31 Jul Silicon Logic Enables High-Speed Communication
Jeff West has done both, and in the process has poised Silicon Logic Engineering (SLE), the company he co-founded in 1996 with fellow Cray Research veterans Mike Berry and Bob Solberg, to sit on the crest of the high-speed communications wave already taking shape on the high seas of communications technology.
Having announced an agreement with computer industry icon Texas Instruments Inc. in January to jointly develop complex application specific integrated circuits (ASICs) for TI customers, SLE now is quickly building a customer base for its first product, a system packet interface level 4 (SPI-4) Phase 2, high-speed interconnection IP block.
SLE already has licensed its SPI-4 products to big-name customers, such as Nortel Networks and Cisco Systems. The key advantage for SLE is that they license their product rather than provide a design service for which customers only pays for the specific project. Cisco has made SPI-4 the standard for its internal chip-to-chip communications
It’s that kind of smart designing that led Venture Investors LLC, Madison, to invest in the company in April 2002.
“We invested to provide working capital to finance their growth and to continue produce more intellectual property, which is very important for their business model,” said David Arnstein, associate at Venture Investors. “It’s a tough market right now in the semiconductor space, but we’ve been very pleased so far. These guys are on top of their game as far as the reputation in the field.”
“[They have] exceptionally smart engineers,” he added. “We think they’ll play a very vital role in the IT economy going forward.”
The company appears to have chosen well in designing its first product around the burgeoning SPI-4 phase 2 standard. The upshot of these standards is that different companies’ parts all can talk to each other easily rather than tripping over proprietary interfaces, ultimately giving users better product choices and lower prices, said West.
“The SPI-4 phase 2 implementation agreement was created to further build on the market success of SPI-4 phase 1 by taking advantage of the signaling capability of newer IC processes,” said Steve Joiner, chair of the technical committee for the Optical Internetworking Forum, which developed the standard.
Therefore customers get more bang for their buck, leading West to note that among intellectual property cores in the industry, SPI-4 phase 2 is “kind of red-hot” at the moment. SLE developed the product after getting out from under an exclusive agreement with Synopsys, a computer aided design (CAD) tool vendor with which it had worked basically since the company’s inception. All innovations made by SLE under the agreement belonged to Synopsis; now, SLE can innovate for its own profit.
“That’s one area we’ve been able to take advantage of now that we’re on our own,” said West, who attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and started at Cray Research in 1981. “It [ending the agreement] gave us some freedom to do some things we couldn’t do in the past.”
And now that SLE and Texas Instruments are getting better acquainted with one another, SLE is looking to further the relationship. SLE is currently designing more chips for TI and it’s customers.
The TI deal and other programs have helped to restore SLE to profitability after the company suffered its first down year ever in 2002. Through that, the company was able to build on its solid business relationships with firms such as Nortel, which slashed its workforce from 95,000 people two years ago to around 30,000 today, but continued to use SLE to do chip design.
For SLE last years customers were more likely to spill their layoff woes instead of cash for new products. “We now have customers calling us again with new projects, so we see the lights coming back on,” West said.
Arnstein said it’s looking that way for the entire region. “We think there’s great opportunity in the Chippewa Valley and Eau Claire areas. It’s a great place to be investing.”
Lincoln Brunner is a Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to the Wisconsin Technology Network. He can be reached at Lincoln@wistechnology.com.