Data Exchange/Interoperability
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Data Exchange/Interoperability


In order to share information there must be a common language or means of expression. If there was a universal language spoken, read and written by everyone on the planet, then communication would be much easier. Of course given the history of languages, cultures and nations this will not happen. An example of a “universal language” is Esperanto. This an artifical or constructed language versus a natual language that has evolved as part of a culture. Esperanto was invented in 1880s by L. L. Zamenhof. His intention was to create an easy-to-learn language, to serve as an international auxililary language, a second language for everyone in the world, rather than to replace all existing languages in the world. In the early 1920s, there was a proposal for the League of Nations to accept Esperanto as their working language. Today the United Nations has six official languages English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic.

Application software programs create, edit, view, print and display information. The author(s) of this information would presumably like to share this information with others. Some software vendors offer readers for their authoring systems. Perhaps the best known would be Adobe Reader which enables users to view, print, copy selected portions of text and graphics and search for embedded text in PDF (Portable Document Format) files created by Adobe Acrobat. The reader is downloadable for free from the Adobe website. Adobe claims more than 500 millions copies have been downloaded. Microsoft also offers free viewers for its Office Suite programs. While this is often sufficient to communicate information, the recipient can not modify the original document without access to the same authoring software or without an ability to transfer some or all of the content to a program with appropriate editing capability.

The value of a reader or viewer is determined by the ease and quickness with which content can be understood and the size of the target audience. Web browsers are the best example of such valuable viewers. Text documents, requirement statements, specifications, bills of material, schedules (PERT and Gnatt charts), budgets and financial reports (Balance sheet, P&L and Cash Flow) are examples of content that are readily intelligible. Schematics and engineering drawings are intelligible to skilled personnel. However, without direction to focus on a particular area it may take considerable time and effort to achieve understanding. The case is similar for computer programs particularly given programmers' dislike for comments and documentation and an affinity for clever tricks. Dynamic viewing of solid models more quickly and easily communicates design and intent and possible problems than a sheaf of engineering drawing whether drawn on paper or computer generated. Early access to intelligible information by appropriate personnel can identify possible problem areas which if remained undetected would negatively impact the cost, performance and schedule of a product.

Although software programs of the same generic type, e.g. word-processing or spreadsheet, have many common features, vendors strive to gain competitive advantage by adding differentiating features. This may be reflected in the data being stored. This limits the ability to fully convert content from one program to another. In some cases this may result in only cosmetic differences but in other cases significant intelligence may be lost. Even different versions of a program from the same vendor will have different features. Generally new features are not backward compatible with earlier versions. Many vendors have an option to store files in earlier versions. If one receives a file created in a later version of software than one has, one can always request the sender to re-save the original in an older version format and resend it. This may be politically difficult if the originator is a customer or prospect. Many companies upgrade their software to the latest version for version compatibility with third parties rather than to have access to new features which often go unused. For the same reason firms also need to insure that internal users of application software are using the same version, particularly when multiple departments/divisions need access to the content.

It is highly desirable to share information created by application software programs other then by simply printing or displaying text where an enormous amount of intelligence would be lost. If there was only a single available program for each genric application, then sharing of the total intelligence would be greatly facilitated. However, this is not the case. Even in the area of office automation products there are several widespread competing products.

Application Lotus Smartsuite Microsoft Office
Word Processing WordPro Word
Spreadsheet 1-2-3 Excel
Presentation Graphics Freelance PowerPoint
Database Approach Access
e-mail Notes Outlook

Table 1 Popular Office Automation Products

These programs can input and output files in the file format of their competitors.

In some cases competing software programs have different features and possibly different data types, attributes and relationships. Translation programs between them must either drop data or make best case approximations.

If there were N different programs in a particular application area and one vendor wanted to support data sharing with the other N-1 programs, then that vendor would need N-1 input and N-1 output translators. If all N vendors agreed upon a common data exchange format, then each vendor would only need 2 converters. The challenge is getting agreement on the exchange format. National standard making bodies and consortiums often work towards this end. This can be a long and arduous effort. Each vendor has a vested interest in making the exchange format as close to his own internal format as possible. This has often motivated firms to put their data format in the public domain.

