February 01, 2010
Agilent EEsof EDA – Part I
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After devoting the first three issues of EDA Weekly under this writer's byline to
"The Role of Business Planning" in high tech on November 9, 2009, to the
"MAD Progress" at the Mentor Graphics Mechanical Analysis Division (MAD) on December 7, 2009, and to semiconductor IP provider
"Virage Logic – On the Move" on December 22, 2009, we turn now to yet another aspect of specialization in the world of EDA for this
February 01, 2010 EDA Weekly article that follows.
Accordingly, a first appointment was set up for early January 2010 with the leadership of the
EEsof EDA Division of Agilent Technologies, located at 1400 Fountain Grove Parkway, Santa Rosa CA, 94503.
During this first January 2010 appointment, the writer spoke with the following Agilent EEsof individuals:
Hebert (Marketing liaison),
Jim McGillivary (VP & General Manager),
Larry Lerner (Senior R&D Manager), and
Charles Plott (Product Marketing & Planning Manager). This initial session was the first of several subsequent get-togethers over two elapsed weeks as the structure of the narrative of Agilent EEsof took shape.
Why Choose Agilent EEsof EDA as an EDA Weekly Topic?
Agilent EEsof EDA describes itself these days as, "The leading supplier of Electronic Design Automation (EDA) software for high-frequency and high-speed system, circuit, and modeling applications." While Agilent EEsof's financials have not been routinely published separately from those of the overall Agilent Electronic Measurement Group in which Agilent EEsof resides, the EDA industry generally acknowledges Agilent EEsof's market leadership position in annual revenue generation in its Radio Frequency (RF) niche (e.g. estimates are as high as 67% market share in 2009).
Not only that, according to noted EDA industry analyst Gary Smith, Agilent EEsof EDA sported sufficient annual revenues in a recent year to place Agilent EEsof 5th overall behind Synopsys, Cadence, Mentor Graphics and Magma among all EDA vendors! (Moreover, the writer recently learned that Agilent EEsof EDA has continued to flourish, and in 2009 Agilent EEsof revenues were approximately $120 million and the division's worldwide employment surpasses 400).
Just as the Electronics Intellectual Property (IP) niche has grown in recent decades (see
EDA Weekly on Virage Logic for example), other factors contributing to Agilent EEsof's growth are
the ever increasing data rates in high speed digital circuit boards and chips. Beyond pure RF and Microwave applications, Agilent's EDA technology is also helping signal integrity engineers deal with the complex issues created by these high speed data rates. Indeed, without such software design & analysis tools, high data rates can often lead to electronic systems that do not work at all.
The full story of
Agilent EEsof EDA since its founding in 1983 also involves the subsequent roles played by
Hewlett Packard and then the HP spin-off of
Agilent Technologies, both of which provide additional spice to the 27 year
Agilent EEsof narrative.
Finally, speaking of timing and signal integrity design challenges, the
DesignCon® Conference & Exhibition is just around the corner, scheduled for February 1-4, 2010 at the Santa Clara, CA Convention Center.
DesignCon is widely acknowledged as the definitive event for electronic design experts spanning chip, package, board, and system domains, addressing common issues in signal integrity, power management, interconnection, and design verification.
Not by coincidence,
Agilent Technologies is the Official Host Sponsor of DesignCon2010.
Agilent EEsof EDA Today:
Agilent EEsof EDA provides its customers a broad spectrum of EDA software, including applications for microwave (MW), Radio Frequency (RF), high-frequency, high-speed, RF system, electronic system level (ESL), circuit, 3-D electromagnetic, physical design and device-modeling.
Agilent EEsof EDA offers both single user software products as well as enterprise-level solutions.
One unique aspect about this EDA organization is that its software is also used internally by hundreds of Agilent RF/MW engineers to help analyze and design most of Agilent's commercially-offered test and measurement equipment. "No doubt software is critically important, but at some point you actually need to build a circuit. Agilent, and prior to that HP, has always seen a strategic link between EDA and actual physical measurement. We often share algorithms, use models, and innovations across platforms – whether in the EDA or in the measurement world", said
Plott. "Whether measuring or simulating S-Parameters in linear circuits, or X-Parameters  in nonlinear circuits, we believe both software and test equipment are critical parts of a designer's tool box."
 Numbers in brackets designate FOOTNOTES at the end of this article.
Over the years to the present day,
Agilent EEsof EDA has evolved a
large infrastructure to both develop its software products and to support its worldwide customers (
For more information about
Agilent EEsof EDA in its 2010 incarnation, you may check its web site at:
The Structure of this Agilent EEsof EDA Narrative:
As the detailed narrative of the 27-year EEsof evolution began to emerge, it soon became clear that accurate reporting would demand more than one issue of the EDA Weekly. The writer and the EEsof team quickly recognized the historical cues that led to the following structure:
Part I: This first February 01, 2010 EDA Weekly article on Agilent EEsof EDA covers the period from EEsof's independent inception in 1983 until its merger with the Hewlett Packard Company in 1993; for purposes of Part I, the primary EEsof spokesmen herein for this era are
Larry Lerner  (at EEsof 1984 – present) and
Charles Plott  (at EEsof 1989 – present);
Part II: A future EDA Weekly article on EEsof will encompass the (a) post-merger years from1994 until the Agilent Technologies' spin-out from Hewlett Packard and subsequent IPO in 1999, as well as (b) the post spin-out years of rapid Agilent EEsof expansion from 2000 to 2010.
