Unbelievable! FPGA Journal is running a feature article on a Xilinx organization change? What’s next, an exposé on Altera’s new carpets at corporate headquarters? Maybe an in-depth analysis of Lattice’s motivation for switching from Seattle’s Best to Stumptown coffee in their cafeteria? What happened to the concept of discriminating technical journalism?
While org-chart changes are certainly not our typical subject matter, we’re not just talking about a few ambitious executives forging a path up the corporate career ladder. We won’t repeat the details from the press releases. What we’re doing here is reading the organizational taxonomy tea leaves and seeing more than just another quarterly agitation of the strategic solution. Sitting atop the industry leader’s latest announcement is a coming of age story, a tale of an industry that’s returned from its walkabout, braved its bar mitzvah, conquered its quinceanera and moved on to maturity.
No longer can the people designing systems with programmable logic fall under the single banner of “FPGA designer.” With applications spanning the entire digital electronics spectrum, the number and diversity of designers is growing on a daily basis. This is not new information to most of us. What is new is the fact that the companies that defined the industry, typically the last to acknowledge a change of direction, are gearing up to greet the new generation of customers as if they’re here to stay. DSP designers will no longer evolve into “FPGA designers.” They will remain DSP designers, but will happen to use one of the latest, most popular technologies for DSP system acceleration. Embedded systems engineers will not transform themselves into programmable logic aficionados; they will simply leverage the power of the most powerful available embedded platform in their portfolio.
Xilinx now differentiates its customers by what they refer to as “personas.” Each persona is a distinct combination of background, skills and design goals. A high-performance DSP designer might be one persona, whereas the embedded software developer might be another. This acknowledgement of digital designer diversity is profound because it has worked its way from the application domain to the engineer to the strategic plan and emerged in a divisional structure.
In this first-ever FPGA Journal interactive article, we’d like to ask for your persona. If you’d like to drop us an e-mail (click here) and tell us about it, we’ll publish the results in just a few weeks. If you’d prefer to remain anonymous, just let us know in your note. If you find that the big’ol blank e-mail form is just too intimidating, here are some ideas to get you started. You can even cut-and-paste them if you like, but don’t expect many points for originality. We’ll probably guess where they came from.
Idea #1: “I’ve been designing with programmable logic for my entire career. I learned PAL programming from St Francis of Assisi in 1212 and have been hand-generating configuration files since that time. I don’t trust software tools and haven’t yet made the switch from PLDs to FPGAs because they just seem too unpredictable.”
Idea #2: “I first heard of programmable logic a couple of weeks ago in an article in Popular Science. I’m thinking of using a Cyclone device with a Nios core in my home gardening robot project. I’m wondering if you can download a free sample device from the web along with the design software.”
Idea #3: “I’ve spent the past fifteen years doing ASIC design at ####-#####. Our management has just issued a “no more ASICs” mandate, so I’m reading this article to learn about FPGAs. So far, I haven’t learned anything.”
Idea #4: “I work in the defense industry at #########. #### ### ###### # #####, #####. ## ##### # ### ##### ## #### ##########. ## ## #####? ##, ### # ######!”
Idea #5: “I’m a DSP expert, and am just examining the feasibility of FPGAs for my next project. I find the performance quite attractive, but I’m a little worried about designing actual hardware. Can I generate VHDL directly from MATLAB? No?”
Idea #6: “I am a student at UFPGA working on a master’s thesis. I have attached my VHDL code, which is correct but will not compile for some reason. Could you please review my design and tell me what is wrong with the compiler?”
We’re pretty sure you can come up with something more interesting, true, and insightful than these examples, but we wanted to help you get going. Tell us about yourself. We’ll read all the answers and, in just a few weeks, we’ll tell you back.
In creating new DSP and embedded systems divisions, Xilinx is betting that more than a few of you will fall into one of those two categories. Judging from the past year’s announcements, we’d say a good number of their competitors have similar ideas. Altera’s Stratix II has features targeting both DSP and embedded systems, and Lattice’s ECP-DSP aims to bring low-cost FPGA-based signal processing to the market. EDA is in on the game, too. Synplicity and AccelChip are both marketing tools aimed specifically at helping DSP designers get into FPGAs, and Celoxica has long been working to assist the embedded systems designer targeting programmable logic. The market for such applications is potentially huge, and if these vendors’ hunches turn out to be accurate, even the most optimistic industry analysts may have underestimated the market growth for the next few years.
Every silver lining has a cloud, of course. One of the biggest challenges in reaching new markets is education. With a technology as complex as FPGA, potential adopters are frightened by the learning curve and put off by the requirement to learn a complete new vocabulary. This seems to be the thrust behind Xilinx’s new organization. Instead of traveling to a foreign land and teaching the inhabitants FPGA-speak, Xilinx will learn the native tongue of the new customer and approach him on his own terms.
Will this approach bear fruit? We think it’s likely. The big assumption is that the “personas” are on target. Once we hear from you, maybe we’ll be better equipped to guess.