There are two types of standards: de jure established by a standard making authority and de facto due to dominance by a single vendor. A good example of a de facto standard is the “QWERTY” keyboard layout. The naming comes from the first six letters of the top row of alphabetic keys. This layout developed in the 1860's is far from optimal. In fact this layout was deliberately designed to slow down typists. In early typewriters each key was mechanically linked to an arm that struck a ribbon that inked the paper. If the keys were pressed too fast they would stick together and jam. Pressing multiple keys simultaneously would instantly clog the system. Hence the need to ensure that there was sufficient time between individual keystrokes for the arm of the previous letter to retract. An alternative design, Dvorak layout, was later developed that was faster but so many people were already trained on the QWERTY layout that it never caught on. We are now stuck with this legacy system long after mechanical typewriters have disappeared. An example of a defacto standard in the CAD industry would be AutoCAD's ASCII DXF and binary DWG file formats from AutoDesk. An example in the EDA arena would be GDSII, originally developed by Calma.

De jure standards are based upon the sanctions from an authority, e.g. government agency, industry group, or consortium. These authorities seek to avoid or to at least minimize the incorporation of materials into standards where someone has essential rights. Corporations frequently donated intellectual property, money and technical resources to organizations that develop and promulgate standards. They often form alliance even with competitors to promote adoption of one technology over another. These efforts are not entirely altruistic. Firms stand to gain if they are able to influence the direction, content or timing of a standard which is more aligned with their own products and technologies.

Founded in 1916 the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a private, non-profit organization that administers and coordinates the U.S. voluntary standardization and conformity assessment system. ANSI facilitates the development of American National Standards (ANS) by accrediting the procedures of standards developing organizations (SDOs). These groups work cooperatively to develop voluntary national consensus standards while meeting the Institute's essential requirements for openness, balance, consensus and due process.

At year-end 2003, about 200 of these standards developers were accredited by ANSI; there were more than 10,000 American National Standards (ANS). Among the SDOs are IEEE and EIA (Electronic Industries Alliance).

In general the need for translation between application programs is an ongoing requirement. In some cases there may be a need for a mass migration of files from a legacy system to the currently deployed system. The need for conversion or translation may driven by a desire to standardize on a single software package for reasons of economy. It may be driven by a need to share data as a result of mergers and acquisitions. It may be driven the requirement to support the supply chain or the extended enterprise (contractors, vendors, customers, …). It could be that the vendor of the authoring program has gone out of business. Many firms simply seek to integrate best-of-breed solution into a seamless design flow. The reasons may vary but the need is real.

Another approach to information sharing is for a software vendor to provide an API (Application Program Interface). A third party (end user, complementary s/w provider, competing s/w vendor) can develop programs to transfer data to another program or to operate directly on the native data within the original program's operating environment, e.g. direct data access and consistent user interface across apps. The later generally eliminates the problem of data loss. The API vendor also takes responsibility for ensuring that its API remains current with the latest versions of its application. On the negative side third party developers may have to develop multiple products to deal with multiple proprietary APIs. The APIs will also likely change more quickly and less predictably than exchange standards.

To entice third party developers to use their APIs, companies provide free or inexpensive software, documentation, training, technical support and marketing programs: joint advertising, tradeshows, roadshows/seminars, websites and user group access. A more compelling attraction is the size of one's installed base and the possibility of selling product and services into that customer base.

Taken from OpenAcess the goals of interoperability include:
- Provide tight integration and incremental design flows using design tools and data from multiple sources

- Ease integration of internally developed tools with those from EDA suppliers

- Provide more cost effective technology transfer of university research into the design flow

- Simplify technology sharing for collaborative development between business partners for design tools and design data
The leading EDA companies fully recognize and readily admit that a single vendor can not develop a complete solution for all its customers and prospects. While the EDA industry is dominate by three major vendors, the history shows that leading edge technology often comes from small startup firms. Both large and small firms as well as their customers benefit from the integration of their solutions. The larger firms may subsequently acquire the smaller ones and look for even tighter integration. The leading EDA companies have taken multifaceted approaches to the issues of data exchange and interoperability. They are active participants in various standards making efforts. They form strategic alliances, launch interoperability initiatives, and offer programs and APIs for third parties. They even join one another's programs and accept data inputs from competing offerings. Some of these efforts are described below.

Among the standards organizations in the EDA are Accellera, Electronic Design Automation Consortium (EDAC), Fabless Semiconductor Association (FSA), IEEE, Open Core Protocol International Partnership (OCP-IP), Silicon Integration Initiative (Si2), Open SystemC Initiative (OSCI), PSL/Sugar Consortium, SPIRIT Consortium, VSI Alliance, X Initiative, and OpenVera.

OpenAccess is a community-driven initiative, which provides an interoperability platform for complex IC design based on a common, open and extensible architecture. This is done through an open standard API and reference database implementation supporting that API. The initiative is driven by the OpenAccess Coalition, which operates under the governance and bylaws of Si2. Si2 is a not-for-profit organization of industry-leading semiconductor and EDA tool companies focused on improving productivity and reducing cost in creating and producing integrated silicon systems. Cadence developed and contributed the base OpenAccess technology (Genesis II database). Cadence has contracted to be the primary integrator of changes and community contributions to the reference implementation. At the recent DAC Conference more than six companies demonstrated OpenAccess based products.

