Moving EDA Beyond Current Shortcomings

During my 20-year association with the EDA industry, I've observed several deficiencies that impair the success of both vendors and customers. Among them are:

  • Competing technology standards. The latest example of multiple standards for expressing essentially the same information is CCS versus ECSM. These conflicting proposals slow down progress as common conventions are debated instead of being adopted. Since it's likely that most chip designs will utilize EDA software from several vendors, interoperability based on industry-standard information expression and interchange is paramount. This is not to trivialize the tremendous time and effort required to generate, discuss, ratify, and introduce standards. Rather, a plea that EDA companies don't intentionally produce proprietary or redundant standards.
  • Lack of designers attending the Design Automation Conference. My totally unscientific survey indicates that CAD personnel dominate this excellent forum that would allow designers to first-hand experience and influence the products for which they are the ultimate consumer. Like road-testing a car, the eventual driver needs to be the one behind the wheel. CAD developers and supporters must continue to attend DAC, but they should bring along some of their customers as well.
  • Legal issues dominating over technical innovation. I support patent protection, but despise law firms (“patent trolls”) who suck attention, time, and money away from product development. Revenue recognition and legal departments increasingly overstep their bounds, hampering reasonable business practice and effective product deployment. Please decline your next invitation to join a frivolous class-action lawsuit where the lawyers pocket the vast majority of the settlement.
  • Overwhelming EDA software administration. Cumbersome product licensing and CAD tool installation issues are an increasing burden on already scant resources. Legitimate use of software products should be convenient and as easy as “yum install” to install. Instead of being able to use their time to increase designer productivity, system administrators in recent CELUG discussions are by necessity debugging odd license daemon behavior and the differences between colon-separated and comma-separated license server lists. Installation scripts are far from simple and there's no EDA standard for product version nomenclature, environment variable settings, etc.
  • Lots of attention focused on point tools but not enough emphasis placed on tool flows. Several different tools are typically part of the design process, yet their sequence and data interaction are too often left for the customer to decipher. Ideally, tools would come packaged with well-documented example scripts that “plug and play” with their counterparts. Data created by one tool would seamlessly be read by the next one in the flow, as well as report whether it created sufficient and quality results for execution by the rest of the flow.

The above comments are general impressions that are not directed at any specific EDA vendor or customer. Intended to provoke thoughtful discussion, my goal is to increase vendor/customer collaboration leading to more productive industry practices. Since the vendors ultimately provide the products, standards, and licensing, and largely, I expect, underwrite DAC expenses, the missing role is that of the customer to keep the EDA suppliers aware of their requirements and concerns. Most vendors welcome customer feedback, and many sponsor user groups or forums. I encourage my fellow customers to take advantage of these opportunities to improve EDA industry capabilities. Vendors and customers should realize the benefits of a competitive and innovative field and not be burdened by its deficiencies.

Dale Donchin

Review Article
  • Re: Moving EDA Beyond Current Shortcomings October 16, 2006
    Reviewed by 'hau_chen'
    I am with an EDA company and I can not agree more with Dale's view on "Competing technology standard" that we have wasted too much resource and money competing on something which should not be an issue to begin with. The consequence? As Daniel points out the customer has to spend 4x as much just to make the flow work.

    We as an EDA vendor should recognize the number 1 rule that the customer has the right to pick and chose the best-in-class tools for their design projects. This fundamental requirement goes above and beyond any slick unified DB, framework, etc. Anyone who doesn't understand this basic principle is doomed to fail. Don't get me wrong, the unified DB, framework, platform, whatever you call it, is all great but only if it allows the user to pick and choose best-in-class tools, which more often than not won't be from one vendor.

    Knowing this fundamental user's requirement, it's no surprise that Mentor's Falcon and Cadence's OPUS failed miserably and the user still go back to the rudimentary standard file format such as SPICE, LEF/DEF, and GDSII, etc. albeit not as efficient as if they are all on the same DB, but at least these standard file formats allows the user to be able to choose and pick the best tool in class.

    The solution? With the claimed openness of Milkyway from Synopsys and OpenAccess from Si2, we may finally see some relief. However, I would like to point out a few serious issues that could make OA ill-fated if these issues were not addressed and fixed soon. OA has a great mission that any OA compliant tools should be able to "plug-and-play". However, what could turn this good will into evil spirit is that some vendor is trying to hijack and cripple the OpenAccess system with yet another proprietary Skill language and constraint format, and what make Si2 double evil is that Si2 committees even allow it to happen.

    So My plea here for the benefit of the whole design community is
    1. Let us EDA vendors compete on the technology and not on the languages or spec formats.
    2. The Si2 committee should ban any vendor who ride on the OA bandwagon and yet unwilling to be OPEN in the first place.
    3. The Si2 should stop supporting any claimed proprietary stuff such as Skill language and Constraint management until they become OPEN to the public. Supporting a single vendor's proprietary stuff is a clear contradict and violation to the OA's mission statement.

    OA is too good a system to be abused and spoiled by a single vendor.

    Hau-Yung Chen
    Silicon Canvas, Inc.

    Edited by hau_chen on 10/16/06 02:59 PM.

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  • So where are your solutions? October 06, 2006
    Reviewed by 'Daniel Payne'
    Competition is good for every industry that I know of, so why would the competition between CCS and ECSM be bad for us? Let the marketplace vote with their dollars and we can settle which version is adopted.
    Designers don't attend DAC because they are too busy using old tools to solve their present design. It's the exact same reason they don't have time to see time-saving new tool flows. Budgets are tight and DAC is seen as a fringe benefit.
    I agree about opportunistic law firms that are not protecting a legitimate technology patent. I am also shocked at how much EDA intellectual property has been outright stolen, like the infamous Avant! case. Why didn't Jerry Hsu ever do prison time?
    EDA software administration has increased in complexity based on direct demands from customers, plus from requirements by EDA companies to "keep honest customers honest" by enforcing contracts. I agree that installation should be as simple as any PC-based software where I merely click on the "Next" button and everything works.
    You hit a big point on tool flows. It has been estimated that for every $1 spent on EDA tools that $4 is spent on integrating a working flow.
    Mentor used to have a fairly monolithic system in the Falcon framework days, but guess what customers asked for? Standards-based, file-based, tool flows, not monolithic flows.
    You failed to mention the common practice of EDA customers to wait until the final 10 days of the quarter to see which EDA vendor will cave-in and give them the best terms for their dollar, further driving down the Average Sales Price of tools. The line goes something like, "I"ve got a PO in my desk drawer for $1.2M and I want unlimited use of all your tools for 3 years. Do we have a deal? If not, your competitor is waiting in the lobby."
    Driving the EDA ASPs downward has caused many EDA companies to have flat or declining revenues which leads to fewer resources to fix the issues that you have raised.

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