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Schulz of Si2 gets jazzed on standards

Posted: 16 Nov 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:si2? jazz? standard? adoption? eda?

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Schulz: To create a viable standard you have to take a broader view of a standard in a business context and say, "What is the business need?'

Steven Schulz of is talking passionately about the electronics industry at a million miles a minute.

Over years of observing, participating in and heading up standards efforts, Schulz says he has learned the valuable lesson that business drives technology, not the other way around. "A standard only becomes a success when everybody adopts it and you don't hear about it any longer," he said.

Standards efforts are born on "an idea and intent, and they jump into it," Schulz said. "But maybe four out of five of them will fail to achieve their goal. We're looking more broadly at all things it will take to achieve a goal. We will not initiate a program unless we satisfy the minimum criterion: widespread adoption."

Schulz is a former IC methodologist at Texas Instruments Inc. and has written impassioned articles on the importance of standards and EDA cooperation. Now he is heading one of those standards organizationsSilicon Integrated Initiative (Si2)and has the chance to follow through on a boyhood dream: to really make a difference at the industry level.

When Steve Schulz joined Si2 two years ago, he canned lesser projects and dismantled Si2's ASIC Council to go full speed ahead on Open-Access. The standard was designed as a common data api that EDA vendors can use to make their tools interoperate seamlessly, something for which customers have been clamoring.

Three years after announcing the effort, Si2 has released v2.2 of the API in September. More important, the organization reports that its OpenAccess coalition is growing and now has 25 members, including EDA heavyweights Cadence Design Systems and Mentor Graphics, and chipmakers Freescale Semiconductor, IBM, Intel, LSI Logic, Philips, Renesas and Sun Microsystems.

Next-gen invention
The elder Schulz, a renowned expert in electromagnetic compatibility whom Schulz described as "a great role model," encouraged his son's inventive side and told Steven that EEs would become the true inventors of the next generation. Although he followed his father's advice and attained a B.S. in electronics engineering, Schulz has found that invention itself is not to be his legacy. "I thought I was going to invent something but that isn't the way it was going to happen." Instead, Schulz is making his mark by getting vendors to work together to create standards for the betterment of the electronics industry.

It certainly is not an easy task, or one many other people would be willing to embrace, but Schulz and his team at Si2 seem jazzed.

Like most businesses relying on the health of the semiconductor industry, standards bodies in general have seen their funding drop in the last couple of years. Si2 has gone through layoffs too, but now Schulz has focused his leaner, meaner team of a dozen employees on efforts the not-for-profit organization believes can be clearly accomplished and, more important, widely adopted.

Schulz wants as many players on board as possible for the next round of initiatives, as Si2 tackles some of the thorniest sore spots in electronic design. For example, the organization is in the process of forming the Design-to-Mask Coalition to address formats and communications between design and mask making. Schulz confirmed that the group is also investigating the possible need for a new effort to create a standard that addresses how libraries handle issues like on-die variation, which is getting worse at every new process node.

Schulz was responsible for one widely adopted specification a decade ago, appropriately called Vital. In the early 1990s, he headed the effort to create standard libraries for vhdl that contributed to the success of the VHDL and led him to become the co-president of VHDL International. That association went on to merge with Open Verilog International to form the Accellera standards body.

"Vital was extremely challenging," said Schulz. "It wasn't the technical part, it was the political part. I really started fully appreciating what is needed to make a standard a success."

Perhaps his ear for finding harmony amid a cacophony of industry voices comes from his love of jazz. Indeed, for a time Schulz considered becoming a jazz trombonist"I almost went into music instead of engineering," he saidand in college at the University of Maryland he "even did some studio work."

Instead he signed on at TI in 1982, right out of college. Besides monitoring the newfangled EDA industry for the chip giant, Schulz also joined the TI Jazz Band and remained a member for 14 years. At TI, Schulz did a great deal of traveling and speaking, met with vendors and negotiated alliances, and frequently spent weekends writing articles advocating changes needed for the betterment of the IC design flow. He made various contributions in TI's defense systems group, helicopter group and CAD group, and worked there until the early 1990s. Schulz said he "worked with design groups and asked them what problems they were running into and what tools they needed."

One of the big problems that came up at that juncture was timing closure. In efforts in finding a solution, Schulz probed on the issue and was able to determine valuable information that led him to become a driving force in VHDL standards. At that time, Schulz was finishing an MBA from the University of Texas and he found the degree extremely valuable for understanding the business motivations of companies participating in the standards process.

"It really helped set a perspective on how the world works in terms of money and business and the economics of things," he said. "It also allowed me to notice how IEEE and other well-intentioned efforts could go for years and be based on good ideas but never get adopted. That's when it occurred to me that to create a viable standard you have to take a broader view of a standard in a business context and say, 'What is the business need?' The real driver for the adoption of standards is to remove the barriers that business has."

The MBA led Schulz to briefly take a job as VP of marketing at DSP core vendor Bops Inc. in 2001. But he left the struggling company in 2002 for Si2.

Schulz is also finding his way back to jazz. Although his Si2 job demands much of his time, Schulz said he is "beginning to get back into music. I performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival three years ago, alongside great musicians and session men&mdashwhat a thrill!"

- Michael Santarini
EE Times

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