The Cadence OpenChoice Program enables interoperability and facilitates open collaboration with leading IP providers of library, processor and memory core, and verification IP to build, validate, and deliver accurate models optimized for Cadence-leading design and verification solutions. The program aims to ensure IP quality and provide the semiconductor industry with access to optimized IP that is tightly integrated with Cadence design platforms, in turn optimizing the industry design chain, and accelerating customer time-to-market.

Cadence's Connections Program aims to provide "best-in-class" tools to customers by partnering with third-party EDA software and ATE vendors. The goal of collaboration is to provide a tightly integrated product that customers can smoothly merge into a Cadence flow, assured of built-in operability. Recently Cadence has added a new category of Connections Program member called Emerging Solutions Members.

In February 2003 Synopsys, announced that it had opened third-party access to its production-proven Milkyway design database. Customers and EDA tool vendors can now link their tools directly into the Milkyway environment through either a scripting language application programming interface (API) or a C-based API.

The Milkyway environment is available to all EDA vendors through Synopsys' MAP-in program. MAP-in gives members free access to a copy of the Milkyway environment documentation and software, a runtime license for the APIs for integration development, an invitation to Synopsys' EDA Interoperability Developers' Forums, access to Synopsys' Secured User Research Facility and an online Milkyway discussion forum. In addition, there is an annual, comprehensive service option for those who would like a deeper level of support. Approximately 40 EDA companies have joined MAP-in.

Milkyway provides a solid, proven architecture for advanced designs. The Milkyway Environment contains a layout viewer/editor, ASCII file readers/writers for public-domain interchange files, an API for database access, and an extension language based on the public-domain Scheme language for easy integration and customization.

Synopsys' programs supporting interoperability include in-Sync, TAP-in, EDASpine, S.U.R.F. and the Library Vendor Program.

Note a Golden Gate Working Group was formed in late 2002 to bridge between OpenAccess and the open Synopsys Milkyway environment, for the shared benefit of the entire industry. This group includes representatives from both Cadence and Synopsys.

Mentor Graphics' OpenDoor program provides access to partner companies that offer well integrated, leading edge software solutions that complement the Mentor Graphics suite of tools in all aspects of the design process. Through OpenDoor, over 95 partner companies have agreed to develop and maintain commercial integrations, expanding the choices available to Mentor Graphics users in all design processes: hundreds of EDA products now interoperate with Mentor Graphics tools for ESDA, Top Down Design, PCB Layout and IC Design.

Mentor's Embedded Solutions Partners program supports the integration of commercially available products from embedded systems vendors into Embedded Software's portfolio of products. This includes the VRTX Real-Time Operating System, XRAY Debugger and Microtec C, C++, and Java Compilers.

The Mentor's Synthesis Strategic Alliance Program enables vendors to gain access to Mentor's synthesis software and library development tools for the purpose of flow testing, tool integration, library development, and supporting mutual customers. The goal of the MagmaTies program is to provide Magma Design Automation customers with solutions to speed through the semiconductor design and manufacturing processes. These solutions require proven tools and methodologies, along with well-trained service providers. MagmaTies works with ASIC vendors, EDA tool vendors, library vendors, IP providers, design service providers and semiconductor foundries. Through the program, Magma and MagmaTies members work together to qualify tool interfaces, and to test and qualify libraries and foundry processes for use with Magma's software. In addition, Magma works with IP providers to develop a methodology for certifying the performance of IP blocks using Blast Wrap.

Viewing Vendors

There are a few firms that specialize in viewing/redlining or conversion/translator products such as Cimmetry Systems and Router Solutions Incorporated. I must admit that Cimmetry's recent announcement of AutoVue 18 was the trigger for this editorial.

Cimmetry Systems, Inc., a firm dedicated to viewing and markup applications for the A/E/C, Engineering, Manufacturing and Electronics markets was established in 1988. Today the firm provides native support for more than 450 formats including 2D/3D CAD, EDA, raster, vector, hybrid, office and graphics. The privately held company has around 120 employees. The products are sold through a combination of direct sales, value added resellers and oems. The company lists of partners include PDM/Document companies (Baan, Agile Software, Documentum, MatrixOne, Filenet, SmarTeam, and SAP), Mechanical CAD companies (AutoDesk, SolidEdge, SolidWorks and Think3) and Mentor Graphics. On July 15th Cimmetry released AutoVue 18. Dereck Gold, Marketing Specialist, said that they have shipped several hundred thousands units of their flagship product AutoVue.

