March 23, 2009
The Aart of Analogy Revisited
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Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor

by Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor
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Aart – Obviously, valuation is a function of two things – how the business is doing, and what’s going to happen in the future. We’re fortunate that we’ve read a number of threads correctly, that we’ve put together both a technology and an economic strategy that was in the right place at the right time.

For many years, EDA success was measured by how good, how fast, and how effective an individual tool was. That was reasonable, because most things have to get better and faster as you scale with Moore’s law. But there’s a challenge here – whenever a field grows in scale, sooner or later you get systemic complexity, as well. It’s not just more things, it’s more things inter-related in more and more dimensions.

Looking at it simply – before, every new chip was faster, but at 130 nanometers, power became a massive restriction. That was an additional dimension added to the problem – the designers had to look at everything, including power. At the manufacturing level, at the transistor level, at the system level, with multiple voltage – everything was very complex with a whole laundry list of systemic issues touching place-and-route, embedded software, and so on. In other words, everything’s inter-related with everything and there’s tremendous system complexity.

So, what have we done? We’ve moved from scale complexity to systemic complexity and started to work on the interactions of various tools. It’s not just the output of one tool to another, but the upstream tools have to be clairvoyant about the downstream tools.

For many years, synthesis was just that. But then, we said we need to look at the interconnect, so we put a little placement into synthesis, and that clairvoyance allowed a little bit of routing to predict a little congestion. The same is true for the whole tool set. If you know what the tools are going to do, it goes to a more and more integrated flow. This has driven our entire M&A strategy, moving to get all of the puzzle pieces in place.

We couldn’t have predicted this recession, of course, but we’ve moved the entire company, plus a number of customers, into preferred relationships that – despite systemic complexity – still get chips out in a reasonable amount of time.

At the same time, we also realized the business model – the end-of-quarter transactions – was broken. We realized that we’re about long-term relationships. To get the order done just to make the numbers for the quarter was a very negative approach, so we migrated to a ratable business model to realize revenue on a day-by-day basis, with no early recognition.

This combination [of strategies], both technical and economic, have put us in a very different position today than others in EDA.

Peggy – This is a complex process you’re describing, the evolution of strategies within a company. Does it require something like an orchestra conductor to break open the teams? To discourage fiefdoms, which are unwilling to open up and cooperate with other fiefdoms in the organization, unwilling to link their products or code?

Aart – I like your musical analogy, but is it a classical symphony approach? You will play it this way, or bye bye. Or is it a classical jazz approach? Where sideways listening skills are just as important as individual solos. I believe Synopsys is far better at the second than the first.

True, it’s taken years to get value links, so that the value of all tools are considered important, so you can look at the big picture and not just the runtime of individual tools. Yes, this is a very difficult goal. But, from the economics of the customers, it’s still the throughput of the individual tools that is important.

So, this is exciting. Precisely because of the economic stress happening right now, many of the management teams at our customers are asking, what is the overall case for this project or that? Precisely in a downturn, people ask, is there a way to improve the overall picture, the overall efficiency of a project?

It took a lot of internal change at Synopsys for us to [reach this point]. But, right now I’m seeing such a sea change on the part of our customers – no matter how much tuning they do for their projects, there’s still too little money – so they are turning to us for help at a much higher degree.

Peggy – I think I hear you describing the all-you-can-eat EDA model. Is that good for Synopsys? Good for the EDA industry?

Aart – The technology benefits are obvious, but from a commercial point of view – it’s not that we can give you all you can eat, but that we put a lot of food on the table. Our customers have fixed budgets, because if they don’t, they won’t be back at the restaurant.

It’s always a balance between what you can provide and what the customer can afford. But no matter what, we need to make our customers successful. Gluing together some Frankenstein flows may include best-of-class, but be worst-of-class in aggregate.

The challenge for the industry remains, however. Whenever you provide a lot of technology, people don’t fully appreciate what they’re getting for their money. In every industry, the question remains. Are we appreciated enough by our customers? At this point in time, I appreciate that people are designing with our tools. That’s as far as I can see right now.

Peggy – So, how about the future of CMOS, the prospects for novel materials, a future that includes self-assembling compute platforms?

Aart – So that begs the question, what is new? Look at 22 nanometers versus 250 a number of years ago, it’s extraordinarily evolved! We have seen just remarkable progress, but precisely because there’s been so much investment in silicon and CMOS. Gallium arsenide never got to a critical mass [of acceptance] and never could move the state of the art forward. That’s the reality of anything that needs big investments.

It doesn’t mean that the door’s not open, however, for new breakthroughs as we get to much smaller devices. At the nano-scale, the technology is definitely being developed. But therein lies the problem. It takes a long time. Over time, yes there can be remarkable innovation in technology – but over time.

Still, I am in the camp of never say never, although you’re the one who used the term dinosaur to describe those of us who have been in the industry for a long, long time.

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-- Peggy Aycinena, Contributing Editor.


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