Originally Acorn RISC Machine, Arm Technologies, or just Arm, was started in 1990 by a group of British engineers who designed the early reduced instruction set computer (RISC) processors. Their first processors were used in the original Acorn Archimedes as one of the first RISC machines.
Today, every smartphone, tablet, smart TV, wearable, and most connected devices use Arm technology. Furthermore, Arm-based CPUs have become the preferred choice for cloud servers in the past few years. Additionally, the IP is the core of Apple’s new silicon for MAC computers, replacing Intel CPUs.
A Complex, Worldwide Partner Ecosystem
As most Arm technology is used widely by silicon designers and manufacturers, managing the relationships with all those partner companies is a huge challenge.
Additionally, enforcing IP licenses could end in bad blood with large customers in many different markets. During the Softbank-Nvidia deal, Arm executives had difficulty reassuring their partners that it would not affect how the company was licensing the technology, arguing that Nvidia would not get preferential treatment to access new designs.
Arm also is in litigation with one of its biggest licensees, Qualcomm, for violating their agreement by giving Arm-technology access to one of Qualcomm’s subsidiaries.
We spoke with Will Abbey, Arm’s SVP of Sales and Partner Enablement, to discuss all those challenges.
The following is a transcription of our conversation with Abbey, edited for clarity.
The Channelist: In the past two years, the pandemic has disrupted the supply chain and manufacturing. I remember last year, in the WebSummit in Lisbon, when your former CEO, Simon Segars, talked about how difficult it would be for the semiconductor industry to return to normal.
But, that has allowed some people to do things differently. Also, the management of the channel and the partnerships probably had to deal with unusual situations during that time. Please tell me a little bit about that.
Will Abbey: We’re seeing OEMs in different verticals turning to Arm and asking for help bringing chip development in-house. And by doing that, the idea and the goal is to gain control over supply chains.
Volume is so crucial in this business. Individuals that have volume have scale. Those OEMs believe that in-house chip development will allow them to control their supply chain better. We’re seeing more of a focus on delivering performance and competitive solutions. And this new term that you’ve probably heard about is specialized silicon. We’re ideally placed because not only do we focus on the compute that our partners need to focus on, but we also have a perspective around the total solution. If you think about what’s taking place in the infrastructure space, we are not only focused on the compute building blocks, but we’re developing things that we call CSS — compute subsystems.
We’re working with OEMs in a CSS architect. We have a reference design. We made that reference design available to them, enabling their teams to take that CSS and add additional third-party IP or proprietary IP that they need for their given vertical. That then becomes the basis of what they take into manufacturing. And, we’re shortening that time. We’re complementing their deficiencies in terms of their expertise. And I do believe that’s making a meaningful difference.
The Channelist: In 2020, there was the announcement of Nvidia buying Arm. And then this year, it was announced that Nvidia is no longer buying Arm for many reasons.
The announcement of the Nvidia deal probably raised significant concern from your partners. How did you communicate the deal and manage it with your partners?
Will Abbey: We have 30 years of building phenomenal relationships on trust.
I think all relationships have challenges, but we’ve built trust. We’ve maintained that trust, allowing us to move beyond that. Again, the really impressive thing, and perhaps you know this: 230 billion devices [using Arm IP] shipped to date, 29 billion units last year, and last quarter, 7.4 billion units.
We can’t do that if our partners don’t trust us. They’re making billion-dollar bets. You talked about the supply-chain challenges. The cost of silicon development is exponentially increasing. We recognize that our partners are putting their babies in our hands, and a lot of trust is associated with that.
The Channelist: Thank you so much for all the information and insights into the Arm partner ecosystem. I’m looking forward to our next conversation.