The basic AutoVue package supports view, print, plot and convert functions for business documents and CAD drawings. AutoVue Professional also supports markup, redline, annotation and hyperlinking capabilities for the same file formats. AutoVue SolidModels supports 3D CAD models and EDA layouts and schematics.

Cimmetry's AutoVue comes in a desktop version and a client/server version. A thin client accesses information through its web browser. The information is converted into a proprietary metafile format and streamed on the fly for performance reasons. The metafile can also be created ahead of time.

AutoVue Professional offers real-time collaboration in terms of co-viewing, co-markup and chat capabilities.

Mentor Board Station, Design Architect, Neutral PDIF
Cadence Allegro, Allegro Extract, IPF EDIF
Orcad Layout, Capture Barco DPF
Zuken CADSTAR Gerber, ODB++, ODB++(X), Gencam

Table 2 Cimmetry Supported Formats
EDA PCB/IC (layouts, schematics, artwork)

EDA features include cross probing between the schematic, layout and 3-D model. The system understands traces, nets, components and library objects. Searches can be made on attributes, keywords and values and for nets, components, pins, vias and so forth. The system can perform DRC checks for manufacturability such as clearances, drill hole sizes, net width and length, via counts and so on.

A major and recently introduced capability is DMU (Digital Mock Up). One can import and combine a number of CAD design formats, e.g. CATIA and Inventor into a single virtual assembly. Both mechanical and electronic parts can form a mockup. Printed circuit boards can be seen positioned within their cases and enclosures. Users can perform interference and clearance studies. This would also be useful for heat and cooling studies.

Router Solutions Incorporated (RSI) was formed in 1987 with the vision of providing advanced applications to the Printed Circuit Board ECAD industry. The first of these applications was a PC based iterative autorouter marketed under the name of SuperRoute. As a third party tool that was reliant upon interfacing with multiple ECAD applications, RSI developed a very comprehensive set of ECAD readers and writers. RSI refocused its' business model to fill a niche market in area of ECAD to ECAD database translators. These initial translators were built on a “black box” concept that allowed a simple command line execution with no visual interaction.

RSI's second generation translation products is known as CAMCAD.

Cadence Allegro OrCAD
Mentor BoardStation ODB++
Protel GenCAD
Zuken GenCAM
Veribest IPC 356
Accel EDA Gerber

Table 3 CAMCAD Supported EDA Formats

CAMCAD Vision is a low-cost, Windows based application used to view native CAD PCB design files, Graphical PCB files, or both. CAMCAD Professional is the logical link between design, manufacturing and test for every PCB manufacturing environment. It converts CAD data in to a host of PCB manufacturing formats while offering full view, measure, query, redline.

Informative Graphics Corp. (IGC) has partnered with RSI to provide EDA/ECAD/PCB file support in its Brava! web-based view and markup software. CAMCAD takes the original circuit board file and creates a compressed, intermediate CC (XML) files, which is readable by Brava. Full intelligence is preserved, ensuring that all layers, attributes, and other data-like net/pin information are maintained.

Electronic Tools Company™ (e-tools) was founded in 1987. For the designer, e-tools brings high quality translators that simplify the tasks of integrating, migrating, and archiving design data from various EDA platforms. For the non-designer, e-tools brings visualization technology that makes it obvious to access, to view, and to markup design data for review and communication processes. E-tools offers products and services for Standard XML Translators, Standard EDIF (Electronic Design Interchange Format) Translators, Conversion Services, Consulting, and Visualization software.

Weekly Highlights

ATI Implements Award-Winning Radeon X800 Series with Cadence Encounter

Synplicity Awarded Key Patent for Signal Integrity Technology

EVE Appoints Seasoned Executive as Chief Financial Officer; Thomas Girardot Has Experience Managing IPOs, M&A Activity, Cross-Border Transactions

New Release of Cadence Allegro System Interconnect Design Platform Helps Increase PCB Engineer Productivity

Mentor Graphics Introduces the Industry's First Concurrent Chip-to-Board Solution for FPGA and PCB Design

Synopsys' New PCI Express PHY IP Enables Lower Cost ICs

Renesas Technology Selects Synopsys Star-RCXT for 90 Nanometer Designs

Cadence Delivers Advanced Verification Environment for Palladium Acceleration/Emulation System

North American Semiconductor Equipment Industry Posts June 2004 Book-to-Bill Ratio of 1.08

Atmel Offers World's First Commercially Available 32-Mbit FPGA Configuration Memories

More EDA in the News and More IP & SoC News

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--Contributing Editors can be reached by clicking here.