Game Of Eco Systems

These are interesting times, and EDA is right in the midst of it all.

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My first ever blog post on May 28, 2008, was called “May you live in interesting times …”, starting with “the view from the top” at Synopsys. At the time, my focus was abstraction levels and how the industry has been moving upwards for decades. While it is not a Chinese proverb after all (read my blog above), we still do live in interesting times, perhaps more so that ever. One of the most interesting things to watch these days is the battle of the different processor ecosystems, namely x86, ARM, MIPS, and PowerPC.

I am writing this as I am on my way to Germany to start my vacation. The battle of the eco systems is almost like a modern world Game of Thrones for which I just finished the season finale (yep, I have my priorities straight). What is the throne these days, you ask? The Internet of Things (IoT)! It spans—as I had previously written—from “edge of network” devices to hubs to clouds and servers, all connected through significant network infrastructure for a “Game of Ecosystems.”

A lot of investment is aligning around the IoT. Just like the Houses in Game of Thrones, we have several big players. Earlier this year, they were summarized by Mario Moralez at IDC Directions, as shown in the following graph:

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The graphic shows the commercial semiconductor revenue driven by the different processor architectures. It nicely aligns with my three flanks for the throne for the IoT era of sensor-hub-cloud and is the upgrade of Mario’s 2011 numbers that I referenced in my 2012 blog post “Picking the right processor.”

According to this graphic, the throne is approached by each of the houses—Intel, ARM, IBM, and MIPS—in different ways:

  • Intel, coming from its x86 base and adding Atom, is trying to expand from servers into mobile. X86 already has a fair foot print of 10% in the world of sensors that IDC calls “Intelligent Embedded Systems.”
  • ARM, coming from its mobile stronghold, is working at least two fronts here. It is expanding in the sensor side of microcontrollers for which they already have a good foot print of 33%. It is also attacking the server side with its 64-bit architecture, and notably some key players have announced to work on server chips, including AMD (see AMD Unveils ‘Seattle’, First 64-Bit ARM Server Chip Series) and Applied Micro (Applied Micro, Canonical claim the first ARM 64-bit server production software deployment).
  • IBM is omitted with PPC-based servers in the graphic above on the server side. I think that is because IDC is only counting the commercial chip side and most of the PPC chips are used in IBM servers. PPC has a good standing on the sensor side—26%—and IBM is certainly creative with a hardware open-source strategy for servers by creating the OpenPower Foundation. This is definitely an interesting approach with 26 members now in the foundation, including Google, NVIDIA, and Samsung.
  • MIPS holds a pretty solid position already in the sensor side—23%. As part of Imagination, they are an interesting player not to be underestimated, as previously described by Junko Yoshida in “Why MIPS? Imagination makes its case.”

Now the ecosystems become important.

Some of the semiconductor players have pledged their alliances as seen above. Some are running dual strategies, like AMD, who is also running a hybrid x86/ARM strategy with Project Skybridge. Some players change allegiances and even drop or delay certain plays, as seen in “Samsung, Nvidia Shy Away from Server Chip Battle”. And even new players emerge and their allegiances may prove to be interesting, with Tensilica (Cadence) and ARC (Synopsys) providing subsystems relevant to the Intelligent Systems side.

EDA is an interesting participant in the Game of Ecosystems. Certainly, we at Cadence have shown a lot of momentum in the ARM ecosystem (Cadence and ARM Expand Collaboration for 64-bit Processor Designs and Cadence Expands ARM-based System Verification Solution, Reducing Time-to-Market for Mobile, Networking and Server Applications) recently. But EDA in general and Cadence specifically enables all players in this game, from IP to sub-systems to systems on chip as well as chips on boards.

How will this Game of Ecosystems end? How does winning look like? Who will win? Will anybody win? Nobody knows. The title of my first blog post, “May you live in interesting times …”, is even more appropriate today. Times are interesting, and we in EDA are in the midst of it!