Synopsys Plays The Standards Game Well
This software company takes IEEE standards seriously—and to a whole new level.
We know that everyone involved in the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) is passionate about standards. However, software company Synopsys takes that drive to a whole new level.
“Our customers just tell us over and over, ‘We need standards, we need open interfaces’,” says Karen Bartleson, senior director of community marketing for Synopsys. “They look to the leading companies -to make that happen.”
Synopsys is one of those companies, and if you don’t know who they are, you probably aren’t familiar with how to build a chip. Take a look at some of your favorite computer devices; that laptop, that new Blu-ray player, and even the Nintendo Wii are all aided by computer chips—very small ones. Back when everything was a little less fun, those chips were designed by hand. Now, with billions of parts, everything has to be designed with computer programs. That’s where Synopsys comes in. They are the people making the programs. “Every single company that designs computer chips uses our software,” says Bartleson.
With that kind of power comes collaboration, so Synopsys is also heavily involved in electronic design automation (EDA) and the EDA Consortium. Like the IEEE SA, this is a place where companies come together to develop tools and services to create products for every inch of the globe. And like IEEE, the EDA loves its standards.
The EDA Process
“Being a member of the SA has given us the ability to participate in leading-edge standards,” says Bartleson. “To get them done in a timely fashion, and to support them to make our customers’ chip designs go better.” Of course, Synopsys has a lot of customers with a lot of needs. They want to satisfy those needs, so what better way to work on them than in an open forum?
However, the standards process does not always start with the IEEE SA. “There are some existing organizations; one of them is called Accellera. We start doing the standards work there,” Bartleson says. After an idea gets fleshed out, Accellera puts together what it considers its own standard. “Once that gets completed, then we transfer it to IEEE.” Bartleson says that Synopsys is also involved with other consortia not associated with the IEEE SA, such as the Silicon Integration Initiative (SI2). In those cases, the completed standards are made available to the EDA companies for use.
On to IEEE
Despite the many players Synopsys deals with in the standards arena, they have been extremely active in the IEEE SA over the years. Since becoming a member in 2004, Synopsys has had its people involved in the making of 35 different standards. Just a few of those include IEEE 1801™ Low Power Format, IEEE 1850™ PSL, IEEE 1666™ SystemC, and IEEE 1800™ SystemVerilog. “Basically any of the IEEE standards that has to do with our field, we support them in our products,” says Bartleson.
Bartleson says that Synopsys actually chaired the IEEE 1800 working group for several years, before that employee moved on to a different company. The IEEE 1800 group was particularly important to Synopsys. Also known as SystemVerilog, this standard is a computer language that describes how chips function. Yeah—that would be important to a company whose software designs computer chips.
Getting the Word Out
Synopsys isn’t just involved with shaping the standards, but they also want to educate everyone from customers to competitors. Bartleson currently spends a lot of time writing a blog titled The Standards Game. It not only covers the company’s work with the IEEE SA, but also Accellera, SI2, and everyone in between. “If they want to pick my brain, they’ll learn from my experiences,” she says. “Then, every once in a while, I write something weird.”
Aside from the occasional weird topic, Bartleson provides a lot of interesting information about standards and the standardization process. In fact, she’s compiled so much over the years, she has a book coming out titled, The 10 Commandments for Effective Standards. In the book, Bartleson talks about how to cooperate on standards and compete on products.
Synopsys certainly knows when to play nice. However, Bartleson says there are other items to consider when going into the standards process. “Realize that nobody is neutral,” she says. In other words, members need to know that you can’t always get what you want—but you need to work together on something that is fair for all parties involved. “Realize that there are technical and business aspects, and you need to go in with your eyes open.”
That is why Bartleson and Synopsys find the commandments so helpful. “We take it seriously,” says Bartleson of the standards work the company has done. “We really think it’s important—and we have a ton of respect for IEEE.”