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A Brief History of Open-Silicon

A Brief History of Open-Silicon
by Tom Simon on 02-22-2016 at 12:00 pm

In 2003, when Open-Silicon was founded there was a growing need for flexible and innovative ways of getting chip designs manufactured. Semiconductor companies, given the alternatives of COT or traditional ASIC, often were looking for more flexibility without the huge investment and risk of going COT. Let’s look at how Open-Silicon addressed this need and in doing so grew a successful business that offers even more today.

Open-Silicon’s Innovative OpenModel for developing and executing fabless semiconductor designs was conceived by the founding management team, who came from Intel and the Synopsys Professional Services Group. With this concept they were able to raise $8.4M from Norwest Venture Partners and Sequoia Capital. This was followed by a B round in 2004 adding InterWest Partners, bringing the total investment to $19.5M.

In 2004 Open-Silicon was selected as a finalist in the Red Herring Top 100 Innovators Award. This was a result of their unique OpenModel business model and their innovative ASIC technology. One of the main advantages of the OpenModel is the level of choice that customers have to optimize the implementation and manufacturing steps to ensure the best return on investment.

Also in 2005 they officially joined TSMC’s Design Center Alliance. Even though they had been working closely with TSMC since when they were founded, this added deeper links with a leading foundry.

Open-Silicon’s business models gained traction in their early years. Just four years into their business they booked their 100[SUP]th[/SUP] design win in 2007. This design was taped out less than a year later. In this period, they worked on designs ranging from 250/130nm down to the then most advanced node of 45nm. These tape outs included wireless, mobile, consumer, digital entertainment, computing, networking and telecommunications.

In 2008 Open-Silicon was bestowed the honor of being named the GSA’a Most Respected Private Company. Previously this award had been given to companies like nVidia, Marvell and Atheros. Then in 2009 Open-Silicon joined nVidia and Cavium as the only companies to ever win this award more than once. The GSA looks at many factors and only nominates companies that their committee of industry experts select based on merit. The final selection is made by the semiconductor community, including semiconductor financial and industry analysts and suppliers. Another big accomplishment on 2008 was achieving ISO 9001 certification.

One of the big advantages of using fabless ASIC is the range of choices available in each step of the design and implementation process. One of the most crucial is IP. So in addition to being able to select IP from almost any source, Open-Silicon customers can decide to use IP that Open-Silicon has developed or curated. Open-Silicon has been aggressive about providing state of the art high performance interface, communications, storage and other types of IP.

Open-Silicon is a founding member of the Interlaken Alliance and has developed and enhanced their own implementation of a controller core. In 2011 they announced significant enhancements to this IP block, adopting fully configurable SerDes logical to physical lane mapping to address the need for higher data rates.

Also in 2011 Open-Silicon signed a strategic agreement with ARM to establish multi year licensing of ARM technology. This included ARM Cortex processors and associated ARM Processor Optimization Packs (POPs), ARM Mali™ Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) and ARM system IP. This created one-stop-shopping where customers can get ARM technology and have it implemented in their products with the added benefit of Open-Silicon’s MAX technologies for optimization of design elements. Later in the same year Open-Silicon established its ARM Center of Excellence to deepen its commitment to developing ARM based products for its customers. Today that continues with Open-Silicon being selected as an implementation partner for the aggressive Cortex-M licensing model that ARM established to enable IoT designs for early stage semiconductor companies with limited resources.

Keeping in line with emphasizing IP, Open-Silicon announced the industry’s first Hybrid Memory Cube (HMC) Controller IP in 2012. This makes it easier for their customers to incorporate the novel advantages of HMC’s higher density, speed and lower power in their projects. They followed up on this IP with a HMC 2.0 memory controller IP in 2014.

Also High Bandwidth Memory (HBM) IP is available from Open-Silicon. They are offering a solution for the complete subsystem, including HBM Controller, PHY and 2.5D interposer IO. This IP is typically used in graphics and networking, and is also suited for high performance computing and networking where lower power and smaller form factors are needed.

Open-Silicon also has analog IP that is required for many applications. At the core of this is SerDes IP. High performance SerDes is often make or break for high speed designs. To address this need, Open-Silicon established a High-Speed SerDes Technology Center of Excellence in 2014. This expertise can shorten design cycles and ensures the delivery of successful silicon. High speed SerDes have become much more complex, making them difficult to implement without a lot of design team experience.

Moving to higher value solutions, Open-Silicon focused on ensuring that their customers can build highly optimized products. One way to tackle this is to do early virtual prototyping. As part of its collaboration with ARM in 2014 they began offering virtual prototyping services to their customer. This lets their customers evaluate different architectures and design trade offs early in the development process. There are several dimensions in which to make choices for implementation. Good choices reduce design effort and risk, as well as can mean a more competitive final product.

In keeping with their tag line “Your idea. Delivered”, over the last few years Open-Silicon has focused on enabling companies with product ideas but lacking front end design capabilities. For instance, IoT product developers may have an idea and want to focus on creating their software. However, they need an underlying hardware platform. Open-Silicon now offers Spec2Chip to make it possible for companies to focus on their value-add without compromising on the silicon implementation.

Another recent innovation is web access to quotes for projects. Instead of lengthy discussions, potential customers can describe their requirements and even start to make preliminary trade off decisions on-line in order to get a streamlined quote in under 2 business days.

Last year Open-Silicon hit another significant milestone: they have passed shipping 100 Million ASIC’s. These are chips fabricated at the leading 4 or 5 foundries, using internal and external IP – chosen to fit customer needs. In many cases Open-Silicon has managed the entire production chain from start to finish. Along the way, their customers have been able to view project status using state of the art project management software – providing complete transparency during the project.

Today Open-Silicon has engineering and support centers around the world, with 80% of their staff in engineering roles. They are continuing to invest in developing unique internal IP, tracking leading process nodes, and offering complete and flexible front to back capabilities.

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