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FBGs that are more precise in the frequency domain should enable communications carriers to increase the number of wavelengths that can be sent down a single fiber-optic cable in DWDM systems where FBGs are used for filtering, routing and conditioning the individual wavelengths that carry data. Hence the company's work on 320-channel/fiber systems.

Take programmable logic, which was itself a disruptive technology when it roared onto the scene in the 1980s. For the first two decades of its existence, programmable logic–particularly FPGAs–played an excellent design role as glue logic and prototyping vehicle.

But as Moore's Law progressed, FPGAs got smaller and more powerful, and new opportunities arose. First came microprocessor cores–some home-grown by FPGAs, others licensed from IBM or ARM or MIPS. Quickly other IP cores started weaving their way onto FPGAs, memories, phase-locked loops and the like.

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Today, it seems to me, FPGAs are at a crossroads. I thought about this on a conference call with Mahesh Tirupattur, executive vice president with clocking and interconnect cores vendor Analog Bits, and Paul Ekas, marketing vice president with Microsemi Corp. They carved out some time in their day to talk about Microsemi deploying Analog Bits' Serdes ip in its SmartFusion 2 SoCs. The ip is aimed at serving applications such as PCI Express Gen1/Gen2, up to 10G ethernet and other interfaces.

Make v. Buy This was a make or buy decision for Microsemi.

This was a major de-risking for us,” Ekas said. We're new to transceivers. We had to make sure whatever we got into the product worked. They have a track record of delivery.” (Analog Bits has supplied PLLs to Microsemi for some time).

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This is an intriguing comment from a company (Microsemi) that does a fair amount of its own ip development, while also buying microprocessor cores from ARM and memory-controller cores from other vendors.

So, over time, what value proposition will FPGA vendors provide? Today, it's their programmable fabric, but that piece of real estate in some cases is shrinking relatively to other blocks on ip on chip. And you're stuck using their back-end tools. Often that's OK, but in an open-source, plug-and-play world, how long can that last? 

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We recognize in the end, that what the customers are doing is trying to deliver more performance and lower cost or lower power at lower cost with limited resources,” Ekas said. And they take that in environment that moves quickly forward.”

The enablers are the fabric and integrating (ip) responsibly to the market segments,” Ekas said.

Vertical integration boosts connector market

When industry leaders collaborate to create a standard, the reason always cited is interoperability”.Yet do we really understand what is meant by this seemingly simple term? Because there is sometimes confusion about the nuances of this concept, let’s explore its meaning in greater depth.

The first point is to be precise what must interoperate at the outset.Tool-to-tool interfaces are most often assumed, numerous library-to-tool interfaces are essential, and user-to-tool interfaces are also very popular (such as with any design language).Sometimes, a request for tool-to-tool interoperability also requires specifying an associated library-to-tool standard for the interoperability benefits to be realized – this should be clearly understood up front.

The next choice is to define the appropriate architectural level of abstraction for the task at hand: data-based versus file-based interoperability.This is a tradeoff of what versus how”, and is critical to comprehend, and apply, in the proper context.Data-based interoperability ensures that the information (semantics, data, and their relationships) is preserved across tools and/or libraries.Since this is where the most effort is invested in our electronics industry, and represents the actual IP content, it is by far the most important asset to protect and typically the true business goal behind interoperability”.File-based interoperability represents a common implementation format, and is also very convenient; however it emphasizes syntax for one single format, sometimes in lieu of clear data semantics.The main problem with file-based interoperability is that it may not be practical when multiple formats are already well-ingrained across the ecosystem (and unlikely to change).The ideal case is to enable both data and file-based interoperability when feasible, but data can be automatically mapped into multiple syntaxes if the semantics have been well-defined.For interoperability problems where proprietary file formats are solidly entrenched (for any number of reasons), data-based interoperability is the only practical, widely-adoptable solution.As Albert Einstein famously stated, The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

But Morris Chang, aged 81 years, must be close to retirement and Otellini, aged 62, has already announced his plans to step down and that the search for his replacement has started. Related links and articles:

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