Real Intent: Leveraging on Investments

Note: This article was first published on EDACafe Blogs (link)
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

Prakash Narain is a long-standing member of the EDA community, having helped found Real Intent in 1999. In August 2016, I interviewed Dr. Narain at length about the technology at the core of the company. This week we spoke again, starting with an update of the company’s announcements around DAC in June, which involve further advancements in clock-domain crossing analysis and sign-off.

Real Intent must be doing something right, because Narain seems as enthused about the prospects for his company as someone who has just launched a tech start-up. It takes stamina and courage to sustain that optimism, and market success. Narain says his organization has both.

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WWJD: How are things going with Real Intent?

Prakash Narain: Things are going very well. Actually two or three years back, we made major infrastructure and technical investments. We specifically invested in high volume data infrastructure, introduced new flows, and have been on the up-ramp since those investments.  This year, we will likely triple our business over last year. It’s been very, very busy for us, and we couldn’t be any happier.

WWJD: Were there any announcements made at DAC this year?

Prakash Narain: Yes, there were two significant product announcements. We introduced a new family of products called Verix CDC, the first within that family is direct CDC, the first true multi-mode CDC solution.

Today, all the CDC analysis tools work in a single mode, so you can only analyze for one clock combination. But today there are many clock combinations, so you either sacrifice coverage or only evaluate one mode.

Verix CDC analyzes all clock crossings simultaneously, dramatically reducing the run time and the review time Basically, there is no coverage loss. This was an industry first and is being received very well, specifically because tools have only been single mode for a long time.

[Real Intent hosted a webinar this week discussing the technology.]

Our second announcement is a unique CDC methodology with hierarchical modeling. There are hierarchical CDC solutions in the market place, and they work with a totally abstracted black box, but ours allows CDC analysis without compromise on accuracy or debug. We already had the capacity to do a billion-gate CDC flat, this [new release] allows us to do billion-gate hierarchically.

WWJD: It’s amazing to be talking about billion-gate devices, and the amount of work it represents on the part of everybody involved.

Prakash Narain: Yes definitely, and is why we invested in our high data volume infrastructure.

WWJD: Who is the competition?

Prakash Narain: We are providing Intent-Driven Static Signoff solutions and essentially we lead the space, because we have expanded this concept to apply to a very large number of applications.

As such, we have some historic competition – companies competing with us on a subset of our portfolio, companies like Synopsys with their Spyglass family. Recently, we heard that Cadence is making efforts in this space, but are not yet in the marketplace.

WWJD: How does a small EDA company thrive, or even survive, in this era of massive consolidation?

Prakash Narain: At the end of the day, it’s really innovation [that allows a company] to compete. For any new business innovation, you need the vision and insight to pursue a goal that will be differentiated and provide value to the customers. At the end of the day, it’s the customer who will do business with you IF they are receiving good value in return.

You have to make investments – go through trials, tribulations, and even despair – and when you come through the other side and see that your vision was right, then you end up with an advantage. We are competing on the basis of innovation, competing on bench-marking, and providing unique capabilities. That’s the really secret, it’s all [built on] the investment we did three to four years ago.

WWJD: How do you get entry into customer meetings when the bigger companies have such dominance?

Prakash Narain: Different customers have different sensitivities to what we see, particularly those who are really experiencing the problems we are offering solutions to. And different customers, depending on their flow and situation, [react] differently to the value proposition we are offering.

To [reach] those customers we use a combination of marketing, trade shows, word of mouth, and webinars. When the audience connects with what we’re offering, it is up to us to validate our claim and then get into a business discussion with [the potential customer].

Every customer situation is different, but at the end of the day we are solving problems and providing value. When the time is right, we then work through the process with the hope of taking things to conclusion.

WWJD: On the subject of trade shows, are they still a viable way to meet customers?

Prakash Narain: None of these trade show avenues are a slam dunk. Sure, once in a while, someone comes to the booth and says, You are my savior, but in reality that never happens.

In fact, it takes numerous contacts with people [to establish a relationship]. You want to adjust your message as their needs arise, and you can’t wait for them to contact you. You have to invest in conferences, local conferences and those [more distant], and do sales follow-up each time. You have to stay in contact with every [potential customer].

It’s actually a very heavy investment process, where all of these things need to come together to really things work.

WWJD: Do you enjoy that work?

Prakash Narain: [laughing] I will not say that I’m the only one doing the work, because it is such a heavy investment and such a large group of people involved. But personally, yes I do enjoy it. Particularly when it is something new and unique, a new methodology or a new vision that we are bringing to the forefront.

Then I always enjoy talking about it, explaining it to people, communicating about it. And even though it’s a part of my job, I really do enjoy it.

