Harnhua Ng and Kirvy Teo started Plunify in 2008 to make PLDs easier to design and use. Plunify stands for "Programmable Logic Unify." They are on a mission to provide a simple, one-stop, integrated online platform.
The two engineers bring both education and directly relevant work experience to offering an innovative SaaS platform for FPGA design.
I had a chance to correspond with Mr. Ng over Skype and via E-mail, what follows is an edited transcript of our various exchanges.
- HarnHua Ng has an MS in Electrical Engineering from Stanford
University and a BS in Electrical & Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon
University. He has developed FPGA-based customer solutions at Xilinx and
worked on system firmware at Advanced Micro Devices.
- Kirvy Teo has a BS in Computer Science from the National University of Singapore and has worked as a Systems Analyst before starting his own text messaging and web services company in 2004.
Q: Can you talk about your service? Who is the customer, what does it
do for them?
Plunify offers Software as a Service (SaaS) that enables FPGA
designers to create FPGA applications faster and cheaper through Cloud
Computing. We have integrated two open source simulators--Icarus Verilog and GHDL for VHDL--and support both Xilinx's WebPACK Design Software (11.1 and 12.1) and Altera's Web Edition (9.1 SP1, 9.1 SP2, and 10.0)
The beauty of Plunify's SaaS approach is that an FPGA designer can
login via a browser and immediately start working on a project. This
saves time by avoiding software installation, configuration and
maintenance. We give designers the option of using any version of the
tools that their design requires.
Q: What have you learned in developing the service?
One interesting thing we learned is how best to use and maximize the
attributes of Cloud Computing for FPGA design.
We built on top of Amazon Web Services after thoroughly benchmarking
several different virtual servers. Sometimes what is faster or larger
on paper does not perform better for FPGA designs. We tested a number
of different designs on different devices in both 32bit and 64bit
Q: Your website still says beta, has that deterred folks from signing up?
We are still in beta but we are happy to say we have more than 120
designers from 30 countries currently using the product. Most became
aware of us through either Google AdWords or our contributions to a
number of on-line forums devoted to FPGA design. China in particular
has a burgeoning FPGA design community.
We have received very helpful feedback from our early adopters
and continue to refine the product. We continue to offer free accounts
for evaluation purposes, designers can register on our site.
Q: How have you changed since you started?
Our initial motivation was to act like a FPGA consultant, helping
engineers to evaluate the myriad FPGA offerings out there in the
market. Using a custom automated platform, we generate interactive
reports that help designers evaluate their FPGA options. We decided to
offer a SaaS approach based on Cloud Computing because it is a very
low cost and flexible computing platform that we can scale easily on
As we spoke to more users we learned that finding the best
chip for an FPGA application was not that important for them. Many times,
decisions had already been made before they started working on
the design. Or engineers might simply hedge their bets by using as
large a chip as they could realistically target.
Designers were more concerned about resource and automation
problems, which were the same problems that had bothered us when we were
experimenting with different FPGA designs. FPGA designers want cheap
and flexible compute resources, ways to cut down the processing time
and shorten design cycles. They need a simple system to maintain
multiple versions of design tools and test new versions to ensure
compatibility with their designs.
Q: What key skill or experience did you lack when you started that has caused you the most problem?
For now, the lack of network and contacts is our biggest challenge.
Being relatively younger founders, we lack a wide network of potential
customers and also don't have the right connections at the right
levels in the FPGA chip makers. To a certain extent, not being
physically in Silicon Valley can also be a disadvantage. We can
relocate but we also need time to steadily build up experience in
sales / marketing, raising funds and getting partnership deals.
Q What has been the biggest surprise: what was one key
assumption you made, perhaps even unconsciously, that has caused the
Working with larger companies has taken longer than we would have liked.
Q: What development, event, or new understanding since you started has had the most impact on your original plan? How has your plan changed in response?
Thanks to our users, gaining a deeper understanding of the FPGA
eco-system has had the most impact.
We are very grateful for the advice and feedback from people we
meet--some with ASIC backgrounds, EDA experience, FPGA designers,
managers, investors, Cloud Computing experts and industry bloggers.
Originally we started out as "automated consultants" with a single
feature. Now, it is part of a larger solution for FPGA designers. Our
plans changed from creating a user-friendly interface to a more
interactive and integrated software platform with a robust backend.
This shift also affected fund-raising discussions. With better
understanding of our market, we learned to better prioritize strategic
planning and product development. It is really a tremendous learning
Q: Thanks for your time.
Sean Murphy is CEO
of SKMurphy, Inc, a consulting
firm that offers customer development services for entrepreneurs with
a focus on early customers and early revenue.