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Xilinx intensifies commitment to Asia

Posted: 17 Dec 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:45nm design? FPGA business? Willem Roelandts interview?

Roelandts: From both engineering and management points of view, Singapore is clearly ahead of other countries.

China has been the apple of the eye of many companies for several years now. Investors have their sights set on India, too, and lately, on Vietnam. In spite of the growing interest in these emerging markets, countries such as Singapore still attract a steady flow of investments with their business-friendly environment, well-placed infrastructure and highly-skilled and experienced personnel, among others. And one of the companies banking on this country's solid track record is Xilinx Inc.

The programmable chip supplier has stepped up its operations in Asia with the expansion of its regional headquarters in Singapore in September. Xilinx invested $40 million in the construction of the 20,000m2 complex in Changi Business Park. Moreover, Xilinx has fortified local R&D operations.

The Singapore team, which was established in January, is working on next-generation FPGA designs at 45nm and below for high-performance applications. Its expanded work will include designs for high-volume, low-cost applications.

In July, its Singapore headquarters building received a Green Mark Platinum Award from the country's Building and Construction Authority (BCA). The BCA Green Mark Scheme is a rating system that is used to evaluate a building for its environmental impact and performance. Its criteria are energy efficiency, water efficiency, site/project development and management, good indoor environmental quality and environmental protection, and innovation. Xilinx is the first private company in Singapore to be awarded with the Green Mark Platinum.

Willem Roelandts, Xilinx chairman, CEO and president, talks about the company's commitment to Asia and where the FPGA industry is heading.

Why in Singapore and why now?
Well, the decision to be in Singapore was made four years ago, in 2003, and there were a lot of reasons in coming up with that decision.

One of the reasons is the stability in the country. Then there's excellent communications infrastructure. The third reason is that Singapore has been in the hightech industry for a long time, so there are a lot of people, especially in the management front who are available and could help us establish our headquarters in the country. Also, the government is pro-business.

When we were deciding where to set up our regional headquarters in Asia, we assessed different factors and different countries, and Singapore came up number one.

How will the expansion in Singapore relate to key markets in Asia like China, Taiwan, Korea?
The range of products we do is related to the region. One of the new projects we have is the low end, high volume project that is especially focused on the consumer market, which you know are mainly produced in Asia these days. So it makes sense that our consumer-type chips are developed in Singapore, which is closer to the market they will serve.

Fundamentally, the role of Singapore is to be our regional headquarters. So we divide our work in three areas: North America is our corporate headquarters, served out of San Jose; EMEA or Europe and Middle East, served out of Dublin, Ireland; and then Asia including Japan, which will be served out of Singapore.

When I say served out, it entails a lot of things.

First, there's logistics. Forecasting, scheduling, delivery of partsall of these things are done locally. And the reason for this of course, is when customers have delivery problems, they can respond within the same time zone. This also means that corporate functions like IT support, financial support, legal support, marketing etc. is done out of Singapore.

From an R&D point of view, we will also have other key R&D sites. Singapore is just one of the key R&D sites we have at the moment. We also have one in Hyderabad, India. We are looking into China, too, as a possible R&D site.

In terms of engineering and talent, what are Singapore's strengths?
We found good talents in Singapore. Schools and universities in Singapore have really done a good job in re-engineering themselves in the sense that when I first went to Singapore in 1985, most of the schools were doing more technician-type of work. Over the years, R&D has become more prominent, and today you really have a good pool of R&D engineers.

The second thing, which is very critical, especially when you compare to India and China, is the availability of management. It takes about 10-15 years to groom a senior manager. You cannot just send one to an MBA school and when he finishes a degree, he becomes a managerthe senior manager level that is. What is nice about Singapore is that because it is one of the first countries to be involved in the IT industry 20-30 years back, there is really a good pool of talented people. And we see that. The quality of the people we hire in Singapore is really outstanding. This has really helped a lot.

This is not the case, however, in Hyderabad or in China where they have involved much later in the high-tech industry. They will still need time to grow their managers.

So from both engineering and management points of view, Singapore is clearly ahead of other countries.

There are a lot of things happening in the FPGA space. There is this rivalry with ASIC, then recently there's CSSP from QuickLogic. Atmel also is doing a similar work with its MCUs. How do you see this evolution unfolding in the next few years?
In the past, FPGAs were more into the niche products, for low costprototyping, for very low-volume production like routers. Today, we are more and more involved in consumer electronics. We are now present in devices such as HDTVs, sophisticated STBs and cables.

So what's happening is that over the years, programmables, because of Moore's Law and of continuously going into the new generation of technology, we are becoming more and more competitive even in high-volume designs. And this is one of the reasons we expanded our R&D design team in Singapore because we really are seeing more and more attraction in consumer electronics, and that basically comes from Asia.

Xilinx and Altera have been referred to as the ?Coke and Pepsi? of the FPGA industry. Any comment on this one? How do you think this will impact the future of the FPGA industry with two players dominating the business?
There is indeed strong competition between Xilinx and Altera. There is really, how would I say this, no love lost between the two companies, so we really are very competitive. In fact, it helps the industry because it forces the industry to adopt new technologies and to move forward quickly.

If there is no competition, we will not move as quickly as we are doing today. I think customers benefit, the industry benefits, and of course, we benefit. We have gained quite significantly with this competition.

- Majeed Ahmad
EE Times-Asia

- Celeste dela Torre contributed to this report.

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