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Editorial: Publishing Under a Quarantine

The Linley Group Delivers While You Shelter in Place

April 20, 2020

By Linley Gwennap

Many technology companies are struggling to develop new products during the unprecedented lockdowns across the US and many other countries. Fortunately, The Linley Group is thriving under these difficult circumstances. Our team continues to deliver high-quality articles to our subscribers every week on our virtual platform. We also converted our Spring Processor Conference to run virtually, offering the same great technical presentations to viewers around the world.

With most of my team scattered around the San Francisco Bay Area and two people in the Seattle area, we were at ground zero for the initial wave of coronavirus restrictions. But we operate as a mostly virtual team in normal times, so working at home hasn’t hindered our output. The vendors we frequently communicate with have moved to online briefings, so we continue to get the information and interaction we need to develop our technical and insightful coverage of the newest products. For example, our article on Intel’s Snow Ridge contains exclusive information based on (virtual) interviews with the processor’s general manager and its architect (see MPR 3/30/20, “Intel Snow Ridge Gains 5G Wins”).

My team had been planning our Spring Conference for months, but when the Santa Clara Health Department banned all gatherings of more than 100 people, we had only three weeks to figure out how to convert it to a virtual event. I greatly appreciate the confidence of our sponsors, most of whom continued to support the conference during this conversion. Although events such as GTC couldn’t deliver any live virtual content, we livestreamed every presentation to hundreds of viewers and added audience Q&As as well as breakout sessions where attendees could interact further with the speakers.

To do so, we quickly created a new format and schedule, updated our registration procedure, documented new processes, and reviewed them individually with more than 20 speakers. Despite numerous dry runs, the event still had a few glitches, but we managed to deliver a great conference that our customers rated as highly as our traditional events. We even attracted a new audience beyond our usual crowd, attracting more than 1,200 registrations, twice as many as ever before. Whereas our hotel-based events draw about 80% of registrants from the Bay Area, most of the new registrants came from other parts of the US—and beyond. In fact, the virtual conference drew 350 international registrants from 38 countries.

For those who couldn’t attend live, we offer video replay of all presentations and Q&As. These presentations include new-product announcements from Ceva, Synopsys, and Tenstorrent (see MPR 4/13/20, “Tenstorrent Scales AI Performance”; MPR 4/13/20, “Synopsys Launches 64-Bit ARC”; and MPR 4/20/20, “Ceva SensPro Fuses AI and Vector DSP”). In addition, companies such as Cerebras Systems and Sima.ai disclosed new details about their product designs. Thanks to our generous sponsors, you can view all of these presentations at no cost; just access our website for details.

Things are more difficult for chip vendors. Engineers working at home can continue their design work using VPNs to access and update the design database, but I expect some productivity loss when online meetings can’t replace a quick huddle to solve a problem. The bigger challenge is bringing up a new chip, which typically requires a team of engineers working in a lab, probing and instrumenting the hardware. But modern designs are more thoroughly simulated and often feature on-chip thermal monitors and debug circuitry, enabling more work to be done remotely. Where engineers are no longer allowed in the building, some companies have rigged up test systems that can be remotely accessed to update software, run programs, and even mechanically control power and reset switches.

Despite this creativity, some testing can’t be done remotely, and other tests will take longer than normal. Several high-tech CEOs have publicly stated they see no schedule impact from the coronavirus restrictions, but I wonder whether this situation affected Intel’s recent decision not to qualify its Cooper Lake design for mainstream servers; restricting it to HPC simplifies the product testing. Similar qualification difficulties could have contributed to Nvidia’s delay in announcing its next-generation Ampere GPUs. These physical products are challenging to deliver, but our articles continue to ship on schedule.

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