Monday, February 06, 2012: Calixto Systems was established to excel in design, prototyping and the production of energy efficient embedded systems. They aim to help their clients translate their innovative product ideas into reality with the most optimum investment. Dilin Anand, EFY in an exclusive chat with Balamurali Divakaran and Jithu Niruthanbath…

Q. Could you introduce us to Calixto Systems?
A. Calixto Systems was established to provide world class development of hardware, software and firmware. The way we work is that we want to realise customers’ product dreams into reality at the most optimum cost and resources – both of which are important parts of the project. We specialise in System on Module SoM solutions.

Q. Why SoM?
A. What happens in the market is that typically customers spend a lot of time on debugging complicated silicon and related hardware. What we do is that we provide a module based design approach. This ensures that the time is not wasted on basic things like making the silicon work each time we do a product, instead of that the customers can spend time on applications which is key to product success. We don’t believe in charging huge amount for our services. That goes against the principle of getting the product to the market successfully. We want them to go to market and once they start selling in volumes we make our revenue. Our SoM allows us to reduce the time taken to get to the market. This makes us a product-enablement company.

Q. What would be your company’s USP?
A. The main aspects of our uniqueness is being module based (SoM) and having higher efficiency. Another important thing is the capability that the company brings in. Calixto is constituted by 5 very senior people in the industry, each having different experience of product development. So that will also be transferred to the products we design for our customers. The current industry scenario is such that the complexity of the devices are increasing and the newer product designing companies are not getting the right engineers. So here we come in and provide solutions for these companies by integrating all the complex parts into a very small form factor in a ready-to-use way. Therefore, what used to take almost 2 years to do is now being done in 6 months by us. Since we are also SoM vendors we are able to attain a very high volume pricing from the semi-conductor industry. This benefit is then passed onto our customers.

We also have set up an eco-system so that each and every section from industrial design to marketing is taken care of by the experts in that particular field. So, a client can come to us with a product concept and we will get it to reality. System design is our specialty.

Ultimately our clients get an almost ready product at a very competitive price. We also allow them to shorten their time to get to market and bring down their costs. This USP, though pretty common in other countries, is still a new idea in India.

Q. What are you currently working on?
A. We are amongst the first to bring the new AM335x Sitara ARM Cortex-A8 SoM to India. Texas Instruments gave us that opportunity, so you can understand the confidence that TI has placed on us. We will probably be releasing that by the end of the year. The AM335x is unique. This particular MPU is specifically for markets like industrial automation and smart grids. For these markets, the MPUs should have very long life and the right peripherals. So we pick up silicon like that.

According to TI, the AM335x Sitara is a Cortex A8 MPU at ARM9 pricing. That is the particular type of silicon we are looking for. Just using a Cortex A8 is not the answer. For instance, there are Cortex A8 MPUs available for 50$ but those will not work in this market. Pricing is important to hit the high volume market in India in different segments. This silicon also has the right peripherals: CAN, ADC, USB + PHY and two-port Gigabit Ethernet with IEEE1588 — to enable fast network connectivity and rapid data throughput, as well as connection to sensors, actuators and motor control. More importantly, it has PRU (Programmable Real-Time Unit) which allows us to create our own peripherals.

The previous silicon that we had used were ARM 9 based and it is capable of going up to 450MHz. There are 2 families – Sitara and Integra from TI. Sitara represented by AM18x family has around 3 types of silicon, ARM9 and beautiful peripherals. These peripherals are required for industrial segment. The next one which we use is Integra, which is ARM + DSP. The DSP here is a floating point + fixed point DSP which is very useful for many applications like power and audio. This is the type of silicon we pick up for SoM applications.

We also support silicon like OMAP3. This kind of silicon uses POP (Package-on-Package) memory. It is not done here, but it is done at an extension of Calixto. Specifically, it is done at Taiwan by Jorjin. We do the design for this, but Jorjin markets it to other parts of the world like China. These products are consumer oriented and the best market for those kinds of SoM are Taiwan and Korea. So we focus on relationships in order to bring them to Indian markets.

Q. What would be your best selling chip be?
A. We are a pretty new company, we have only been here for 17 months so there is not sufficient time frame to comment on that, based on revenue. The revenue time for a typical TI silicon is 18 months. That is why TI is promoting SoM. It brings down this revenue time to under 6 months. This is possible because most of the design has already happened before the customer approaches us.

Q. What is your first chip?
A. Our first chip is AM1808 System-on-Module with an LSEM connector. We differentiate using our connectors. The LSEM connector is a very rugged connector but on the downside it is not very cheap. This SoM has a very high feature set and it is aptly named Versa standing for Versatile. It has 200 pins allowing every processor signal to be brought in.

Q. What companies are you partnered with?
A. We have established partnership with leading system component/module vendors. We are the SoM partner for Texas Instruments. We have also partnered with Telit, a leading M2M (machine-to-machine) module vendor, and Jorjin which is the world’s leading WLAN/BT module vendors from Taiwan.

Q. What is the Calixto team strength?
A. We’ve got a team strength of 20 engineers spread between Thrissur and Bengaluru.

Q. What kind of hiring policies do you follow?
A. We only take freshers here. We have some very senior and experienced engineers so we are now focussed on taking freshers. We groom them to mould them into very good design engineers in a couple of years. In fact, it is one of the objectives of Calixto.

Q. Hiring only freshers might put up a lot of challenges, what are they?
A. We take freshers with diplomas like NTTF. They have a lot of hands-on experience so they can directly get to work. Of course, we do need a lot of patience when working with young freshers.

Q. Who are your clients?
A. We cannot name them due to NDA, but our customers are mostly OEMs. We work behind them as their technology partner allowing them to improve their services and products.

Q. Do you have international clients?
A. We haven’t started tapping the international market as yet. But, due to the Web getting the world closer we do get a lot of queries through e-mails and calls, even from China, requesting our services.

Q. How is your marketing done?
A. Actually TI does all our marketing in India. Because we are their partner, more business for us is also good for them. Other than that, most of it is through word-of-mouth. We don’t have any marketing team yet. We also participate in events, but only those done by our partners.

Q. What is your niche?
A. We are perfectly ok with our clients using our modules for any area. Until now most of our clients are from typical industrial, industrial automation and smart grid. We also have consumer electronics related work going on as we mingle in defense and aerospace but the numbers are not that high.

Q. Have you seen any trends in your industry?
A. Well, there are a lot of people moving away from high-paying jobs in MNCs and moving on to become entrepreneurs. It can be said that it is due to the fast response. Years ago we had to wait for years to get a particular silicon or material. But now, you can order them and they’ll deliver it to your doorstep in a few days.

Q. What are your future plans?
A. How we work is we find specific areas in the industry where the time to market is better than 6 months. Then we go in, and start building reference designs. Understand, that we are not going behind a customer. We find out a market and start working on it. When we get a customer, we have already started work. So with this reference design already done, we can bring down the time to market from 6 months to almost 3 months. This makes us a very good option for startups. We greatly bring down the time to get to market and thus increase the chances of success for these companies.


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