LONDON – Design services provider eSilicon Inc. has helped several fabless chip companies and OEMs enter the market by managing their ASIC and SoC flows. It services include everything from IP selection and chip design to foundry and packaging.
Over the last two years, eSilicon has grown from about 150 staffers to about 500, including more than 300 employees based in Asia.
The shift to Asia, particularly China, comes after a decade in which eSilicon expanded beyond the North American market into Europe. The company now has two sites in Vietnam and offices in China, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea.
Founded in 2000, eSilicon (Sunnyvale, Calif.) more or less invented the concept of value chain producer. It succeeded on the basis that IC design has become so complicated at the leading edge that it requires experienced teams capable of consistently bringing in projects on time.
However, eSilicon usually gets paid for those chips it brings to market along with volume sales. Its Asian expansion is risky, an investment that can take two or more years to pay off, acknowledged Jack Harding, CEO and cofounder of eSilicon.
"It was part of a market plan to go there [Asia] in force," Harding said.
The strategy had been brewing since 2008 with a strategy to acquire a Southeast Asia operation as a way to gain a foothold on the continent. Harding eventually selected Silicon Design Solutions Inc. (SDS).
Although headquartered in Milipitas, Calif., SDS was essentially a Asian supplier of semiconductor memory IP cores, including compilers and TCAMs. SDS was founded by two Vietnamese refugees who came to the U.S. after the Vietnam War. After graduating from University of California at Berkeley and working in Silicon Valley, they formed their own company with an engineering base in Vietnam and built it up to employ 160 people.
Harding said the acquisition was a good fit because it allowed eSilicon to offer memory IP. "The average SoC is approximately 50 percent SRAM, but most of the effort to squeeze the area is in logic. We realized we could go back to customers [with memory IP] and save area. It became a must-have at 40 nm [and] beyond.”
Since acquiring SDS in April 2010, eSilicon has added another 100 employees in Vietnam and 50 in China.
The Asian focus has boosted eSilicon’s design services in two ways, Harding explained. Both relate to the rise of Taiwanese and Singapore foundry chip manufacturing.
First, ASIC and SoC supply chains are concentrated in Taiwan, with its tight-knit network of industry executives. Even for sophisticated North American and European engineering design teams, connecting with the Taiwanese supply chain once every two years has become difficult, Harding stressed. Hence, Western design teams are coming to eSilicon to speed up design times and gain access to wafers that they could not find on their own.