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On the 4xx, 750, and 970 cores -- and exotic peripherals like Blue Gene's Hummer2


Nearly two years have passed since IBM® announced in February 2003 that it was opening its licensing model. What does that mean, and how has it gone? What's available for licensing, and how does it work? How have these efforts been viewed in the marketplace, and what is the future?

Regina Darmoni
Regina Darmoni

developerWorks asked these questions (and many others) of Regina Darmoni, the Program Director of PowerPC® licensing at IBM. A graduate of Michigan State University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Regina has held a variety of engineering, business, and managerial positions in IBM Technology Group prior to leading the licensing effort.

developerWorks: Let's start with Power Everywhere™. You were an early proponent of Power Everywhere. How old is it as an initiative and what impact does it have?

Regina Darmoni: The launch of Power Everywhere came earlier this year, so it's less than a year old. But in terms of its impact, it's just huge. The PowerPC licensing business is -- at least the licensing business as my team practices it -- is about a year and a half old. Power Everywhere raised our profile in the marketplace, its impact has just been phenomenal. We like to think of ourselves as having put the "power" in "Power Everywhere," but really -- that initiative is going to take us to a whole new level of market attention.

dW: And is a part of that?

Darmoni: Yes. is really sort of our way of walking the talk, if you will. brings together a number of industry participants to form a collaborative body to contemplate the future of this architecture, to look at standards that we might adopt in the future. I think a lot of firms talk to their customers, or they listen to their customers in sort of an informal way -- telling very large customers, certainly, that they'll have some ability to influence a roadmap or custom product solutions.

But the formation of under the guise of Power Everywhere really formalizes that process and allows everyone in the Power audience, if you will, to benefit -- not just certain clients. So that's why, from my point of view, it's really our way of walking the talk.

dW: I had also in my notes from your bio that you had spearheaded PowerPC licensing efforts at IBM. Does that mean that there was a time in the past that it wasn't possible to license PowerPC technology?

Darmoni: Well, there was always the potential to license PowerPC technology, however, the agreements were custom and the technology itself wasn't in a portable, or synthesizable, format. It was optimized for the IBM foundry.

With the broadened or opened PowerPC licensing program, now we make -- specifically [or especially] our embedded microprocessor and peripheral cores available to the open market, and clients can license those synthesizable or optimized cores to create custom SoCs and can take those solutions to other foundries for fab if they'd like. They can use our foundry as well -- and certainly, we'd like to have the opportunity to have them use our foundry.

So the ability to license isn't new, but the broad licensing program is relatively new, the portability is new, and the number of licensable cores included in the program is increasing.

dW: And how new an initiative is that?

Darmoni: It was announced in February 2003.

dW: I hadn't realized that it was quite that new! What has the reaction been?

Darmoni: We are really on a roll now. I think initially the marketplace was a little suspicious. There was a concern that IBM would withhold certain cores for its own use, or that licensees would adopt the platform, then IBM would announce some earth-shaking product that would just kill the licensee solution. And there were others who thought that this was, perhaps, a "fill the fab" initiative at IBM, that we were going to ask clients to license our technology and then require them to build licensed products in the IBM foundry.

In the end, the interest has been keen, market leaders and others have signed on, the adoption rate is going very well, and I think clients and observers have been very surprised and delighted to see how this program has rolled out.

Also, we have a collaboration, or partnership really, with Chartered. They're a process partner, and so we also encourage clients to consider fabbing at Chartered as well, making use of IBM process technology as well as our IP. This provides another level of flexibilty to our licensees and allows them to fully leverage IBM's technology.

dW: The way you said that, it reminds me of the recent stories about ARM saying that they plan to compete with their own licensees. Did you see those?

Darmoni: Well, I didn't see anything directly from ARM, but from what I have read in the trade press, they're talking about developing peripheral IP to go around their microprocessor cores. I am not sure that there is a huge competitive concern with that, since there are multiple sources of third-party IP today. However, there are few sources of licensable microprocessor IP today.

Licensing embedded cores

dW: Speaking of competitive threat, with the 4xx family -- if I wanted to license one of those now, do I have to go to AMCC? IBM no longer does those?

Darmoni: Oh, no. AMCC bought our 4XX standard products business.

dW: Oh -- I see.

Darmoni: But I continue to license the [4xx] microprocessor cores. So I won't license out a complete standard product because that's what AMCC has. So no, we don't have to go back to AMCC to confer licensing rights to anyone and no one has to go to AMCC to get licensing rights.

dW: I haven't seen that so succinctly and clearly stated before -- thanks! Have you found that it has caused confusion for other people, as well?

Darmoni: I think initially we did have to spend some time explaining that, but that phase was over pretty quickly. And to be honest with you, every time there is a deal of any sort, we wind up having to explain. So I wouldn't say that it was a huge problem. As an aside, the licensing program benefited from that deal, in that IBM no longer makes 4xx standard products that compete with our PowerPC 4xx licensee offerings -- so one of the early client concerns or suspicions is now off the table.

dW: So from what you have been saying, I can see that you spend a lot of time working directly with customers. And you personally also work with partners like Synopsys and Cadence?