Part I: EEsof History (1983 –93):
The two individuals responsible for the 1983 start-up of
Charles J. ("Chuck") Abronson and
William ("Bill") Childs.
Prior to founding EEsof, Abronson was the president of Amplica, a microwave amplifier company located in Thousand Oaks, CA. After Amplica was purchased by COMSAT, Abronson formed EEsof and immediately hired Childs from COMSAT to manage EEsof's R&D efforts and to introduce a CAD methodology. Abronson and Childs quickly hit upon the innovative value of offering personal design software to a market previously dominated by more expensive, server-based solutions.
EEsof's Initial Focus:
To fulfill their desire to offer personal design software, EEsof chose the newly-available, inexpensive and rapidly growing
IBM personal computer platform, with a goal of
offering software tools "for every RF/microwave engineer" at multiple user companies. (“RF” range = 300 Hz to 3000 GHz).
EEsof's first software product was a high frequency linear circuit simulator called "Touchstone" . The EEsof Touchstone program is said to have quickly become popular among many microwave circuit designers in the specialized marketplace of high frequency engineers. As a result, EEsof began to realize a small but growing commercial revenue stream generated by Touchstone. Then in 1984, EEsof independently decided to market links to the then-popular
HP 8510 network analyzer to capture real-world data directly. This decision created the first formal interaction between HP and EEsof, and EEsof's
Lerner was the engineer at the time who worked on the first link.
"One of my first assignments at EEsof in 1984 was to develop the industry's first interface from a circuit simulator to the recently introduced 8510 Network Analyzer from Hewlett Packard," Larry Lerner said. "This early experiment validated a critical design and verification methodology that has improved how RF engineers do their work to this day."
In 1985, EEsof introduced “
for electrical and electronic simulation).
In 1987, EEsof introduced
ANACAT , a computer-aided testing tool that could import experimental test results directly into the software simulation environment.
Things were going well at EEsof, and in December 1987, the company celebrated its first $1 million revenue month.
During the same period, both before 1983 and for a period after 1983, the
Hewlett Packard Company (HP) was internally developing solely for its own use, very capable software tools for analyzing and designing high performance instrumentation.
While HP's internal software development results were better than most, this HP internal software development effort was typical of many leading manufacturing companies of the day: software designed to be used only internally
to give its hardware businesses performance and time-to-market advantages over competition . Such software tools for the most part were not then available commercially. Moreover, even if similar tools were commercially available from other suppliers, many manufacturing managers back then still believed that by using their own internally-developed proprietary software, they gained extra, unique advantages.
Among the HP internally developed software tools of that era was HP's own highly capable netlist-driven linear simulator (named ‘Mantis’ within HP). There was also a short period wherein HP began to OEM the Touchstone product from EEsof, but this business arrangement didn’t last long, given what was on the HP horizon.
For by 1987, folks who were at HP at that time have told the writer that several business plans and product specification documents were circulating internally within HP. At this point it was clear that HP was committed to building up its
Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) organization to enter the commercial EDA market. From the original business plans, one key motivation of HP to ‘go commercial' was the desire by HP to provide a complete portfolio to all RF/MW R&D designers – i.e. both software and measurement. This fundamental business driver remains in effect today.
Beyond HP’s linear simulator, two additional important developments were also underway on the HP side. First was the development of a complete schematic capture interface with graphical layout and back-annotation – a major change to the older netlist approaches being used previously. The second was the result of research that HP funded at UC Berkeley, where an HP employee named Ken Kundert and others within HP developed the first nonlinear, frequency domain simulator (harmonic balance). With the linear simulator, the design framework, the new nonlinear simulator and the required models, HP
was by 1988 fully prepared to launch into the market with its first commercial platform called the
HP Microwave Design System (HP MDS).
Around the same time (there are still friendly internal debates as to who was truly "first") EEsof was quick to develop a nonlinear, frequency domain simulation simulator called “
Libra .” This writer has been told on solid authority, that the technology behind Libra was developed completely within EEsof. Some external reports have implied that Libra came from the HP funded work that Ken Kundert and other HP employees commercialized from UC Berkeley. This implication is patently untrue, say EEsof veterans.
Lastly, it's also worth mentioning that around the same time,
Eagleware (formerly named Chip Busters in earlier days) was also quietly building up a large following in another segment of the market. Founded by
Randy Rhea in the mid 1980’s, Eagleware developed its niche serving smaller companies with a cost-effective, easy-to-use, circuit simulation and synthesis tool set. This part of the story will be more relevant in EDA Weekly Part II of the Agilent EEsof narrative, because Eagleware would eventually join the Agilent EEsof team via acquisition. In fact, the former Eagleware CEO,
Todd Cutler , and former CTO,
Rob Lefebvre , occupy leadership roles within today's Agilent EEsof organization.
