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 What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

IDAC: What EDAC might have been

January 22nd, 2014 by Peggy Aycinena

Before there was EDAC, there was IDAC. But before there was IDAC, there was just DA – Design Automation without Community or Consortium. The EDA industry consisted of a small number of large companies controlling the conversation, and a larger number of smaller companies who thought that if they linked hands they could do it better. It was Rick Carlson and Dave Millman who decided in 1986 to bring that group of small companies together to create IDAC, which stood for Independent Design Automation Companies.

According to Carlson, speaking on a recent phone call, “We wanted to get the small independent companies to work together in a cooperative way to deliver a solution, a flow, that was equal to or better than the big companies. And because even then, the leading-edge algorithms always came out of these small startups, we thought we had good solutions that the customers would appreciate.

“But there was a deeper, more fundamental issue that we hoped to solve by creating IDAC and that was how to grow the industry and foster innovation, whether in through a startup or an established player.”

Things didn’t work out exactly like Carlson and Millman had hoped for.

“After three or four meetings over the course of 1986,” Carlson said, “many accompanied by alcohol, we decided that it might be a good idea to bring in the Big Guys after all. Our idea had been to establish an IDAC-driven Independent Flow version 1.0, and our efforts showed lots of promise, but they yielded few results.

“It was then we realized we would have to fit into the more established flows. That if small point-tool vendors were going to fit into a customer’s environment using Daisy, Mentor, or Cadence, it was important to learn how to work with the big guys to provide the flow and products the customers needed. So we decided to approach Joe Costello at Cadence.”

Rick asked Costello if he’d be willing to talk about the idea of a consortium.

“Joe was in Japan,” Rick said, “when he took a call from us, agreeing right then and there to enter into conversation about creating a consortium. That began a series of meetings over the next year which included Joe, Phil Kaufman from Quickturn, Buck Feldman from Dazix – the last management man standing after the enormously failed merger of Daisy and Cadnetix – and Jim Hammock as the appointed guy from Mentor, where he was working because Mentor had bought Silicon Compilers.

“Our first big meeting was at the TechCenter in Santa Clara. The idea was to introduce ourselves, perhaps over a bit more alcohol, and to work in breakout sessions to identify the top three or four issues a consortium might solve.

“Things looked pretty complicated at the outset of the meeting, but I credit Joe Costello for taking the podium and pushing to get things organized. He took charge like there was no tomorrow. Dave and I just sat there smiling, knowing that we needed good leadership to get the group off the ground and Joe was clearly intent on providing it.”

Per Carlson, up to that point Synopsys had not yet participated in any of the meetings, but finally “there was one last attempt to get all of the big guys in the same room at the same time. A meeting was held in San Jose at the Jet Center, and consisted of a small group of the 7 top executives from the big companies. For the first 40 minutes, there was a lot of silence in the room.

“It was a group of guys who had been competing with each other literally for years, and it was pretty awkward just to be in the same room with them all. But there was a bar in the restaurant that sold Pete’s Wicked Ale, a brewery that I had helped found, so after some of our beer and a great dinner, things loosened up and the conversation really began.

“The group agreed that they had common goals: To grow the pie in the industry, to help emerging companies, to work on anti-piracy policies, and to address those additional issues that had come out of the initial meeting at the TechMart the year before.”

Following the Jet Center meeting, Carlson said there was great optimism around the founding of the group – the name had morphed by that time from IDAC to EDAC, Electronic Design Automation Consortium – even among the big companies, because of a sense of what working together could accomplish.

“EDAC was founded with the support of all of the big companies and people were very excited about the possibilities,” Carlson said.

Such optimism was tempered over time, however, as pricing issues between Daisy, Mentor, and Valid became intractable over the next several years.

“It was pretty brutal,” Carlson said. “Out and out war. Things didn’t go well, and I blame Daisy for that. There was little pricing integrity and things quickly devolved into dog-eat-dog between the companies in EDAC.

“Meanwhile, the industry was moving from perpetual licensing models to time-based models, a process complicated by the emergence of the all-you-can-eat deals being offered to customers by the big players.”

Despite these challenges, however, the founding of EDAC moved forward, the organization survived and grew to its current presence in the industry. Knowing well the motivations that led to its founding, Carlson can look honestly at what the consortium has accomplished over the last 25 years.

“Have we successfully grown the pie through the Consortium?” he asked, and answered, “No, but there is still hope. Have we helped to counter piracy? Certainly.”

“There are multiple reasons that startups find it difficult to gain traction in today’s market. First, version 1.0 is usually sufficient to get attention, but not compelling enough based on risk to introduce into design flows. Second is the pricing issue which will always be challenging. Unless you have targeted your product price for all you can eat deals, you will be shocked when you get to purchasing.

“Finally, interoperability is an issue. There is no reason the big guys will ever agree to be interoperable unless customers demand it, and even then you will not see interoperability happen as we envisioned it in the early days of EDAC. EDAC itself killed the only chance for interoperability in 1995 when, in a closed-door session of the elite EDAC companies, they vetoed the EDAC Interoperability Lab. Just Google it and you will see what the intentions had been.

“Meanwhile, many of the big EDA user customers have become very savvy about negotiating deals. Their purchasing guys come to DAC every year and really know how to stand tough in dealing with the EDA vendors. In many cases, these customers already have their own flows, so they’re not going to pay $200,000 for a license from a compelling startup with potential revolutionary technology when they know they can get it for $20,000.”

Per Carlson, these types of customers add to the lack of vibrancy in today’s EDA industry and the inability to get an appropriate ROI for people who invest in the industry. So much so, that currently few in the venture capital community are showing interest in EDA.

Carlson noted, “There are multiple 10-year-old companies in the industry whose only hope is to get acquired. At this point, they are just lifestyle companies, which will either be acquired, get sued, or go out of business. None of the small startups in EDA, even the ones that are 10 years old, have an exit strategy at this point that includes an IPO.

“At the same time, the technology has become so complicated and difficult to grasp, it’s all that more difficult to get the attention of the VCs. It’s a much easier decision for the VCs to invest in the next Wevorce or Homejoy rather than in [the more obscure] EDA startup.”

It’s probably safe to say that today Rick Carlson is not overly optimistic about the benefits of a consortium that knits together a set of companies, only a few of which are succeeding. Nonetheless, he remains very enthusiastic about the role of the Phil Kaufman Award, which is of course closely associated with EDAC.

Carlson knew both Kaufman and Ron Westergren of Quickturn Design Systems, two EDA execs who died within a few months of each other. It was grief over their premature deaths that caused Rick to push Alain Hanover, then CEO of ViewLogic and EDAC board member, to establish the EDAC Kaufman Award to honor significant contributions by particular individuals in the industry.

Carlson believes that award continues to inspire younger technologists to enter and persevere in the industry, and perhaps is the ultimate comment on the good that EDAC has accomplished.

“The 19 Kaufman awardees have been duly acknowledged, as a result, for their incredible contributions,” he said, and added, “There are still opportunities here, because of the nature of this industry, despite the current problems. It’s hard to find any other industry that requires as much brain power and has as many technical challenges. That will not change anytime soon.”

Nonetheless, at the conclusion of our phone call, Carlson said that he’s working on several good ideas on how to transform the EDA industry. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait for the next installment to find out what he’s thinking, but have no fear. It will definitely be worth the wait!


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