Wild River: Simplifying SI so Engineers Can Focus on Design
Al Neves is founder and chief technologist of Wild River Technology, and he’s a signal integrity engineer who likes to tell it like it is. So when I bumped into Al during DesignCon, I asked him to sit down for an interview. We discussed the paper he co-wrote for DesignCon and the challenges SI engineers are facing, as well as Wild River’s efforts to take the black magic out of signal integrity.
Andy Shaughnessy: Al, I understand you're presenting a paper at Design Con. Tell us about it.
Al Neves: It's really about signal integrity and tools to make your life easier as a signal integrity engineer. We're seeing a common theme. It's really actually quite cool, and quite classical. We take old RF microwave structures and adapt them to modern signal integrity with the new EDA tools such as Simbeor THz, we're using that extensively. The specific structures that we're looking at are resonators. We're taking resonators and we're making very simple measurements. We'll be able to extract and validate the material properties up to 40 and 50 gigahertz. It takes us a minute or two to do it. If we add a little bit of de-embedding, then we can also look at both the dielectric constant and the loss factor. We do that with some very simple measurements.
The old-school microwave stuff is still really valid. These are structures that were built by guys like R.W. Beatty, so it's a Beatty standard. It started off as a wave guide. We've adapted it for signal integrity, and that's the topic of our paper this afternoon.
Shaughnessy: I understand your company, Wild River Technology, is doing pretty well. What are some of the challenges that you're helping your customers with?
Neves: Our only business is to help signal integrity people. That includes the manager and the engineer. From the manager's perspective, managers are driven by schedules and risk. Schedules and risk. They generally don't establish the parameters of the project. They're basically told by marketing or some other organization that this is what they need to get done. They project manage. They're driven by schedules and risk. We dramatically reduce the risk for the signal integrity manager. We make the job of the signal integrity engineer easier so can focus on his design. Let's say a guy is designing a phone. He's stuck on a via. There's a via that he has to design. Do you want him designing the phone? Or do you want him designing the via? The via is an impediment for him.
So, it's a drive towards a system solution. We help him get over that via issue. You want him using the materials or establishing loss models? We have our channel modeling program and it's an incredible risk reducer. People are using materials and they don't really understand the materials. They don't really understand the models. They're in a lot of cases blundering through it. They have a lot of risk, and they don't see the results of their problem until they're deep into their design.
Shaughnessy: Of course.
Neves: We call that going down the rat hole. We create a small platform that has incredibly good launch designs and take their stack-up, and we review it. We design launches, transmission lines, and we fabricate and create loss models to 40 gigahertz and tools like Simbeor, HFSS, CST, in four weeks flat. You're the middle manager. You get asked by your executive manager, "How's the new project coming along?" You pull this mini Channel Modeling platform out and you say, "Here's our stack-up." We've already built the stack-up. The launch design looks great.
The guys are already working with real validated loss models. Then, inside of 12 weeks, we build a massive platform that they have a big input in that has all the goodies. We create a full model library. Inside of 12 weeks, they have a 16x20 platform with our stands, and we make multiple numbers of those if they want. We distribute those. They can distribute those to their satellite design organizations.
Now all the organizations are talking the same language. They can also use it for simulation or measurement validation, and it can be cross functional. So they can say, “Hey, I had a problem simulating this. This is going to be in our project. This is how I overcame that problem.” Now they have a common denominator to communicate, and that business has gone explosive on us. It looks like we're going to do some serious business.
Shaughnessy: I heard you’ve attracted some other pretty high-powered customers lately.
Neves: Yeah. There's a new release coming out from CST and also from Mentor Graphics. They're both customers and they're using our platform to validate and show their customers the accuracy of their solution. We're becoming the standard of benchmarking EDA tools to simulation measurement. Right now there's only one company that is not one of our customers, and that's Cadence, but I really haven't tried to land them yet. But ANSYS, CST, Simbeor, and Mentor Graphics are using us.
Mentor is doing a presentation this afternoon to show the correlation of their tool also. If you went to the CST booth, you'd see our product in there. On March 2, we're going to be doing a webinar with CST. We're really excited about all this. We're in the eye of the storm and the thick of it, and signal integrity is a good place.
Shaughnessy: Do you see any trends? Any changes in your segment?
Neves: Yes. In a lot of the presentations, I'm still seeing a lot of lousy launch designs. I'm still seeing a lot of basic mistakes in signal integrity and I'm still seeing people who are overlooking the issues of causality when they're de-embedding. My company's job security looks like it's going to be insured for a long time from what I'm seeing. Things are improving in the industry, but people are still making basic mistakes, and they're still taking on unacceptable levels of risk based upon how fast they need to turn things.
Shaughnessy: You mentioned that you're so busy now that you almost don't have enough manpower to get everything done?
Neves: Managing and running a small company is extremely challenging.
Shaughnessy: How many people do you have on staff?
Neves: We have five people right now. We're going to be trying to hire more this next year. To hire people you need money. To make money, you need resources and people.
Shaughnessy: The chicken or the egg.
Neves: And then you have the challenges of a tax code that's not very beneficial for the small company. You have the difficulties of legal and purchasing groups within organizations that are inflexible.
They like to kick the little guy. The world needs to understand that the economic lifeblood of our country is small business. These big acquisitions are going to cause a lot of people to lose their jobs. That's a contraction. The small business is an expansion. I really think that people in this country need to start thinking about being motivated to help small businesses grow. If you go to Malaysia, which we did, and teach a class, the Malaysian government will give you $14,000 to teach the class, along with the other companies that were there. In India and Malaysia, a lot of these companies are very motivated to boost their high-tech, and their tax code reflects that.
We're started selling internationally recently. We just sold one of our platforms to IBM Zurich. We're doing business in Japan, and we're slowly becoming an international company. Things are looking good.
Shaughnessy: Sounds like a company that Mentor or Cadence would want to buy.
Neves: Oh wow. I'd love that. Hey, Mentor folks (laughs)! We'll see. We're kind of in a niche space. We're probably not a viral software company, but that would sound interesting.
Shaughnessy: You could buy a nice guitar, a top-of-the-line Taylor.
Neves: That's the dream. It's funny because I run the company, but then I'm driving down in my Ford Expedition with a carpet on the roof for our trade show booth because it saves us money. We're always cost-constrained. We're always trying to do things so we can move things forward in terms of cash flow management.
Shaughnessy: Have you seen any good papers at DesignCon?
Neves: Yeah, the COM (channel operation margin) paper that I did with Mentor Graphics. The room was standing room only. Vladimir [Dmitriev Zdorov, principal engineer with Mentor] just knocked the entire room on its ass.
Shaughnessy: What was the paper called?
Neves: “BER- and COM-Way Channel Compliance Evaluation: What are the Sources of Difference?” He basically said that COM doesn't work. Having said that, com has channel operating margin. It's a way of looking at SerDes. We're looking at ways of doing and we're improving SerDes testing with our serial link products. We're introducing a new product called the Crosstalk Platform. The Crosstalk Platform is going to completely change how people do crosstalk testing with loss and crosstalk testing of SerDes. We're looking at everybody's assumption of how crosstalk works, and the simplifications, breaking down. For both 32 gig NRZ and 56 gig PAM4, which is the hot new thing. We're seeing a lot of 56 gig PAM4. You seeing the same thing?
Shaughnessy: I have heard a lot about PAM4 at DesignCon. Well, it sounds like you guys are on the right track. Thanks for your time, Al. I appreciate it.
Neves: Thank you, Andy.