1988 -- 1993: Competition between EEsof and HP Intensifies
Many new competitive fronts between EEsof and HP emerged during this 5-year period. It was a time during which both organizations were independently focused in a commercial battle for mindshare among the world's RF/MW designers.
Customers were divided along several fronts:
Schematic Capture vs. Netlist: Whereas HP had an initial advantage with the Design Capture System of MDS, EEsof was quick to respond with
Academy , a front-end schematic capture user interface for both Touchstone and Libra.
PC vs. Unix: EEsof clearly had the better PC offering, whereas the HP software was developed predominately for Unix. That said, at the time HP had the advantage of being a supplier of both the software and the workstation.
System Simulation: In 1989 EEsof introduced
Omnisys , the first RF system-level simulator using block diagrams. For years, this was a competitive technical advantage for EEsof. HP eventually introduced a System Model Library in MDS to better balance the battlefield.
3D EM Simulation: In 1990, HP worked closely with a small team in Pittsburgh, PA (Ansoft) to develop the first full-wave electromagnetic simulator called
HFSS . HP sent a project manager to Pittsburgh to help manage the project and bring the original HFSS product to market. HP introduced this product on the cover of the February 1990 issue of Microwave Journal.
Planar EM simulation: Both vendors had relationships with
Sonnet (and the current, combined Agilent EEsof EDA organization still does). But both vendors also decided that it was strategically important to develop their own respective in-house technologies that could be natively integrated into their own platforms. HP had a first-to-market advantage with its
Momentum product, which came to market in 1992. (Over the next 18 years, as
Momentum advanced, it became one of the most successful and trusted EM technologies in the market).
Vendor Libraries: EEsof had amassed a good following of parts vendors that would supply S-Parameters in EEsof's platform – hence the "Touchstone" file format - which lives on today.
High-Frequency Time-Domain Simulation: EEsof’s product
MW SPICE had been a long-time technical advantage. HP later introduced
HP Impulse , the first convolution time-domain simulator that allowed the accurate inclusion of frequency domain models to help neutralize this part of the battlefield.
There were many other EEsof-HP skirmishes with words and ads during the 1988 to 1993 period that went beyond mere product specs. Some were relevant, others were not. For example, a few EEsof folks at the time would occasionally challenge HP's ultimate commitment to stay in the commercial RF/MW software market. "I think we put all questions to bed about our commitment when HP acquired EEsof,"
Plott told the writer. “And today, seventeen years later, Agilent EEsof remains uniquely committed and out-invests any other vendor in this space.”
The 1993 Merger of EEsof and Hewlett Packard:
In September 1993, HP signed a definitive agreement to acquire EEsof. How did this come about, you ask? The story is that EEsof's
Chuck Abronson first called the executive leadership of HP, to explore HP’s willingness to sell off its software group. However, internal to HP, this software group had not only become strategic to HP’s overall portfolio, but also it was growing rapidly – so there was understandably not a lot of HP interest in Abronson's overture. That’s when the conversation turned to the reverse possibility of HP acquiring EEsof.
By this point both companies had grown to be about the same size, at approximately $20 million each in annual revenue. (The newly merged entity was estimated to be at just over $40 million in 1994 revenue).
Jake Egbert , now retired, was the GM on the HP side and he led the combined entity for the next seven years. Post HP acquisition, Chuck Abronson didn't stay long at EEsof, but Bill Childs helped during the critical transition period for about a year.
The immediate aftermath of the merger became an interesting time for the newly-combined business. For years EEsof and HP had been essentially focused on each other and the cultures at both companies had been predominately competitive. With the merger in 1993, the mood is said to have instantly changed. "This marked a period where we had to make a fundamental alteration in our organization. Without each other to focus on, we shifted much more attention to our customers' successes," said
Plott . “Even today, in some of the markets we serve, we have smaller competitors that try to lure Agilent EEsof EDA back to the pre-1993 competitively-focused culture. We’re not going back. As long as we stay focused on innovating solutions to our customers’ tough problems, competition seems to work itself out in the long run," Plott asserted.
Once merged, the two companies jointly marketed a combined and rationalized portfolio of simulation and analysis tools worldwide, eventually providing design solutions for applications including cellular telephones, wireless LANs, collision-avoidance radar, defense electronics and satellite communications links.
Part I: EEsof History (1983 -93).
The period from 1993 onward was a substantial growth period for the HP EEsof organization, with multiple technology innovations, acquisitions, partnerships, and expansions into new markets. These will be the subjects of Part II in this series.
To be Continued: This
Part I EDA Weekly article on
Agilent EEsof EDA has covered
EEsof EDA during the
Chuck Abronson era from its independent inception in 1983 until its merger with the Hewlett Packard Company in 1993. A subsequent
Part II EDA Weekly article on
Agilent EEsof EDA will encompass
Jake Egbert HP period 1994 – 1999, and
Jim McGillivary years following the Agilent Technologies' spin-out from Hewlett Packard and IPO in 1999, up to the beginning of 2010.
 X-Parameters is a registered trademark of Agilent Technologies. The X-Parameter format and underlying equations are open and documented. For more information visit
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-- Russ Henke, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.