Celebrating 10 years in EDA ...

Real Intent Looks to the Future

by Peggy Aycinena

Real Intent is really intent on growing its business, here in its tenth year of business, according to CEO Prakash Narain, and Vice President of Sales and Marketing Carol Hallett. I spoke to them both recently by phone.

Narain said, “We’ve always been a verification products company – very stable with a set of loyal customers. They’ve been happy with our products over the last 10 years, and we continue to be excited about our opportunities even in these economic times. [Of course], this will be a mixed year for everyone. We’re seeing that a lot of funding at our customers has been curtailed. Nonetheless, we’re fortunate, because there’s also a lot of willingness to look at tools and products at this time.”

I asked how it is that companies today have the money to evaluate new tools. Narain said, “The urgency to start the next generation [of products] may be a bit less, but there are still gaps in the flow. As a result, people are still finding the time to look at new tools and technology.”

Hallett added, “We’re seeing in the military portion of the industry, for example, there are projects and budgets for those projects. It’s easy for them to say, ‘I’ve got a budget, a requirement, and I want to look at your tools.’ In other places, customers are working on new projects and have already used our tools in their flow. They’ve already done a tapeout and now are trying to clean up those designs for reuse. We can show them how to find a solution.

“Finally, there are the startups. They may not have the budgets for a project, but we’re helping them find ways to move those projects forward nonetheless. [Overall], we’re finding lots of different opportunities, even today.”

At my request, Narain articulated the tools in the Real Intent portfolio, “First off, we have automated functional verification tools, which provide a way to detect and eliminate a very large number of bugs in the design, even before simulation. Those tools include Ascent and Conquest, which apply our strategy in a very comprehensive way.

“Then we look at a second dimension of verification through our Meridian CDC and PureTime, which address clock-domain crossing and timing analysis issues, respectively – also in an automatic and comprehensive way. Our tools [help] you to gain the confidence that formal analysis and automatic formal verification bring to design, but without the difficulties.”

I asked Narain if there are, in fact, two classes of verification – formal analysis and automatic formal. He said, “First, there’s equivalence checking, which is purely combinational formal verification. It’s the most automate for and has been widely used for quite a while. The next level of complexity depends upon how large a sequential behavior you are looking to verify. In our case, by doing automatic formal verification on a large collection of relatively simple behaviors, we can automatically detect up to 50 percent [of the design bugs], which provides tremendous value to our users.”

And how does one find a ‘simple behavior’? Narain said, “We look at the RTL, the way the RTL is written, and from that we can infer implied intent. Using our tools, you don’t have to do much to clear up a large gap in the design quality, even before simulation and testbenches.

“We automatically formulate thousands of checks, which will not cover every bug, but will quickly detect more than half of the bugs in the design. The design to quality build up is therefore very fast, without the latency, so the project moves much more quickly. And the tools can be used by the design engineer, without help from a verification engineer, which provides a high return on investment.”

Do Real Intent tools need to be used in a linear fashion for complete coverage? Hallett laughed and said, “As a sales person, I would certainly say yes!”

I noted that some years ago, there was a big Verification Fad in EDA, and asked if that had been helpful or harmful to Real Intent. Narain said, “That’s a good question, and I’m quite ambivalent about the answer. Verification is a very difficult problem. Typically what happens is, something shows up in the technology and all of a sudden, people get very excited about it. It becomes the talk of the town for a year or two, but technology takes a lot longer than that to develop into usable products.

“The big issue at the time [of the Verification Fad] had to do with the fact that there were multiple verification companies out there. But it’s a tough space requiring lots of investment and hard work. That’s when you need money to outlast the competition and investors who understand what you’re trying to accomplish.

“The attention we got in [the Fad Years] was helpful, but there was also a lot of competition for that attention. However, it’s always been the bigger EDA companies that have been our real competition, and that's no different today than it was back then. [And in fact], we’re not even really competing with the big companies. We’re competing with the image of the Big Three!”

Hallett said, “If you look at our four products and their capabilities, there’s no one really who directly competes with us. There is perhaps some overlap with Mentor, Synopsys, and Cadence, [such that] a customer might say, ‘Why should I pay for your solution, when there’s a solution offered by my big EDA vendor?’

“But the solutions from the Big Three are not always what they’re made out to be. If you don’t want to pay for our solution, you may very well get caught after tapeout having to spend more money on engineering time to fix the things you would have found earlier if you had used our tools. So, you can pay earlier in the process or you can pay later one in the process, after tapeout, if you use the [lesser solutions] from the Big Companies.”

Narain agreed and said, “That’s always the toughest problem for the customer, the pressure to buy a solution versus accept the free, albeit less complete, solution.”

Exit strategy ...

If that’s the case, if the Real Intent technology is superior to the offerings from the Big Three, is acquisition still an exit strategy these days for a verification company?

Narain answered, “It’s true, the traditional model was exit by acquisition. Today those options are harder to come by, however. Right now we are entirely focused on building our business, not on the exit. We have a certain target in mind and we’re making excellent progress towards that target.”

How does Real Intent know what R&D targets to set for itself?

Hallett laughed: “Even our customers don’t understand that process at times, but the verification problem is so big and goes so deep, it’s really like an onion. You have to take off layers and layers to solve the problem, and then do it again. We’re focused on automatic formal verification, and the process of making that problem smaller for our customers.”

I asked Narain how Real Intent keeps their products up to date. Is there a schedule?

He rephrased the question: “You’re asking how do we classify our R&D effort and fit it into our development roadmap. The answer is that we work on a very methodical engineering model. We create a solid infrastructure upon which to deliver products. We do revolutionary work regularly on the technology components, but we package those changes within the capabilities of our products, so the customers don’t have to deal with the changes.

“To do this, we have a core-technology group at Real Intent, an infrastructure-level group, and a product-level group. We create a set of deliverables targets that span all three groups, so advancements in the technology and the infrastructure allow us to build new features into the product”

Narain added, “It’s always a matter of risk assessment and management. Over the course of the history of the company, we’ve had a set of projects and have built on them. At any particular time, some have been high risk, some lower risk, and some predictable risk. You can’t put all of your resources into the high-risk projects, but [you still have to push forward]. It’s a process of continuous adjustment, and requires that you keep executing on multiple fronts.”

“Of course, one of the luxuries we enjoy after being in business for so long, is that we have an extensive infrastructure and a world class team that understands the needs of the market. Our internal assessment of risk is, therefore, quite accurate.”

Hallett noted, “Small projects can turn into much bigger efforts, but the opposite can happen as well. You have to have lots of different project underway at lots of different levels, and be able to productize the successful ones while containing the problems that may crop up on the less successful ones. We have some brilliant people here at Real Intent, who continue to come up with solutions for our customers.”

Narain added: “[At heart], Real Intent is a company of engineers who still want to conquer the world. I started this company hoping to target ABV verification, but we’ve been successful in lots of other areas as well. We have a fantastic group of people here, and all very fortunate to be working together.”

And will Real Intent be at DAC?

“Absolutely,” Narain said. “We’ll be there [showcasing] our longevity, our commitment to our fundamental business principles, and the value proposition we’re bringing to our customers. We’ll show that we’re continuing to build on our 10 years of success and the richness of our roadmap, which is in turn built on the results of having met our R&D goals over the last 4 years.”

Real Intent is, indeed, really intent on growing the business.

June 17, 2009


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