. The other side of the coin will be the runtime software. I mentioned before that the box works with software testbenches in a multitude of forms like Verilog, C testbenches, signal level, transactional level that interface in a complicated manner. We have teams of designers improving and enhancing constantly. In a nutshell 9 engineers in software to 1 engineer in hardware to make this product workable, deployable, and easily adoptable.
Are the end users software engineers using their own standard compliers and debugging environment?
The debugging environment, we interface to simulator so you can use your simulator of choice; VCS or ModelSim and use that for debugging when the design is mapped into the box. But we also provide means to debug your design without the need for a simulator. It comes with our software.
Are there any other firms providing products comparable to EVE’s products?
Our major competitor without a doubt is Cadence. They have this machine called Palladium, which went through four generations. Today, without doubt, it is a well established and successful emulator. We compete with them. Today what we give to a user, besides being a quite less expensive machine, is higher speed, an order of magnitude higher execution speed of your design inside the box than Palladium. But our efforts in 2009 and 2010 will be to improve everything in the box with the next generation Virtex-6 that will beat Palladium on all specifications. Our mission is to become the number one provider and take the lead from Cadence. We also compete with Mentor Graphics but we believe that we passed Mentor already a year ago or longer. Then there are FPGA prototyping companies. We have seen that Synopsys lately acquired two companies (Hardi and ChipIt). Although they are not emulation providers, we feel that they will be competition down the road. We are preparing to compete with Synopsys as well. Another one is definitely Cadence.
Do you expect the demand for EVE’s products to grow substantially over the next several years?
Yes! Definitely yes! If you consider what has happened over the last 20 years, emulation in the nineties was only done by CPU designers and graphic chips designers. Nobody else used emulation. It was too expensive and too complicated to use. In early 2000, which is when we began, the wireless industry started to adopt emulation mainly because of the embedded software. Our first customer was TI wireless. As of today, they continue to purchase our machines, bigger machines, more powerful machines. But, in the past four years, so from 2005 to today, the entire consumer industry is moving into this space; digital TV, camcorders, digital cameras, set top boxes, and multifunction printers. They are all using our technology, not only our technology but emulation technology because of the complexity of embedded software. I can only anticipate that the future will be more of this rather than less of this.
Does the current economic environment, the global recession …
Of course, it is a concern. What we saw for instance was a change in purchasing our machines from buying up front into leasing; one, two or three year leasing. We did not see this in the past. That is one trend. Another trend, especially with big users, is not to buy additional boxes, additional emulators, but rather to use existing machines and share them between teams. That of course has an impact on our revenue. We had two instances of big customers saying “I will postpone the purchasing of new machines for six months and I will use other machines internally, sharing them among teams.” Indeed for 2009, we do not expect much growth at all. I think either having flat or 10% to 20% growth will be achievable in this climate. But I do not expect shrinkage of our business.
One of the alternatives to EVE’s products is for end users to do rapid prototyping using FPGAs. Why would you say that such an approach is less effective or less attractive solution for the end user?
As of today, when you take that route, you are limited in terms of design complexity. Rapid prototyping is typically limited to four or six FPGAs, no more. If you need bigger than that to hold you design, then the provider might not give you enough FPGAs. If they do, they do not have the software to help you automate the process of mapping the design and certainly no interface or a poor interface to the software testbenches. Rapid prototyping which is successful is mostly successful in-house. We see left and right everyone is building prototypes in-house but mostly it is for small designs. Very few companies have teams designing things with twenty or thirty FPGAs. Very, very few companies. It is a major effort to do that.
A year or so ago, EVE acquired Tharas Systems.
Two years ago we acquired Tharas, which was an acceleration company. That was not too successful. The main drive for that acquisition was their compiler technology that we use today in our emulation systems. A compiler that is very fast and has some behavioral synthesis mapping capability that we use in creating transactors for transactor-based verification. We use the complier for the design. We launched something called zFAST (ZeBu Fast SynThesis) synthesis one month ago, a very fast, ten x faster than the best in class FPGA system that comes from Tharas. It is interesting. When we announced that this technology is supporting ZeBu, we had users ask us to make it a standalone product that would work with FPGA rapid prototyping because they are not too happy with the commercial solutions. Those solutions are too slow.
Editor: zFAST is available now as an add-on feature for ZeBu. It is priced from $50,000 for the first license, and from $15,000 for additional licenses.
Customer, prospects are asking. Is EVE thinking of going forward with such a product?
Delivering the product?
No decision has been made. Until now, it has not been a thrust for the company. We wanted to provide an entire self-contained solution that includes the hardware and the software. But I can say that if we have enough demand, we will certainly seriously consider it. It would not be a major effort and a major investment to make it work as a standalone product, by the way. If the demand will be there, we will do it.
Has EVE made any other acquisitions?
Lots of internal brainstorming. We are looking at the ESL space. We can interface the emulator to a high level of abstraction of a design. We run in CoWare, Virtutech and Innovator from Synopsys and take charge of the RTL portion of the design, maintaining a high level of execution speed because of transactors. So we can stick for instance an AXI transactor between the ESL environment and the RTL block of a design mapped into the box and run at multi MHz. We have demo vehicles with CoWare, Virtutech and Innovator as well as common customer that are supporting this. So we are looking into that space and maybe something will come of it but no decision to date to move forward with any one of these nor have any serious discussion about merging or acquiring taken place. We will see down the road. We are looking at other synergistic deals in test bench automation, test bench coverage and other companies, where maybe we could work together or maybe we could merge for that matter.