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Understanding Frog Behavior

The next area of real growth will come from understanding the silos of business and technology and how to break them down.

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Change is rarely something people can grasp, particularly in technology. Unless it involves a completely new way of doing things—witness the PC, the cell phone and the Internet, for example—most change involves evolutionary improvements.

This is the proverbial frog in a pot of boiling water. Heat the frog up slowly and it will cook. Throw the frog into boiling water and it will leap to safety.

Changes at the chip level are even harder to discern than they are at the end device level. We have been using bulk CMOS for decades, following Moore’s Law since 1965, and working with automation tools that in some cases have been around for nearly 20 years. Everything has improved significantly, of course, or else we’d never be able to design SoCs with 100 million gates or processors with a billion or more gates.

But the next real growth in the tools world will come not from a specific inflection point at a process node. It will come from an understanding of how business is intersecting with technology, breaking down silos on both sides. While technology has always been driven by money—Moore’s Law is, to a large extent, an economic statement after all—the two worlds have been remarkably self-contained. Aside from squeezing every last penny out of a design, a package, a substrate or a manufacturing process, the design process really hasn’t been about understanding how technology and business can really work together.

That will change significantly in stacked die—a first step toward merging those two worlds—as well as in the areas of optimizing hardware and software to improve performance and reduce power. Some of the approaches are well tested. Multi-chip modules and system-in-package approaches have been around for years, for example, even though the business drivers have changed significantly to make them far more popular. Being able to re-use analog or customize a multi-die implementation with MEMS or sensors is a radical shakeup in the barriers that have existed between these areas of expertise. Likewise, being able to harness only the resources that are necessary is well understood, but applying those same concepts to extending battery life or improving performance for a specific application is a radically different approach than making everything work with a general-purpose processor.

We may well be dealing with the same frog and the same pot of boiling water, but the real opportunity may be in understanding exactly how hot the water needs to be, how large the pot is, when the heat is best applied, how much that will cost, and whether you really need to cook the frog in the first place.

–Ed Sperling