Agilent EEsof EDA – Part I


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: Lisa 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:

These days 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 Charles Plott. "Whether measuring or simulating S-Parameters in linear circuits, or X-Parameters [1] in nonlinear circuits, we believe both software and test equipment are critical parts of a designer's tool box."

[1] 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 ( Figure 2):

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 [2] (at EEsof 1984 – present) and Charles Plott [2] (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 EEsof were 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 Larry 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 “ Microwave SPICE ", the first available version of SPICE with active, passive and distributed circuit models that permitted SPICE to be used effectively at high frequencies. (SPICE is an acronym for Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis and is a general-purpose analog electronic circuit simulator. Now 37 years old, SPICE was first developed at the University of California at Berkeley, and announced in 1973. Later versions of SPICE are still widely used today in IC and board-level design to predict circuit behavior. By 1985 SPICE had become a standard computer program 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," Charles 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 Charles 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.

Thus ends 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 (a) The Jake Egbert HP period 1994 – 1999, and (b) the Jim McGillivary years following the Agilent Technologies' spin-out from Hewlett Packard and IPO in 1999, up to the beginning of 2010.



[1] 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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Review Article
  • Santanu Roy February 08, 2010
    Reviewed by 'Santanu Roy'
    Enjoyed the article. I worked in Australia back in the late 80s and we had Touchstone and Academy later. Thoroughly loved using them for microwave circuit design ( amplifiers and passive circuits ). Still used to use rubylith then and had to buy that silly diamond head cutter and ruby from the states. Used to have a great time with the EESOF team writing bug reports ( even visted EESOF once when back packing trip from Australia - very nerdy !! ). When series 4 came it was hard to get used to but we used it ( altghough I seemed to remember many did not make the switch and kept the older versions ) - microwave engineers getting angry at SW - now there's a sight. We had Eagleware also but used it for the filter synthesis tool
    Now I use AWR at work but I am evaluating ADS - ADS is the best !!!! Love it( and I have used Ansoft also ) !!!! Still learning lots and still enjoy circuit design even after 20 years.

      30 of 31 found this review helpful.
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  • Embarrassed February 08, 2010
    Reviewed by 'I'm Embarrassed'
    I'm personally embarrassed by Chris' response and similar rhetoric from others @ corporate. Take a look at Cooley's anonymous tip. Guess where it comes from. We don't need to stoop to this kind of behavior. We have a good product. Why can't we compete on that. I don't believe what I'm told from above. Most of us don't. All this whining and hate reflects badly on the us and badly on me personally. At least Agilent has standards they try to live up to. I wish we has the same.

      34 of 39 found this review helpful.
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  • Think before you post February 08, 2010
    Reviewed by 'Rational Engineer'
    I enjoyed your article Russ. Also, it’s probably not what was intended, but I think AWR’s response above says more about their company than it does about their competitor featured in your interview. You’ve got to wonder if this is the tone and culture sponsored from the CEO on down. That would never fly in my company. So I guess I would say that I’m indeed influenced by the AWR response, but probably not in the way they intended for me to be.

      35 of 38 found this review helpful.
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  • Rose tinted spectacles February 06, 2010
    Reviewed by 'Chris Paris'
    I note that you deleted a previous review criticising this article. I agreed with many of the points raised in the deleted review (although they were a little blunt) and hope that the deletion was an error rather than an inability to accept criticism.
    Having worked for EEsof at the time of the Hewlett Packard acquisition, for the combined entity for a year afterwards and currently for AWR, Agilent-EEsof's largest competitor in this space I feel I am qualified to make some comments on this eulogy which I felt bordered on the sycophantic. As the previous review pointed out it is also misleading.
    Firstly I must take issue with the statement "Agilent EEsof has continued to flourish". Within the last 6 months Agilent EEsof has laid off around a hundred people, lost its divisional status and been merged into the Component Test group. In addition, the former divisional VP whom you quote in your article, Jim McGillivary, has "resigned" from the company and there is hardly a week goes by when I do not see a CV from an Agilent EEsof employee (both current and ex-employees) - in fact my company has hired six ex-Agilent employees in the last year. Does that sound like a "flourishing operation" to you? I suggest you pay attention to the various message boards populated by Agilent EEsof employees rather than corporate statements if you want a true picture of the current situation there.
    One statement I can agree with is "With the merger in 1993, the mood is said to have instantly changed." It took Agilent several years to understand that supporting an EDA product was very different to supporting instrumentation and they tried to shoehorn EEsof support into the HP support system which predictably failed. You note in your article that both EEsof's founders left within a year but in addition more than half of the EEsof sales staff gave up the uneven battle with HP "we know best" attitude and also left the company within two years of the takeover. I should also point out that EEsof's sales were almost double HP's EDA sales at the time of takeover rather than being about the same as you state.
    In common with the previous (deleted) reviewer I hope the second half of this article is more balanced and mentions, for example, the 5 years of customer nightmares transitioning from MDS/Series IV to ADS.
    I did enjoy the article as it's always interesting to look back at how the industry has evolved, hence my rating of 3/5. I just felt it wasn't a balanced assessment of the experiences of the employees or the users both in 1993 and 2010 - hence the title of my review. I accept that as an employee of a direct competitor I have an obvious bias but I think you will find all the facts stated in my review are correct.

      45 of 60 found this review helpful.
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  • Peoples Republic of EDA Cafe? February 06, 2010
    Reviewed by 'Chairman Mao'
    I can only guess that my review will not be posted... or not for very long anyways....
    What is wrong with this website? It seems that if anyone has a different viewpoint from the author they get their opinions deleted. This is why John Cooley is the best source of information on EDA tools at He is the only one that allows users to strike back when EDA companies and PR people try to make lies about EDA tools.
    I cannot believe such a story about EEsof. I use other EDA tools in Japan, but it is not a competitor... yet this story seems like a Fable not a true perspective. Anyway... i will not waste time writing my opinion anymore since the editors just delete what they do not like.

      28 of 47 found this review helpful.
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