Dr. Shafy Eltoukhy has over 35 years of experience in the semiconductor industry. He served as VP and BU manager of the Analog Mixed Signal Group at Microsemi. He was the VP of Operations and Technology Development at Open-Silicon. He was the VP of Technology at Lightspeed Semiconductor where he joined the founding team that invented structured ASIC technology. Shafy was the Director of Technology Development at Actel Corporation, where he participated in the development of the first generation of FPGA products. He also held engineering positions at Intel Corporation. Shafy holds a Ph.D. from the University of Waterloo, Canada.
What brought you to semiconductors?
As an electrical engineering student studying for my master’s, I attended a class on semiconductor physics. I found the course to be very exciting and it sparked the passion I now have for the semiconductor industry. Once I earned my Ph.D. from the University of Waterloo, Canada, I became increasingly enthusiastic about semiconductors and their impact on the future. I was offered a job as a professor at the university but turned it down because I really wanted to be active in the industry.
My first job was at Intel where I was a device engineer working on DRAM technology. After a couple of years with Intel, some of my colleagues and I came up with an idea for a startup company, and Actel was born (now known as Microsemi). We launched it as an FPGA company, which was a new technology at that time. This was a turning point in my career, where I came to the realization that I loved to work for startup companies. It’s important to note that the fabless model was nonexistent at that time, so we talked to Chartered Semiconductor (now Global Foundries) and a few others about being our foundry. After the launch and success of our first product, the company went public. A few years later, I decided to start up another company, Lightspeed Semiconductor, which focused on ASIC technology. Since then, I’ve remained very active in ASICs and recently spent time as the general manager at Microsemi where I focused on analog mixed-signal product development.
The semiconductor industry is very exciting to me because every day there are changes and new advancements. ASICs have been especially exciting because of the collaboration with many different customers who have varied and innovative ideas, as well as many different target applications in a variety of vertical markets.
I can sense the excitement when you talk about startups. There are not that many people who are still in the startup arena and going strong.
That is true. I’ve found that I really enjoy small companies because, unlike larger ones, it’s much easier to implement key decisions and also to change the organization’s direction very quickly. It’s a fast-paced environment and the energy in the company is contagious. I think it’s one of the main reasons I still enjoy working for startups to this day.
What is OpenFive’s back story? Why was the business unit formed?
It started when Open-Silicon was acquired by SiFive, Inc. in 2018. SiFive was focused on processor cores based on the RISC-V ISA. The addition of custom silicon capabilities to the SiFive portfolio helped us accelerate the IP integration and SoC design cycles and bring silicon to the market at a faster pace. The custom silicon BU built a successful business model that combined customization of SoCs with RISC-V cores. To drive further business growth, we launched the OpenFive brand and expanded into providing custom silicon solutions with differentiated IP, while being agnostic to processor architecture. This distinct OpenFive brand provides clarity on our ability to produce custom SoCs, from spec-to-silicon design, customizable IP, and manufacturing. The current emphasis in the industry on scalable silicon architectures makes Die-to-Die and Chip-to-Chip interconnects integral for disaggregated die and chiplet based SoC solutions, and has created strong requirements for experience in advanced packaging, test, and production in leading-edge process nodes such as 5nm. This need and opportunity drove the creation of OpenFive as you see it today.
What do you mean when you say OpenFive is processor agnostic? What is your core processor strategy?
OpenFive is very neutral as to which processor is used because we are an independent silicon business unit and we’re ultimately measured based on how many acres of silicon we sell. We have expertise in implementing SoCs with all relevant ISAs.
What customer challenges and business models is OpenFive addressing?
The challenges always depend on the type of customer, and we strive to offer each customer an optimized solution. Let’s take for example a system company; they may not be familiar with the design process of a chip or with the manufacturing part of it, but they really want to get to the market quickly. OpenFive offers them a complete solution from spec-to-silicon. A lot of these customers are not semiconductor experts, and they simply want a chip that works based on their unique specifications. OpenFive also has customers that have their own design teams and front-end architecture. This is their bread and butter, and they know how to proceed, but they don’t have a physical design team or the tools to do the physical design. OpenFive supports these customers by using a netlist or RTL handoff model to deliver working silicon to them. This group doesn’t need to be concerned with acquiring physical design tools such as those from Cadence or Synopsys, and they don’t have to be concerned about their foundries, as OpenFive will take care of this for them. The third type of customer, which is also a sizable portion of our business, has a team that already has a chip that they have developed as a prototype. However, they are not experienced in working with the supply chain and dealing with the foundry and all the things that come with the operational side of it. They come to us with their design, and we handle the testing, production ramp, supply chain management, and so on. At OpenFive we are committed to offering customers our end-to-end expertise from SoC design, IP and manufacturing to deliver high-quality silicon in advanced nodes down to 5nm.
What do the next 12 months have in store for OpenFive?
OpenFive’s goal with all of our customers is to add more value through our engagement, and with that in mind, we are moving in two major directions. The first is spec-to-silicon, where OpenFive will focus on a few vertical markets where we can add more value to the customer and take advantage of the platforms that OpenFive builds to reduce time-to-market and the solution cost for the customer. The second goal is to establish more investment in delivering IP for these vertical markets.
For example, we are delivering a lot of HBM solutions for the high performance computing market, going down to 7nm, 5nm, 3nm and so on. We’re also staying ahead of the game by investing in More-than-Moore solutions with die-to-die (D2D) interfaces, chiplet technology and 2.5D packaging. By mixing and matching different technologies, we can offer chiplets that enable partitioning of the design into different functions, and the option to choose a process optimized for that particular function. The overall cost of the solution will be lower than going to a finer geometry process node that is very expensive. This area is very important to us moving forward. In the coming months, you will see many exciting new initiatives from OpenFive ranging from AI-enabled sub-systems to customizable D2D IP and chiplets with advanced 2.5D packaging, and we look forward to enabling customers to create domain-specific SoCs that are highly optimized for power, performance and cost.Share this post via: