24 Dec '20
Not everyone believes that Russia will be able to produce its own microelectronics in the foreseeable future. However, domestic solutions that appear in this segment are in no way inferior to Western counterparts and are in demand in other countries.
Dmitry Kurashev, Director of UserGate, spoke about how such solutions are created.
Microcircuits are already being produced in the world in 5nm topology, 3nm on the way. As far as I know, the Russian Mikron has mastered 180-90-65 nm. Is it possible, in principle, to talk about domestic microelectronics against this background?
Dmitry Kurashev: The solutions necessary for CII can be made even at 28 nanometers. The problem is different. We still haven’t set up the production of our own microelectronics because the enterprises that were engaged in this have never focused on the open commercial market. They worked either for the defense industry, or for space, or created a unique product commissioned by the state. At the same time, the development of such a product was often stopped halfway along with the completion of funding. I have heard many such stories. Therefore, Russian developers often have a special mentality: they are interested in receiving funding from the state, but not as a result of their work.
I am sure that microelectronics in Russia will develop only when commercial companies enter this market, which will develop a whole line of products and constantly improve them.
But it turns out that Russian developers will be limited by the framework of our country.
Dmitry Kurashev: Why? The problem of dependence on one developer worries many countries in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. I think these markets have great potential.
But then they become dependent on a Russian developer ...
Dmitry Kurashev: They have no other choice. The whole question is who they are less afraid of. You can focus on which countries buy Russian weapons - all of them can become potential customers for Russian microelectronics.
Has the process of import substitution already begun in Russia itself?
Dmitry Kurashev: Now in Russia, mainly foreign solutions are used. The demand for domestic products is still small, which means that it is not profitable to invest in their development. But the state understands: if no measures are taken, nothing will change. The only possible way is to start switching to Russian solutions wherever possible right now. The funds raised in this way will go to Russian developers, they will begin to improve their products and eventually bring them to the international market. This is the way Cisco and Huawei have developed.
Now we do not even produce plaster for printed circuit boards. How long, according to your estimates, will it take to create domestic microelectronics practically from scratch?
Dmitry Kurashev: The most important thing is to develop your own architecture and technologies. And where to get gypsum or other resources for production is not so important. After all, no one worries that pineapples do not grow in our country. So the production of some components can be in China or other countries, there is nothing wrong with that. It is important for us to create competencies in critical areas, not across the entire spectrum. I think that in five years we will see very serious progress in this matter.
Are there qualified engineers in Russia capable of developing domestic microelectronics?
Dmitry Kurashev: When we started developing the hardware for electronic solutions, we had to look for specialists. And it turned out that there are enough of them on the market. I would divide such specialists into two categories. The first is the people who work in defense enterprises and create highly specialized products. The second one is developers who work for Western companies. I would very much like to see a third category emerge: electronic engineers who work for a Russian company and develop demanded solutions.
You talked about the possibility of using an open ARM architecture. What are its main advantages and disadvantages, including in the context of information security risks?
Dmitry Kurashev: Positions of ARM architecture have been strengthening in recent years, because the demand for non-proprietary solutions is growing. Therefore, it is certainly necessary to use the developments that have been made within the ARM project.
As for the main advantages and disadvantages, it is clear that ARM loses to Intel in many respects in terms of characteristics. But ARM is already making processors with over 100 cores. More and more serious solutions appear that can compete with Intel.
It is important to understand that Russian processors are also based on ARM. Of course, there is a certain risk here: ARM is based in the UK, and a large company could take over it. Actually, this is happening now: about three months ago, it was announced the purchase of ARM by the American company Nvidia. But so far this has not happened, since the approval of the deal from various regulators is required.
What if it happens?
Dmitry Kurashev: The development of architecture by the wide community will stop, and we will have to move on on our own, starting from what we already have.
That is, everything will again return to a variety of proprietary solutions?
Dmitry Kurashev: Yes.
What should be the domestic solutions to become competitive in the global market?
Dmitry Kurashev: We are engaged in firewalls, traffic processing. Our task is to learn how to operate at speeds of hundreds of gigabits per second. Now we operate in dozens - up to 50-60 gigabits per second. But our customers, and these are data centers, need high-performance solutions, and we are doing everything to achieve the indicators they need. This is achieved by using special accelerators designed by us, in fact, network processors.
We see great prospects in the development of our own network processors that will allow us to solve complex specific problems. This path can be traversed using electronic components such as FPGAs. But the problem is that the leading FPGA developers belong to Intel and AMD, that is, we again find ourselves dependent on foreign manufacturers. But there is also good news: having worked out the logic and architecture of processes on this technology, you can transfer a programmable processor into a crystal and thus get a completely Russian processor that can be produced at a factory.
Where is your equipment manufactured? What is its level of localization?
Dmitry Kurashev: The production is located near St. Petersburg. Many components are still being purchased abroad. Nevertheless, we are studying the market and looking for which of them can be replaced with Russian ones. Today, according to the methodology of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, we use 53% of Russian components.
Have you tried to go outside the Russian market?
Dmitry Kurashev: Yes, we already have customers in India, the Middle East, Latin America, as well as in Germany, Switzerland and other European countries.
What obstacles do you see for the development of Russian microelectronics?
Dmitry Kurashev: I would like to emphasize once again that the main obstacle is that microelectronics has not yet developed in a market style. It is important that companies appear on the market that will create and develop their own products. And these products have been used everywhere. Only in this case will the money of Russian customers be invested in the development of the high-tech sector. And engineers, brought up in many ways by the Soviet school, will stop working for Western companies - their intellect and labor will remain in Russia.
In addition, there is a risk for us as manufacturers that at some point we will not be able to access important equipment or licenses.
Should the state become the largest customer for Russian microelectronics?
Dmitry Kurashev: We have commercial, government and some government customers. We prove that our solutions are at least as good as foreign ones. Often they don't believe us, and we have to spend a year or even two to implement a pilot project and prove it.
Probably the main task of the state is to stimulate demand. For us, this is more important than any subsidies and benefits. Because we get not only money, but also experience.
How competitive are your solutions compared to Western ones?
Dmitry Kurashev: UserGate has become absolutely competitive. Actually, this is what our business is based on. We offer customers using the best foreign solutions to switch to our product on the condition that they receive everything they already have. I also note that we have seriously studied all the best products in our field and developed our solution based on this knowledge. The fact that we entered the market much later is in many ways an advantage, since we use a more modern architecture. It is also important that we passed the point of self-sufficiency more than a year ago and now have more than sufficient resources to further develop our technologies. As a result, the company develops, there are more and more customers, and the products are of better quality. In the long term, using our new hardware developments, we expect to significantly outperform competitors in performance.
How old is your company?
Dmitry Kurashev: The company has existed since 2001, but, in fact, now it is living a second life. The project that has fed us for many years was closed two years ago. Its place was taken by an internal startup, which we have been developing since 2012 without entering the market. Since 2015, we have become a member of the Skolkovo Foundation's Center for the Development and Commercialization of New Technologies, working on the further development of our solutions in the information technology cluster. The first sale of the new solution took place in 2016. So our second life is not that long, but very interesting and dynamic.
In addition, until 2017, we were engaged only in software development, and now we offer software and hardware systems. For example, the Katun accelerator board, which was named after the beautiful, stormy, clean Altai river, where, by the way, some of our engineers come from.