Darmoni: Yes, I do.

dW: What does that have to do with licensing?

Darmoni: A couple of things. One, when we first started, we had cores that had been optimized for the IBM foundry. Whether it was for a standard product or for an ASIC, they were optimized for us. So our objective was to develop cores that could be portable, one and then two, that were optimized for other foundries to demonstrate that we were serious that we would allow and even enable clients to take our IP outside our foundry.

So Synopsys was our partner of choice in helping us to develop the portable cores, also known as synthesizable cores. So that's how we got started with Synopsys. Cadence was our EDA partner of choice to help us develop optimized cores for external foundries. They helped us do an optimized design for TSMC, for example, in .13 micron.

So that's how we got started and of course, as both of those firms helped us to develop specific cores, we have naturally turned to them for support of those cores to help us work with customers, both pre-sale and post-sale, about the functionality of each of the cores. We expect to extend the relationship with those two firms as we introduce more cores into the program.

Accordingly, we announced at the event that we were bringing two new cores to market, the PowerPC 440 synthesizable core and the PowerPC 405 synthesizable core. Again, Synopsys helped us soften those cores.

dW: So you work directly with partners, you work directly with customers -- what other kinds of tasks fill your day (if you have time for any others, I mean!)

Licensing terms

Darmoni: I work with the accountants and the lawyers [laughs]. That takes up a lot of the day. [That is actually] another thing that clients [often] come to the table with -- the perception that IBM is going to be difficult to do business with and that IBM lawyers, in particular, are just entrenched and difficult to deal with.

We have done a number of these licensing deals now. We really sort of have it down -- I wouldn't say down to an art, but it's kind of standardized at this point, and it's pretty easy, relatively speaking. I think that it has been very easy this past year to get through the typical contract phase, and I think that has come as a surprise -- I'll say a happy surprise -- for most clients. And to put in a plug for the IP attorney on the team, he has really been very helpful. Which is a thing -- I'm not sure how many people can say that about the lawyers working on their projects.

dW: Is it possible to characterize the general license terms, or is it different for each customer?

Darmoni: The specifics of the terms are released only under NDA...

[What I can tell you is that] the business model is standard in the industry, which is an access fee for the use of the IP and a royalty of each component that's built using the IP. I think that users will find that the rates are very, very competitive and certainly the offering is comprehensive. A licensee gets a processor core, our high performance CoreConnect™ bus, all the toolkit cores one needs to use the CoreConnect bus... Several peripheral IP cores that are closely coupled to the processor core, and a bridge core that enables licensees to continue to use peripheral cores that were not developed for CoreConnect. One doesn't find a comprehensive offering like that so standard in the industry.

dW: Is it a separate license and negations to be able to use the PowerPC trademark?

Darmoni: No, we include a trademark license agreement in our licensing contracts. And we hope that clients will see the benefit of using our Power brand. We don't require them to use it, but we do enable it.

All the IP that's fit to license

dW: So I can license the 4xx cores -- can I also license 970 or 750 technology or cores?

Darmoni: You can. What we have is a standard day-in, day-out program for the PowerPC 4xx embedded line. We do the PowerPC 7xx and the PowerPC 9xx family on a more customized basis.

dW: So if I wanted to license and make my own 970, I could come and do that?

Darmoni: Your own design around the PowerPC? You could.

dW: Wow. That's cool. Has anybody done it?

Darmoni: Yes, we have licensed out the PowerPC 7xx line, but I have not yet licensed out a 9xx product.

dW: What other things do we license? I know CoreConnect, Blue Logic® -- can you describe the range?

Darmoni: Sure. In the PowerPC licensing program, we don't just license out the core. So we also license out our high performance bus as you referred to, CoreConnect. We also include a number of peripherals around the core in our licensing program. So one will find like a DMA controller or an SRAM controller -- a number of peripherals that are included that we consider high-value peripherals that are closely coupled to the processor.

We include, for those clients who have developed IP that's not on the CoreConnect bus, we include a bridge core, which will enable them to continue to use that IP . That's largely IP for the AMBA bus, which is another well-known bus standard in the industry.

Along with the CoreConnect license, we include all of the things that a licensee is going to need to hook up to that - all of the arbiters and the monitors -- what we call the CoreConnect toolkit cores -- as well.

dW: You mentioned somebody developing their own IP around the core. If I were to do that, obviously, the core remains our IP, but what about the IP I developed? Is that mine?

Darmoni: It's yours, yes. Our IP remains our IP and your IP remains your IP.

dW: And can I license my IP to someone who licenses your IP? Would I be able to say, "Here's my IP and it works great with IBM cores?"

