February 09, 2004
From Glum to Glittering
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It's a pretty bipolar world out there in EDA Land and it's just plain-long hard to figure out sometimes what's going on. Are we mad or are we glad? Are we bad or are we rad (as in cool). One minute, we're awash in the technicolor glow and glittering generalities of it all. The next minute, it's just a gritty grayscale of grim reality.
Whatever it is, it sure as heck makes you long for the middle ground sometimes. That rational, yeah-there-are-problems-but-that's-what-makes-it-all-interesting-and-we'll-make-progress-no-matter-what middle ground. The middle ground that lets you look forward to showing up at work each day to labor alongside your fellow journeymen. The middle ground where there's a spring in your step and a twinkle in your eye as you describe what it is you're doing and where you're trying to get to in the doing of it.
Which is why DesignCon 2004 in Santa Clara turned out to be a good place to be this week. There was glum. There was glittering. But there also was middle ground. Good, solid, hard-working, cheerful middle ground.
But first, a Letter to the Editor
Dear EDA Café,
I believe I may speak for many when I say that those of us that utilize EDA design tools are growing increasingly more concerned with the level of technical support we see from our EDA vendors.
I can open most any electronics related trade publication and see all the positive, sugar-coated sound bites that company executive staff are sharing, but when one watches their stock prices or has the opportunity to see first hand the level of support, or lack of, that they provide, one has to question where the truth lies.
The last time I recall our EDA vendor of choice paying us a visit was when our maintenance agreement was up for renewal. Otherwise, we increasingly find ourselves dealing with technical support representatives in far away time zones.
Have you ever tried to debug or understand a highly complex technical issue when the person on the other end of the phone is 12 hours away - our day, their night?
I would like to see an interview with perhaps the VP of customer support at Cadence, Mentor, or Synopsys, etc. Or better still, a question and answer forum with their customers.
I'll bet the customers would paint a much different picture than the vendors do.
Feel free to share my sentiments, but could I ask that you not include my name, as I still need to make a living in this industry. Besides I'm sure these EDA vendors are financial contributors to your publication.
I am certainly not out to lambaste anyone, but I do feel there is definitely a mismatch between message and reality.
Agitating for change
Richard Tobias is Vice President of the ASIC & Foundry Business Unit and the System LSI Group for Toshiba American Electronic Components, Inc. - a busy guy who's neither anonymous, nor apparently worried about having to make a living in this industry even if he does (regularly) put his name on a set of outspoken criticisms of his vendors in EDA Land.
Tobias moderated a Wednesday afternoon panel at DesignCon discussing the EDA Business Model. His panelists included Graham Bell from Nassda, Jacques Benkoski from Monterey Design Systems, Thomas Heydler from Barcelona Design, and Michael Buehler-Garcia from PDF Solutions. From the looks of things and the SRO audience, this was a hot topic. People on the floor and people on the panel were pretty animated. From that standpoint alone, it was darn good theater. Questions ran long and Tobias basically had to cut off the discussion just to clear the room for the next panel.
Standing in the hallway immediately afterwards, I asked him to summarize what he didn't like about the current models in EDA, why it was of any concern to him, why he didn't just buy the best tools from the most responsive vendors and get on with things, and what he felt would happen to those in EDA who failed to heed his warnings or those from others like him.
I think he might have been a little startled by my questions. After all, he is a big customer - why shouldn't he have a right (read “obligation”) to offer sage advice to his EDA brethren, people with whom he is on a first-name basis, people from whom he expects satisfaction.
Here's what he told me:
“The EDA business model is affecting the basic success of my business. They need to be creating the right tools to promote innovation in the semiconductor industry. The EDA industry needs to help us create better products.”
“I wear two hats in this discussion - someone who is in the market for good tools and someone who is discussing the economics of the situation. [Therefore], we are actively working with our EDA vendors [to move them forward]. There's a distinct link between the quality of the business models and the quality of the tools.”
“Cadence and Synopsys have business models that are geared towards what the financial markets want. What they should have are business models that are geared towards the profitability of their customers.”
“EDA vendors sell us tools for 3 years at a stretch, and then immediately forget to innovate around any of their [installed base]. You can buy a whole palette of tools from Cadence or Synopsys - everything from layout to simulation, synthesis, and place and route. But you end up not using a significant portion of those tools. You end up having to buy something from someone else instead to fill in the gaps where the tools you already own are inadequate. In my mind, if the EDA industry would have their business models more in tune with what we're doing in the semiconductor industry, we would all be better off.”
“Meanwhile, Cadence and Synopsys are falling behind. I ask you, why can't they be creative internally? Why do they have to go outside and buy innovation? Why isn't it happening in-house? Other big companies innovate - GE, for instance in the financial services area, or Intel in the networking and wireless areas. The big EDA vendors should be able to do the same.”
At that point the hallway was beginning to clear. People had clearly moved on to the next hour's program. But before he rushed off to his next event, I asked Tobias to suggest what would happen if his friends in EDA failed to heed his advice. Tobias was unequivocal. Either these guys clean up their act, or they're just not going to be around in a few years. Like I said, he's neither shy nor anonymous.
A well-delivered keynote
Tuesday's DesignCon keynote from Aart de Geus was great, as expected. The CEO of Synopsys has quite obviously mastered the art of public speaking, the art of getting the necessary and sufficient amount of data/slides/concepts into a 20-minute talk, and the art of the ad-lib.
He started by suggesting that DesignCon East, due up in April in Boston, would no doubt be more interesting because one could always hope that being in the New England Patriots' hometown meant that Janet Jackson might make an appearance. Per de Geus, such an appearance was guaranteed to be more interesting than anything a self-described techno-nerd could offer. From that point on, he had the sold-out crowd pretty much in the palm of his hand.
He proceeded to give an entertaining, historically substantiated, honest but upbeat, sincere but cautious keynote - something akin to a combination of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. He told us that the downturn in 1985 might have been bad, but this one is twice as long and twice as deep.
He told us that 2001 saw a 46% decline in the semiconductor industry and that 2002 saw a 32% decline. He said that downturn has led to unprecedented pressure on pricing structures. He said there's an orthogonal set of axes that include product differentiation, project scheduling, and cost, which can help us see where we've been and where we're going.
He reminded us that the move from 0.35 to 0.25 to 0.18 to 0.13 micron basically came off like clockwork. But that at 0.13, things got very, very sticky and there we remain. He said all of that was exacerbated by the far trickier move to 90 nanometers and the skyrocketing costs associated with 300mm fabs.
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-- Peggy Aycinena, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.
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