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Archive for September, 2009

Engineers Should Pay Attention to M&As

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

I’m told there was a time when engineers could work for one company, in one industry, on one product, for a lifetime. If those Halcyon days ever really existed, they now belong to the forgotten past.

Today’s engineers must take their cues from the business world of Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A).  Engineers can get a good read on what job skills are critical by looking at the types of acquisitions that are taking place. For example, in the hardware world, companies are buying software companies – Intel’s recent acquisition of WindRiver. Hardware companies are buying service companies, like HP’s acquisition of EDS (Has that turned a profit yet?) and Dell purchase of Perot Systems. Of course, hardware companies continue to buy hardware companies.

In the broader market, software companies are buying hardware companies – like Oracle’s acquisition of Sun. Or Mentor Graphic’s purchase of Embedded Alley Solutions. Operating system companies are interested in application companies – consider Microsoft’s rumored interest in gaming leader Electronic Arts. OS software companies are also interested in the equivalent of “service” companies in the software world – Microsoft’s attempted acquisition of Yahoo. And software companies continue to buy software companies.

The lesson is clear. Engineers need a balanced foundation in both hardware and software. To put it more succinctly, hardware engineers must understand how software engineers think and design products – and vice versa. Unfortunately, there are very few courses in today’s universities that offer such hardware-software system-aware (process and product) courses.

A balanced background in HW and SW engineering does not negate the need for engineers with deep knowledge in niche areas. Companies continue to need experts in analog-RF design, deep sub-micro chip design and multicore software design. But from an engineering career perspective, it is a mistake to believe that a specialty education — no matter how up-to-date — will see you through a lifetime of engineering employment.

Balancing Act Also Extends to Memory

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Intel’s re-entrance with Nokia into the embedded mobile phone business will be a delicate balancing act, as Ed Sperling points out (see main article). But this is nothing new for Intel, as they are making a similar incursion into the memory industry.

 

Recently, Intel demonstrated Braidwood – a flash memory-based accelerator that caches I/O directly from the processor to enable much faster boot-up times. It will be part of Intel’s upcoming “5 Series” chipset family.

 

Braidwood is seen by some as a technology that will compete with current board-level Solid State Drive (SSD) devices – another market in which Intel is a player. Talk about a balancing act.

 

Many industry observers see Braidwood as the successor to Intel’s past Turbo Memory initiative which was less than successful in the commercial market. Why re-enter the memory market again? If Braidwood is as fast as advertised, then it might offer a cheaper alternative to SSD which is still relatively expensive compared to traditional DRAM motherboard memory. Naturally, other performance characteristics must also be considered like power consumption, operational conditions, and the like.

 

Why should this technology be of interest to embedded designers?  Granted, Braidwood is squarely aimed at the leading edge processor PC market. However, if successful, it may find ready acceptance in the ever shrinking process nodes of Intel’s embedded ATOM processors, for which fast boot-up times are even more critical than in the PC world.