One path for HPC and the data center is the ASIC approach, outsourcing the entire SoC development and production to an ASIC supplier. This path may seem the easiest, but it’s also the priciest. And with roughly 50% of budgets going to cooling deployed systems, the total cost of ownership in the data center is—ahem—a hot topic. Also, with an ASIC, you lose the ability to customize your development and you won’t have proprietary IP that will differentiate your design.
A second path is a customer-owned-tooling (COT) approach*, where you use a variety of suppliers and manage the process of the SoC design yourself. This is a great path, if you have the proper expertise and resources in-house and can manage perfect execution towards first-time-right silicon. But remember, a single mask for a design can be $5M or $6M and with every layer, the expense goes up. You cannot make a mistake and revise, it’s simply too costly and time consuming. The benefit of the COT model? If done well, you can deliver a competitive advantage with proprietary customizations in a cost-effective way.
We’ve worked with many customers who have never done SoC design before, such as high-end data center designers. In the past, they bought parts, systems, and boxes, and assemble them. But now, to reduce their cost and to add more of their proprietary “secret-sauce” of added value for their customers, the trend is for these businesses to define their own SoCs. This is all well and good, but SoC design has not typically been part of their core function nor expertise. To do it well in a talent-strapped, resource-thin market, they need to collaborate.
There is a path forward for these businesses and others. Hiring design services that are flexible enough to cover your resource and experience gaps, just where you need it, can give you the peace of mind of achieving first-pass silicon success. And, you’ll still own the secret sauce that makes your business unique.