June 23, 2003
Bookends at DAC - Part I
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Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor

by Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor
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Dateline - June 6, 2003 - When you're stuck in traffic trying to escape the L.A. Basin, it's important to let your mind roam free, no matter how caged your automobile may be. If it's Friday afternoon and you've just filed your copy for the week at DAC, it's even more important to let the mind wander and think about the impressions from the week in a more “impressionistic” sort of way.

What do you come up with?

Bookends at DAC.

There were numerous speeches, presentations, and keynotes given at DAC. But sitting on “the 5” heading North out of Los Angeles and thinking creative thoughts, it's clear that two of those speeches might be seen as bellwether indicators of where we've been and where we're going as an industry, a technology, and a people (the People of EDA, that is).

The day before, on Thursday afternoon, as the buzz of the week was starting to wear thin and lots of folks had already left town, there was a sudden, unmistakable injection of creative juice flowing back into the Anaheim Convention Center. Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli was speaking and the appreciative crowd was caught up in his enthusiasm.

Now it's probably true that this is a pretty wealthy man, so what's not for him to be enthusiastic about? He helped to found Synopsys, Cadence, and a fair chunk of the technology that drives EDA. Nobody gets away Scott free - or thread bare - under those circumstances. He's also had steady work lo these many decades as an employee of the State of California, Professor of EECS at U.C. Berkeley. So, no matter the ups or downs of his EDA-industry related stock holdings, he's always received a plucky Civil Servant's paycheck each month and, no doubt, health insurance as well. Nonetheless, at this point in his career he could be resting on his laurels and starting to look to his personal hobbies
- travel, golf, whatever - rather than exerting the energy needed to come up with a clever Keynote Speech.

But to his credit, and our benefit, he did expend the time and creativity to conceive and deliver a knock-'em-dead address that I think anyone lucky enough to have been in the audience will remember for a good long while - and ponder, whether stuck in traffic or not.

Alberto declared the history of EDA to be cyclical, and defined those cycles thusly:

The Age of Gods ... defined as the Age of the Senses

The Age of Heroes ... defined as the Age of the Imagination

The Age of Man ... defined as the Age of Reason and Conservatism

He then went epoch by epoch and defended his thesis with elaborate details and exquisitely crafted PowerPoint slides - the latter a particular joy, if you're an aficionado of the art of PowerPoint.

For the Age of Gods, Alberto choose the years 1964 to 1978. In that era, he said, the first generation of electronic CAD companies emerged - none of which survived - based on technologies like circuit simulation, logic simulation, MOS timing simulation, wire routing, and PCB layout. It was difficult to stay abreast of the promise of the technology developments in the Age of Gods, because the increasing complexity in the software was outpacing the ability of the hardware to handle the tasks. The business of EDA was difficult and there was not enough sales volume to produce sufficient return on investment. There was little company loyalty and mere mortals were incapable of reading the future.

Why does that define the Age of Gods? Alberto said things were loose then, and undefined, and mystical in their scale, but with few ties to reality.

For the Age of Heroes, Alberto choose the years 1978 to 1992. These were obviously the good years - the great years, even - as verification, testing, layout, databases, physical verification, logic synthesis, HDLs, hardware accelerators, FPGAs, high-level synthesis and so forth all emerged and descended with a vengeance upon the world of electronic design automation. Great companies were founded, fortunes were made, people were consistently thinking grand thoughts, conceiving solutions, and working “outside the box.”

The second generation of EDA companies were founded in the Age of Heroes - Daisy, Mentor, Valid - and the third generation as well, including Cadence and Synopsys among many others. Happily, according to Alberto, Mentor, Cadence, and Synopsys still thrive - all children of the Age of Heroes.

Alas, however, Alberto said we are now mired in the Age of Man - a less than noble epoch - that started in 1995 and continues unabated today. He said we're unwilling now in the current era to take as many risks. We're conservative and hedging our bets on existing business structures and established technologies. It's true there are new initiatives in physical verification, self test, asynchronous synthesis, hardware/software co-design, software design, and analog design synthesis - but the mind set, investment, and vigorous and aggressive energy which characterized the Age of Heroes is simply missing in the Age of Man. “EDA companies are not carrying out real innovation today.”

Is all hope lost or is history cyclical? Can we return to the Age of Gods and thereby reach the Age of Heroes once again?

Alberto has a better idea. Let's throw out the cyclical obligations, leapfrog right over the Gods, and land squarely on two feet in the Age of Heroes with our heads and hopes held high. Let's look to the challenges that are obvious and use those to inspire innovation and renewal, investment and market share.

According to Alberto, the design chain needs better integration, IP issues need lots of attention, manufacturing challenges are just beginning to be addressed, partnering across corporate entities needs to be vigorously pursued, and new business models need to be sculpted out of existing ones. He said that small start-ups can't carry this load - “small is not beautiful today!” - they can't solve technical problems that require “substantial” resources. He insisted that the major EDA players must combine the flexibility and enthusiasm of a start-up with the solidity and sales channels of big companies.

Has all of this been said before? Probably. Has it ever been said better? Definitely not.

Alberto's talk was wrapped around concepts from his favorite 17th century Italian philosopher Giovanni Battista Vico, who studied relationships across history and developed the Law of Cycles - divine, heroic, and human. Clearly Alberto is hoping to prove Vico wrong in the next great epoch in EDA. Hopefully, EDA history isn't destined to repeat itself, but is destined instead to learn from its mistakes.

(Editor's Note: Next week, Bookends at DAC - Part II)

Industry news - EDA and IP

Altium Ltd. announced the release of Service Pack 1 for P-CAD 2002 users. The company says the new release provides a major upgrade to P-CAD 2002 with “new CAM and simulation bonus technologies and significant enhancements. Service Pack 1 brings DXP technology to P-CAD 2002 Suite customers by giving them access to CAMtastic DXP, the latest version of Altium's complete CAM verification and editing system, and a new DXP-based mixed-signal circuit simulator. These two new DXP technologies are fully integrated with P-CAD 2002 and provide a major upgrade to P-CAD's CAM and circuit simulation capabilities. CAMtastic DXP's new features include bi-directional ODB++ support, additional
DRCs for
strengthened data verification, advanced panelization, and extensive numerically controlled drill and route features. In line with Altium's non-restrictive update policy, Service Pack 1 is available free of charge to all P-CAD 2002 customers.”

Cadence Design Systems announced the availability of a qualified reference flow for IBM technology based on the Cadence Encounter platform. This reference flow has been validated through a 130-nanometer test design incorporating IP from IBM, Cadence and third-party IP providers. The companies say that the reference flow “optimizes the silicon design chain, to help enable a low-risk path from design to volume production for Cadence and IBM foundry customers.” The flow has been qualified for the Ready for IBM Technology mark establishing it as validated and compatible with IBM Microelectronics products. Michael Concannon, Vice President of Foundry and Complimentary Products
for IBM
Microelectronics Division, said, “The development of this reference flow is another step in the on-going collaboration between Cadence and IBM. This reference flow will enable our customers to achieve a quicker path to production silicon, with reduced design risk, using the leading-edge IBM process technologies."

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-- Peggy Aycinena, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.

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