WWJD: Why belong to the ESD Alliance?

Prakash Narain: We belong primarily to support the industry consortium. They have an eye on regulation and other global considerations.

I suppose the larger companies are bigger beneficiaries of these things, but [membership] also gives us access to the Market Statistics Service which provides good data on EDA businesses and other trends. Being a member [reflects] a combination of altruistic goals and personal benefits.

WWJD: Could there ever be a joint effort to solve a technical problem with another company, not something involving acquisition or merger.

Prakash Narain: That level of conversing and camaraderie in an industry is usually non-existent. There are too many conflicts of interest for that to ever happen.

For instance, I have loyalty to Real Intent, where someone else might have loyalty to Synopsys, or loyalty to Cadence, but we all have access to confidential information. It would be difficult to create an environment that would not compromise that confidentially.

We do have a group of people here at Real Intent who gets together for beer once a month with people from other companies, and I join them periodically, but the conversations there are not at a professional level because everyone is respecting the need for confidentiality.

Having said all this, when the opportunity does present itself to partner among EDA companies to create a value-add solution – usually driven by the customers themselves – we whole-heartedly pursue such partnerships.

WWJD: Organizations like the ESD Alliance have initiatives that do cause companies to work together on issues like export controls or operating systems that span the industry. Is that ever a problem when working with colleagues who are also competitors?

Prakash Narain: For standardization bodies like IEEE or Accellera, the role of the organization is very well-defined, and the goals. These are interactions that are sanctioned by the companies participating. There is a good understanding of what is valuable and what can be shared.

And these efforts typically tend to be outside the role of the core confidential information for any one company. Yes, the element of politics is everywhere, but these organizations make it easier to cooperate on issues that concern everyone.

WWJD: How do you gain access to talented employees?

Prakash Narain: We advertise on our website, through word of mouth, and we also have people directly applying to work for us. There are various ways of getting in contact with the talent.

WWJD: Does a new grad make for a better employee, or someone who already has industry experience?

Prakash Narain: We build unique products and, as such, never find someone who is a 100-percent fit for our needs, so it requires a lot of follow-up and training after hiring. We are always looking for fantastic people, and know the burden of training falls to us to help them become what they can be.

WWJD: And where do you stand on the slowing of Moore’s law?

Prakash Narain: We are a front-end EDA company, so we work at the earlier stages of the design, and are not as dramatically impacted as those doing retooling in layout tools.

Of course, there are bench-marking aspects [to the issues] as the data volume grows larger: How do you keep the front-end flows efficient?

People are trying to do designs in the same amount of time, so anything geared to dramatically improve the methodology [is critical]. We literally need to [guarantee] that a design that is twice as large as anything before still gets signed off in the same amount of time.

Therefore, we find now that data-driven applications provide newer and better solutions – that is our core competency. We have invested in [that technology] and leveraged it, and will continue to bring new and more efficient solutions to market.

WWJD: What might be an exit strategy for Real Intent, or is the plan to continue on?

Prakash Narain: We spoke about this during our conversation last year, and my answer today is the same.

If you look at the EDA industry, and the history of the industry, the only viable exit is through acquisition. So at some point, we may pursue something like that unless, something dramatically changes in the industry.

At the present time, however, it’s not anywhere on my roadmap.

WWJD: How would you describe the technical roadmap for the company?

Prakash Narain: We are providing leadership in intent-driven static signoff solutions that have great potential to improve the methodology. We are only part of the way to realizing the value of the investment we have already made, [so] all my focus is to bring more solutions to the marketplace, more invention and innovation.

WWJD: Do have something very funny or amusing that has happened to you during in your career in EDA?

Prakash Narain: [laughing] Well, we do have fun all the time but I do have a story, although it may not be the funniest.

I am a founder of Real Intent, which means some of my original code goes back many years back, and some of that original code unfortunately continues to exist.

Modern software engineering practices today have far surpassed the quality of the code I have written in the past, so I am the butt of many jokes of those who deal with that code. Something that is perhaps not so funny for me. That is something unique and unusual, and it happens with some frequency.

However, even though I’m the butt of the jokes, here is my retort: The reason my code is surviving is because it does very well and yours could not do a better job!
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Real Intent CEO …

Prakash Narain’s career spans IBM, AMD and Sun where he got hands-on experience with all aspects of IC design, CAD tools design and methodology. He was the project leader for test and verification for UltraSPARC IIi at Sun Microsystems. He was an architect of the Mercury Design System at AMD, and has architected and developed CAD tools for test and verification for IBM EDA.

Dr. Narain has a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana where his thesis focus was on algorithms for high level testing and verification.

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