What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.
Tanner’s PDK: Pretty Darn Kool
October 30th, 2014 by Peggy Aycinena
Tanner EDA is based in Monrovia, California, which already tells you something about the company. They don’t play by the expected rules in EDA, they’re not based in Silicon Valley, they’re independent-minded, customer-centric, and have a long-time commitment to interoperability and straight-forward messaging.
When I spoke by phone this week with Tanner President Greg Lebsack, I suggested that Tanner is the Madison Bumgarner of EDA – steady, delivering without fanfare, successful and consistently attributing that success to team and hard work, while also expressing respect for the competition in the league.
Lebsack chuckled at the comparison and suggested an L.A.-based pitcher would be a more appropriate Tanner totem, one that wouldn’t get him in hot water with friends and family, but if I couldn’t see past Bumgarner he would reluctantly accept the compliment.
He added, “From the founding of Tanner, we have been a company built by engineers for engineers and taking great pride in our products. Being a small company without the marketing budget of the big companies, it’s true we are a well-kept secret in EDA, but that is changing with more and more people taking notice of us.”
But engineers are well known to dislike marketeers, I noted, so isn’t less marketing more when it comes to EDA?
Lebsack replied, “Yes, that’s very true. Nonetheless, the comments we get back from our customers [consistently indicate] that they are highly satisfied with our products, that our emphasis is in the right area. Now as we expand our reach into mixed signal, beyond our [traditional] focus on analog, the increased marketing helps. We offer our customers a choice and the response from the customer base continues to makes us proud.”
I asked Lebsack to give the elevator pitch for Tanner’s October 28th PDK announcement, the reasons for our phone call:
“A fully customized process design kit for the ON Semiconductor Intelligent Interface Technology I3T50 and I3T80 processes … that provides schematic library, Spice models, layout set-up (including TC- based parameterizable cells) and verification files for DRC and LVS. The PDK was developed in collaboration with imec IClink, the ASIC design and prototyping service of the nanoelectronics research center, imec. Distribution of the kit is managed by Europractice under an ON Semiconductor-specific NDA with imec.”
Lebsack complied: “This is a continuation of our work with foundry partners to provide tool flows and PDKs for our customers’ mixed-signal needs. We are happy to be working with ON Semiconductor and Europractice for PDKs that are in great demand by our customers.”
Tanner Director of Product Management, Nicolas Williams, was also on the call and added to the pitch: “We’ve always had a big focus on high-quality PDKs, so this high-voltage product is very representative of a group of standard users, particularly those who want more digital in their designs.”
Who competes with Tanner in this area?
Per Lebsack, “Obviously Cadence has one of the larger market shares, and then there are some point tools [from other providers].”
And why is Tanner providing PDKs in addition to their other product offerings?
Williams replied, “We’ve done this work for at least 18 years, developing customer-driven PDKs. Today we have a lot of customers doing high voltage power management, users who were doing pure analog now moving into smaller feature sizes and wanting to add digital into their designs. So now we are providing a full flow for the digital and analog space. Also, we’ve done other PDKs that are high voltage, including ones for TowerJazz, X-Fab, and TSMC.”
I asked if the foundries ever push companies like Tanner to work exclusively with them.
Williams said, “Actually it’s the other way around. The foundries want to be competitive, so they all talk with us about their most popular process and work with us to develop the [associated] PDKs. In turn, our customers come to us looking for this process or that, asking which ones we have PDKs for.”
Why wouldn’t the foundries want to do this work in-house, to keep these development issues internal?
Williams said, “They typically create only in the Cadence format, and then depend on us to translate the PDKs to our tools along with a lot of QA. So what we are doing is not so much direct development of PDKs as it is a sort of a conversion from standard PDKs and verification in our tool flow.”
Is it problematic that any one company should control a defacto standard in this way?
Again Williams: “That is the whole motivation for the push for OpenAccess and iPDKs, the Cadence monopoly on analog PDKs. Cadence has fought very hard on this, but there has been so much uptick on iPDKs that most foundries today produce two, one for Cadence and an iPDK for everyone else. At Tanner we are now iPDK complaint on the front end, and our next release of tools on the back end will also be iPDK complaint.”
Lebsack added, “We are big supporters of iPDKs and OpenAccess and see it as a multi-year effort to break the monopoly of PDKs. As always, our goal is to bring much better interoperability to the industry.
“Tanner was built on the beliefs that there needs to be an ecosystem and that designers should have choices. We’ve never looked to build an empire, but instead to build a flow that’s best of breed and one that has the capabilities needed by our target market, analog designers and now mixed-signal designer as well.
“We’ve built good foundry relationships and good interoperability relationships. Our customers appreciate our tools, our partners respect our capabilities and our business mentality. We are here to interoperate, integrate, and create the right solutions for our customers. That is why, over the years, people have always found us very easy to work with.”
… “provides a complete line of EDA software solutions that drive innovation for the design, layout and verification of analog and mixed-signal (A/MS) integrated circuits (ICs) and MEMS. Customers are creating breakthrough applications in areas such as power management, displays and imaging, automotive, consumer electronics, life sciences, and RF devices. Founded in 1988, Tanner EDA solutions deliver just the right mixture of features, functionality and usability. The company has shipped over 33,000 licenses of its software to more than 5,000 customers in 67 countries.”