Darmoni: Oh, sure -- that's music to my ears. In fact, the whole Power Everywhere, the whole initiative -- is about that. It's about broadening the base, really of Power users and growing that ecosystem. We really want to see more providers out there saying, "I have developed IP that is going to work with Power." So absolutely.

dW: All right. How about other IBM IP -- something like, say the Blue Gene® supercomputers, which have a special -- or rather, two special FPU units for each processor. Is that the kind of thing that somebody could come and approach you and say, "I'd like to license that?"

Darmoni: Yes.

dW: Really? That's so cool!

Darmoni: That design, you know, is comprised of several -- well, maybe several is an understatement [laughs] -- but a lot of PowerPC 440 cores. So that core is certainly being licensed, and a single FPU is also part of our licensing program today. And we can make that Hummer2 (as we call it -- [that is the] code name -- dual FPU an offering in the program as well.

dW: Hummer2 is such a great name for that -- does it ever happen that a code name turns into a product name in real life? (That you know of?)

Darmoni: I don't know about that, but I agree, Hummer2 is a great name. I do know that some names never leave the development labs and sometimes that is a Good Thing [laughs].

dW: Here is one that is probably a bit naive: if I really wanted something that was pretty much an off-the-shelf solution, is there any point or savings to me licensing that and having it done myself if I'm not making any modifications?

Darmoni: An off-the-shelf solution like an SoC or a standard product?

dW: Like a standard product. Obviously not the 4xx line. That's AMCC now, but maybe the 750. Would there be any point to me having it made myself?

Darmoni: So if you weren't going to be adding any differentiating IP, right?, you'd be better off just taking the standard product.

dW: OK. So I come to you, and I come and license a core and build it up and modify it, am I left on my own, or how does support work? Is that a separate contract?

Darmoni: When you license a core from us, we include support with the license fee.

So whether we provide the support or a third party contractor provides the support, we will help you integrate our IP into your design.

dW: And then when I have done all that, what do I put them in? By which I mean to ask -- what is the range of the kinds of things are people putting Power Architecture-based chips into, and where can they be found?

Darmoni: We are in set-top boxes, we are in wireless LANs and networking solutions, we are in cameras, we are, obviously, in the major gaming platforms -- [that is] we are either in, or going to be in, all three of the major video game consoles. We are in printers, FPGAs... Needless to say, we have quite a presence in the IT compute space. Those are the products and segments that come to mind immediately. I am looking forward to answering that question, very soon with a simple, one word answer, "Everywhere".

PowerPC licensing at "Little Blue"

dW: We are nearing the end of our time, and I want to thank you for giving us so much of your time today -- I know you are very busy. My last question is, is there anything that you wanted to talk about, but that I failed to ask about?

Darmoni: I think the other thing I would mention is that we're little right now. When you're the little guy, clients have a tendency to sort of stand back and watch and wait and see, but I think that, among others, market leaders, very important firms, have signed up for this program. You've seen them, [so] you don't need me to tell you. I think their trust is very well placed, and I think that you'll see soon that they're being joined by many, many others. It's an exciting time for the licensing team.

dW: It's refreshing to hear that you consider us to be the little guy -- I mean, people usually think of IBM as being so big.

Darmoni: Well, IBM -- the mothership -- has that broad patent portfolio, and is a very experienced, successful, enduring licensor of technology. But as a licensing entity in the embedded microprocessor space, particularly, [we are a newcomer]. We feel and behave like a small, entrepreneurial company. [And it has really] been a phenomenal year for us -- and it has, frankly -- been a lot of fun. We are still smaller than our competitors in this space, but we have benefited tremendously from the Power Everywhere initiative. We have tremendous momentum, and I would just say... that really we're expecting huge things -- of ourselves, and of our licensees.

dW: You know, I get that feeling a lot, from the different people in different groups at IBM that I talk with -- it's very entrepreneurial and small-feeling, for being such a big company. But in this space, with the licensing -- have you got any qualms about being the little guy?

Darmoni: About being the little guy, I just want to say one thing. My jui-jitsu teacher used to say to us when were out competing individually and as a team, when you're not on the top, when you're on the bottom and not the leader, you can't think about not winning: winning is all you can think about. You can't think about giving up. You have to think that your competitor is getting tired too, that he's working -- and worried about what you are going to do, too. So you have to keep working too and stay focused on your plan and if you do, at the end of the match, you're going to be on top. I think that's what's going to be true here in a couple of years. We're going to be on top.

dW: Great. Well thank you. Thank you so much.

Darmoni: Thanks a lot.

Next month, Meet the Experts will cover Linux™ and the Power Architecture -- both Linux on PowerPC as well as Linux on POWER -- as well as open standards. Please feel free to send in questions you may have to the developerWorks Power Architecture editors. We'll include those in the next interview, or -- if you have questions on another topic, please send those as well, and we will try to line up the right person or people to answer them in a future Meet the experts interview.

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