Power play on products-cum-services

Date:   Thursday , January 31, 2008

Sometime towards the beginning of 2004, the country’s leading design house was scouting for a strategic partner for development and deployment of its CAD flow and methodologies. It was a particularly testing time; technology was evolving rapidly, becoming more complex with every passing day and the design house was keen to figure out a way to bring about custom automation of its tools. But why talk of this leading ‘design house’ in an article about — as most of you would have figured out by now — Interra Systems? Because, that design house zeroed in on Interra as its strategic partner. It was hardly a few months after the latter had started its operations in Bangalore.

Interra was entrusted with this responsibility at a time when it was going through a transition — from being a player in the EDA vertical Interra was now diversifying into the CAD services arena. That put the company on a strong platform and helped it move on to newer market segments and customers.

Two way street
Interra does not fit into the description of a typical IP company, or for that matter a pure services driven firm. In fact, as Kousik Mukherjee, Director Bangalore Operations, puts it, “It would not be right to demarcate us as an IP company or a services company. Our mission is to assist SoC, System, ASIC, and Digital Product Designers to ensure the rapid creation of new solutions.”

The company does this through a repertoire of IP technologies in diverse areas — like memory development systems, RTL synthesis, HDL analyzers, Digital Media software, QC tools, and Codecs. It compliments these technology offerings with engineering services focused on the Electronic Design and Digital Media domain.

But why would one choose to engage Interra for providing engineering services despite there being a number of pure play services companies with proven track record in the market? Responds Mukherjee, “At Interra, engineering services are offered by engineers who have a unique combination of experience in software services and off-the-shelf IP development.” Incidentally, the engineers in the company boast of a broad-based skill that covers product design, solution implementation, and R&D activities. Around 55 percent of the firm’s revenue comes from services including offshore projects, on-site services, and dedicated facilities. Mukherjee points out that despite India’s recent progress and consumer boom, Interra is yet to penetrate the Indian market. Typically, U.S., Europe, and Japan constitute the main markets for its product offerings.

Over the last decade, Interra has added over 100 brand name companies to its clientele. Some of the primary global customers include Sun, Panasonic, TI, Micron, Samsung, Motorola, Philips, AMD, Cadence, Mentor Graphics, Cisco, Sharp, Canon, LSI Logic, Toshiba, ARM, and Fujitsu.

Growth areas
One of Interra’s most successful products is Vega, the family of media analyzers. Vega is used for compliance checking audio and video. Mukherjee states that a huge assemblage of digital media producers and media product developers across the globe has adopted Vega. Intel, Microsoft, Sony, and Broadcomm — all major players in this market — are Interra’s customers!

When asked about how the honchos in the company had figured out back then that the Vega idea had such tremendous potential, Mukherjee forthrightly stated, “We did not have a clear foresight. Just the fact that this was on the already growing digital media market and that made us go ahead.” He goes on to say that despite whatever one might say, being sure about ‘winning technologies’ for the future is not possible. “It is more of a guessing game,” he quips. Market trends, customer pain points, and analysts’ observations can at best guide one in this process.

Baton is Interra’s emerging product in the digital media space. A software-only solution for quality control of media content in file-based SD, HD, and mixed workflows, Baton is being deployed in production houses and studios.

Interra is also focusing on providing application development services to the digital audio and video vertical on the DSP platforms.

In the EDA space, the company develops software components, which enable the EDA tool developers and memory designers to create products rapidly at a lower cost. For example, MC2 offers a memory design environment for standard and embedded memories. Leading design and fab houses like TSMC, Cypress, Sun, Dongbu, and AMIS use MC2 to design memories.

Interra has been a leader in providing language front-ends for Verilog and VHDL, which have been used by most of the EDA tool vendors for their front-end design tool offerings. So, why did Interra choose EDA front-ends? “Back then, the EDA space was growing rapidly,” says Mukherjee “and the EDA firms would rather concentrate on developing new tools than build front-ends.” Interra saw an opportunity to develop reusable software IP for the EDA industry. Further, with the technology evolving at a rapid pace and newer standards coming up every two to three years, it made sense for the EDA firms to buy a packaged front-end tested by other industry vendors rather than reinvent the wheel. Interra claims that using its front-end has helped the EDA companies save up to 30 percent time-to-market.

The challenges and the road ahead
When asked about the challenges, Mukherjee candidly says, “The challenges faced by Interra are the ones that the entire IT service industry is facing today in India — Hiring and retaining talent, attrition issues, productivity issues in reference to the global context, depreciating dollar pressure, and moving up the value chain to provide more value to our customers for the same cost.” There are several initiatives that the company is taking to negotiate these challenges.

Mukherjee is sure about the road ahead. “Interra has been a dominant third party services and software IP supplier to the CAD and CAD flow industry. It has already established itself as the de facto standard tool provider for offline Digital Media Compliance testing and Debugging tool with the Vega family of Analyzers,” says Mukherjee. Going ahead, besides its current offerings, focus of Interra will be to leverage its expertise and skills to be the leading services and solutions partner in the digital video and audio space - from tools to Codec development, integration services, IP development, and applications on DSP platforms. Besides, there is a strong focus on strengthening the engineering services in the EDA and CAD methodologies and verification activities.

“We are confident that with our team of experienced engineers and our strong commitment to our customers, we are geared up for the future and the exciting times ahead.”