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Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Alan Perkins, CIO of Altium (Part 1)

Posted on Tuesday, Dec 21st 2010

By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini

We have touched upon the electronic design automation (EDA) industry in some of the previous interviews as part of our Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing series. We noticed that there has been extremely limited cloud adoption in the EDA space so far. As we prepare to ring in 2011, the same trend seems set to prevail. There are, however, pockets of activity, especially among the newer EDA players who are exploring and leveraging the cloud both in-house and as a vehicle for EDA collaboration in the future.

In this interview with Alan Perkins, CIO of Altium, Sramana explores the nuances of cloud-based collaboration requirements and offerings in electronic design automation. Interestingly, this is not just about collaboration between humans but also between electronic devices, those devices which were not designed with such collaboration needs but now are able to collaborate through the use of cloud computing concepts and paradigms.

Alan Perkins joined Altium in January 2001 and is responsible for its global business systems and infrastructure. Alan has over 20 years’ experience in systems analysis and design and is a sought-after industry speaker on how businesses use cloud computing for improved success. He also consulted widely on system development for a number of companies, including Qantas. Alan is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia.

Altium Limited develops highly complex software for electronic engineers throughout the world. Altium deals in unified electronics design solutions aimed at helping organizations easily harness the latest devices and technologies to create their next generation of electronic products. They are based in Sydney, Australia, with 360 employees and 15 offices around the world, and they have many resellers. Altium has close to $50 million in revenues, 97% of which are from export earnings.

SM: Welcome, Alan! Before we jump in, I would like to get some perspective for my readers on who you are and what kind of a company Altium is. Can you brief us on your role, the size of the company, and the scale of the IT infrastructure that you lead at Altium?

AP: My name is Alan Perkins and I am the CIO at Altium Limited. Altium is a company that writes software for electronic engineers. We are an extremely high technology company, and our customers include a lot of the very large electronic design organizations ranging from Texas Instruments, Bosch, and NASA, to the American military and the Chinese space program, and many electronic design projects throughout the world. These projects range in size from very small power supplies and things of that nature through to complex projects like MRI scanners or weapons systems.

SM: What part of electronic design process do you focus on?

AP: At Altium, our products are electronic design automation tools. We cover the entire spectrum of electronic design from schematic captures right through to synthesizing it to FPGAs, or field programmable gate arrays.

SM: So you compete with Cadence and Synopsis in the EDA market?

AP: Yes. We are direct competitors with Cadence and Mentor Graphics. They would be our biggest competitors, and they are much larger than we are.

SM: How big is your company?

AP: We are around 320 people in about 14 or 15 offices around the world. We are based in Sydney, Australia, as our headquarters, and we are 97% export oriented. So, the world is very important for us; we are not just working locally.

SM: What about revenues? How large are you as a company in terms of revenues?

AP: We are around $50 million.

SM: That gives us a sense of the scale of your organization. Tell me what you think in terms of leveraging cloud computing as an industry trend, from your organization’s point of view and also from your industry’s point of view. I know a fair bit about EDA because I have had a lot of clients in this area; I have a decade-old consulting practice with a lot of clients in EDA, and Cadence was a very large customer of mine for a long time. So, I think we’ll have a very interesting conversation.

AP: Excellent. In that case, we can talk about some more specifics about the future and prognostication. We have a business systems case around the cloud which I think you would find interesting, but first let’s talk a bit about EDA and the future of electronic design.

One of the things that our business is very big on and developing very heavily is building an infrastructure around the notion of the Internet of things, if you like. This is something that has been talked about for quite some time. I know IDC and Intel have been talking about 15 billion connected devices by 2015, and we see this as being very important path to the future. This is important in terms of the growth of devices and development of designs and so forth over the next few years. We are very heavily building infrastructure to support the design of products that can compete and participate in this ecosystem. One of the examples that we talk about is the notion of having a GPS in a car that can provide its coordinates to the cloud, and then have agent software that can make determination such as, “It looks like you are going home; yes, you have just crossed the perimeter toward your home, so let’s check what the ambient temperature is and see if the air conditioner needs to be turned on [in your home].” Those kinds of heterogeneous products talking and tweeting with each other.

That is something we are working toward providing. But before that, one of the key milestones for us in our development, which we are in the process of releasing, is cloud-based design vaults. These design vaults provide the ability to release software and release designs into the cloud. With design vaults you, as a designer, can provide components which other designers can see, consume, and  purchase if they wish to. You as a designer can potentially connect with participants – companies like DGK and Premier and Allied, which are providing components off the shelf. The concept of a design vault is this community of designers who are providing components, who are requesting components, and who perhaps are also providing some sort of currency, whether it be points they have earned in this ecosystem or whether it’s hard dollars that they can consume from other designers who may be trying to reach other parts of the world for example. More important, with vaults, these designs can be very robustly released using full product life cycle management concepts, so you don’t release a design from prototype to production if some very small subcomponent somewhere is being deprecated or something like that. In this notion, you are using the cloud to dynamically determine whether a specific component is still available, what its production cost is going to be, what its prototype cost is going to be, and so on.

While achieving this, we are still preserving agility to allow the individual designer the freedom to create and design with speed, so there are two types of vaults. One is the design vault that they work on locally, and the second is the release vault – that is cloud-based one, so designers can share it through the cloud.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Alan Perkins, CIO of Altium
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