Finally it is public knowledge that Synopsys has acquired VaST Systems Technology. I was VP marketing there for a bit over a year back when Graham was still CEO. Since I exercised my options when I left, I’ve been inundated with paperwork on the merger, although the acquiring company name was redacted everywhere it appeared (although everyone knew who it was). I don’t suppose I’m giving away too many secrets to reveal that I’m not going to get my money back. The common stock is lucky to get anything at all, but they did need bribe us a little to sign off on the merger.
By the time Alain Labatt came on board as CEO, I was at Virtutech which sorta competes with VaST in having similar technology and sorta doesn’t since they go after such different markets. We thought that this was great for us since Alain’s reputation was that he was good at two things: raising VC money, and then ramping up the expense run-rate to spend it all. He’d done that at Frequency/Sequence and then again at Tera Systems. And true to form he seems to have been successful again at both raising money and then spending it.
When I was at VaST we did most of our business in Japan. I opened up a couple of accounts in Europe and we had just one, Delphi, in the US. The dependence on Japan has apparently reduced, but still VaST is over-represented there. To be fair, the Japanese are ahead of Europe which is ahead of the US in terms of system level thinking, so Willie Sutton style, that’s where the money was. VaST was also over-represented in automotive. Japan and automotive have unfortunately been especially hard hit in the current downturn, so I’m guessing that VaST’s business declined dramatically. I assume the VCs didn’t want to put in more money since they couldn’t see a route to a fast growing profitable company and so they got Alain to shop the company around. Synopsys is its new home.
Synopsys already purchased Virtio a couple of years ago which had similar technology to VaST’s. VaST’s is cycle-accurate which makes for a number of issues: since VaST had no non-cycle-accurate models it couldn’t really get premium pricing for them since it didn’t have any non-premium models for people who didn’t value cycle-accuracy (when ARM was in the modeling business it sold cycle-accurate models for 6-8 times the price of non-cycle-accurate ones). Also, the verification issues of cycle-accurate models are much harder since not only do they have to be functionally correct, the cycle accounting has to be correct and there are many corner cases in a modern processor. So the combination of expensive models and an inability to get a premium price for them made for an unattractive combination. Potentially with VaST and Virtio now in the same stable, that problem goes away. Non-cycle-accurate models for people who don’t need them, and premium pricing for people who need the costly cycle-accurate models.
There are plenty of rumors that Virtutech is also in the throes of being acquired, but I’ve not seen any paperwork for that one yet. But if that is true it leaves only CoWare out there of the companies with virtual platform technology. Axys was acquired by ARM. Virtio and VaST by Synopsys. Virtutech and CoWare, for now, are still out there.
It is interesting to look at why these companies were not as successful as I thought they should have been. In the end, I think, you could get so much done with cross-compilation to your workstation that the market for people who valued the model accuracy was too small. Look at iPhone programming. Despite a litany of complaints about the simulator, which works by compiling your source-code to run directly on the Intel processor in your Mac, you don’t really need an platform able to run the ARM binary to get development done. An inaccurate simulator and the actual phone are enough. There isn’t a lot you can do with a more accurate platform squeezed into the gap between these two other solutions.