August 18, 2003
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Say that you're on deadline and that, although you started this article about Canada two weeks ago, you waited until the very last night to finish it. And say on that exact night, the largest blackout in the history of the Universe struck the North Eastern States and parts of Canada, including most of Ontario. And say that every time you tried to access some official Canadian website with stats and facts about the country, you got about as far as a subway train gets in a (blacked-out) New York minute. So say, instead, you had to resort to a website called An American's Guide to Canada: True Facts.
It's there that you would learn that Canada has 9,976.100 square kilometers to house its 31 million citizens, while the U.S. has only 9, 372,600 square kilometers to house its 270 million citizens, that Canada spends more of its gross domestic product on education than the U.S., and that Canada has more donut shops per capita than the United States does. Immediately you would know why most Americans wish they were Canadians -- fun-loving, easy going, reliable, congenial, neighborly Canadians.
Of course, you'd also learn that Canadians consume more Kraft Macaroni & Cheese dinners per capita than any other nationality on earth. And since you'd be monitoring on-line updates on the blackout as you worked, you'd also learn that by late Thursday night the Canadians were being blamed for the power disaster by some of their fun-loving, easy going, reliable, congenial neighbors to the south.
Now say you were still trying to finish this article the next morning, you'd then learn that those initial accusations against the poor Canadians were probably premature and incorrect. You'd learn that it's probably somebody in Ohio who will end up taking the heat for 50 million people getting knocked off the power grid at just past 4 PM EST.
Luckily, however, this article's about EDA and not about that stodgy, old-fashioned, less-than-compelling niche in electrical engineering, which includes power generation and distribution.
Thank goodness, because we want to talk about real electrical engineering, things like microelectronics, nanotechnology, and computer-aided design. Which brings us back to Canada. Here are the highlights of five conversations that should help to educate all of us about everything EDA in the land of Maple Leaves, Donuts, and Mounties on Horseback.
EDA in Canada
My first conversation was with Scott McClellan, President and CEO of Icinergy Software Co. based in Kanata, Ontario. Scott has always been an articulate spokesman, not just for Icinergy, but for the Canadian technology environment, as well. Scott told me by phone, "One of the main reasons there's an EDA presence in Canada is because Nortel/BNR in Ottawa had a huge CAD department in the 1980's with lots of people. Grant Martin at Cadence Berkeley Labs and Robert Hum at Mentor Graphics are among a whole host of guys who came out of the internal CAD organization at Nortel. At one time, Nortel had over 250 people in their CAD organization alone."
"Today, there are a number of EDA companies in Canada including ADA in Ottawa, Electronics Workbench in Toronto, and Quantic EMC in Winnipeg, which was founded by Dr. Alvin Wexler from the University of Manitoba. Cadence does development work in Canada -- they've got part of my former company, UniCad, which does PCB software and some IC CAD."
"Cadabra was started by Dr. Martin Lefebvre at Carleton University in Ottawa. Cadabra was bought by Numerical Technologies, and then NumeriTech was bought by Synopsys. So you could also say that a part of Synopsys was started in Canada, as well. There's a company in Montreal called Design Workshop Technologies, which has been around for a long time. They do IC layout tools and a number of other tools. And there's GeneriCAD in Ottawa, which has various graphical tools that they customize for people."
"Clearly, there are multiple companies in Canada across a broad range of niches in EDA and, though there's not so much a sense of community [among the Canadian EDA] companies, there is a knowledge of each other. You know the other companies and their space, but you don't work in it -- we couldn't work with each other even if we tried. [But we do share the fact that] all these Canadian companies have a bit of an advantage over [other non-American] companies trying to sell into the U.S. market because we're 'continental' -- we're on the same continent as the U.S."
"[Additionally], there are R&D tax benefits for anyone doing business here in Canada. You get 80% of your R&D dollars back if the company is wholly owned by Canadians. It's true that our salaries here are slightly lower [than in the U.S.], but salaries are paid in Canadian dollars, which actually contributes to the savings [associated with doing business]."
"It's also true that the bulk of designers [customers] are still in California today, but the advantage for an EDA company to locate there is disappearing slowly. I think that people have realized that, although California is a great place to live, the cost structure of living there is not so great. EDA developers are spreading out to places like Oregon and Texas. And Canada certainly continues to be a place where it's possible to find excellent developers, as well."
"[Meanwhile], the majority of our customers are located just 5 minutes from us here in Ontario. Companies tend to buy their tools where the support is very close. If a customer has a choice between a distributor in their own country, or someone with just a local sales rep, they'll usually choose [a vendor] who can be there for them. And for start-up companies like Icinergy, where products are evolving rapidly, it's great to have customers nearby for feedback."
"I think EDA is a mature industry that has to go through further evolution. We're not like a lot of other businesses, trying to sell as if we're riding a wave. Our technology base isn't going to grow as fast as others. Our customers are looking to us for help with their problems, but [they'll only continue to look for help] if we do a lot of work to improve our tools. There's no place like EDA. The complexity is high, the tech pace is fast, and it's a lot of fun. The people here at Icinergy wouldn't be anywhere else other than in EDA, in Canada."
My next conversation was with Grant Martin in California, well-known contributor to EDA and a Fellow at the Cadence Berkeley Labs in Berkeley, CA. He's been with Cadence since 1994, after having spent 10 years at Nortel/BNR in Ottawa and 6 years at Burroughs in Scotland. Educated at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, Grant had lots to say about EDA and Canada when I spoke to him on the phone.
"I really enjoy looking at the historical perspective and the big thing about EDA in Canada, by far, was all of the research going on at Bell Northern Research -- Nortel/BNR. I joined them in 1984. At that time, they had a community of designers in-house with upwards of 2000 people. Nortel was large -- dominant, really -- in EDA in Canada. Multiple companies have emerged out of Nortel employees and research, but many more have some type of association with Nortel."
"The Nortel CAD group spent years developing CAD tools on IBM mainframes in the 1980's. Gradually, however, the company switched over to workstation-based CAD and commercial products from companies like Synopsys, Mentor, and Cadence. So there were two major changes [that impacted the situation at Nortel]."
"The design technology [in-house] moved from developing tools to integrating mostly externally developed tools and, after a while, the PCB portion of the company spun out and formed a separate company, as well. Meanwhile, there were other spin-out companies emerging. LogicVision was one of them. Vinod Agarwal at McGill had done substantial research collaboration with Nortel. Also, Rajeev Madhavan ended up founding Magma Design Automation. Rajeev actually worked for me when we were at BNR. I also was involved in Martin Lefebvre's research at Nortel that led to his founding Cadabra."
"Nortel today is a very different place. The company went through the telecomm/datacomm crash, while there's also been a shift away from hardware-oriented design to software-oriented design so the move to even less internal design has continued."
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-- Peggy Aycinena, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.
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