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Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

DVCon/SNUG: The Old, Old Story of Design by Committee

March 24th, 2015 by Peggy Aycinena

We’re only gifted with so many hours of life here on earth, so why would anyone waste them listening to the same lengthy keynote twice in one month? That was the thought that raced through my mind when Synopsys’ Aart de Geus stepped up onto the stage in front of 500+ SNUG attendees at the Santa Clara Convention Center yesterday morning and clicked on his title foil.

“Shift Left,” it said.

“Oh no,” I said. For pity’s sake, this was the exact same talk co-CEO de Geus offered up less than three weeks ago on March 3rd at DVCon in San Jose. I looked around for the nearest exit.

Then, cooler heads prevailed. Mine.

Wait a minute, I said. Three weeks ago I sat in the back of a ballroom at the DoubleTree, listening over the heads of 350 people at DVCon, and typed everything the good doctor said into my tablet, verbatim. I’ve already done the heavy lifting here, I thought. I’ve got his script on my tablet, I’ve seen the slides, and I’ve heard the jokes.

Does Synopsys believe an entirely different audience attends DVCon than that which attends SNUG? Why else would they present the exact same talk at the two venues? Perhaps no one at SNUG actually does verification? Why not compare the SNUG talk to the one at DVCon?

So, with that much entertainment guaranteed I sat back and enjoyed the show.

Highlights that showed up in both keynotes …

* Shifting left is not a political imperative directed at an otherwise right-leaning audience. It’s an observation that as things move to the left along the X-axis, which is Time, they move up along the Y-axis, which is Uncertainty. This means that the more quickly you do things, the less certainty you have with regards to the outcome.

A whimsical sentiment within the context of a content-lite keynote, but not so whimsical when applied to EDA tools which purport to do things faster, faster, ever faster. Nobody who sells faster-than-yesterday’s EDA tools wants you to believe that faster iterations comes at the expense of accuracy, least of all Synopsys.

* Nonetheless, when it comes to ICs, it’s just one long, old, old story, told over and over again. Whether you’re talking about design, IP, verification, or software, it’s always about moving to the left on the X-axis and up on the Y-axis. Always.

* The argument for design reuse [read, “using IP”] is built on a tower of well-fitted Legos. Audiences at both DVCon and SNUG apparently struggle with the concept of shrink-wrapped IP, so they need the Legos analogy to illustrate it all. The Synopsys co-CEO asked that the IC guys respect the materials science and engineering at the core of Legos’ success, the fine tolerances and mastery of fabrication that allows plastic parts to fit together securely each and every time.

This admiration for Legos, so carefully expressed at both DVCon and SNUG, prompted a bit of reflection: If these audiences were made up of Legos developers would a keynoter invoke the fine tolerances and elegant engineering required to integrate silicon IP onto a chip to explain the subtleties of producing and using Legos? Just asking …

* The 1977 Oldsmobile Toronado was historic for what reason? Answer: It could brag on the first on-board MCU. Now today, almost 40 years later, there’s the equivalent of a 12-wafer’s worth of ICs under the hood.

* Verification is important, and VIP is really important. So is UPF, writing testbenches, and static/formal, etc. Meanwhile, stop the silos, stop the madness, combine the debug databases, and unify the compilation. After all, debug’s not a tool; it’s an architecture!

* Today, the world’s producing ICs with multiple billions of transistors on-chip, and they’re generally turning out a-okay.

* We may be lingering on the 28-nanometer bridge en route to the future, but continue to put your faith in finFETs as you march from 16 to 14 to 10 to 5. ‘Nuff said.

swiss watch design chain* The design and verification chain for ICs today is like a well-oiled machine. Lots of gears of various sizes all turning merrily across the page, a veritable “Swiss watch” of inter-connectivity. Given that pictures are worth a thousand words, check out this foil from the set used to illustrate both of the March keynotes. Note, however, that in real [keynote] time all gears are spinning around in a madcap array of coordinated choreography.

* And let’s not forget sloppy software developers. They should take a page from the Discipline Handbook that drives hardware developers and clean up their act! Patches? Really? Hardware developers don’t have that luxury, so neither should software guys.

Software developers need to learn how to spell Six Sigma (or is it 6Sigma?) They need to learn that “disciplined sign-off drives predictable execution. Software integrity must match hardware integrity, and software developers must learn that kind of discipline!”

* The IoT is like that many Angry Birds mucking up the works of development and implementation. And the IoT needs so much: Low power. Portability. Sensors. Security. Arggg.

* In industries as diverse as biology, automotive, wearables for health, energy and oil exploration, technology is the enabler. Yes, economics is important, but if the impact of technology in these areas lives up to its promise, investment monies will always be available. The kind of progress for mankind that’s destined to come of all of this, will outpace anything ever seen before in the history of history. Ever.

Tips from DVCon that [possibly] tweaked the keynote at SNUG …

* Synopsys is the proud owner of about 400 million lines of code. That’s more than in the mouse genome, but less than in the human, thank goodness. This whimsy offered up at both DVCon and SNUG got a bigger laugh at the latter because the keynote on the 23rd was just after breakfast, whereas the keynote on the 3rd was just after lunch.

* When the talk at SNUG got around to bragging about how seamlessly VCS (acquired from Chronologic), HAPS (acquired from Hardi via Synplicity), ZeBu (acquired from EVE), and Verdi (acquired from Springsoft) all work together, it was clear that the company believes this stuff really matters to the audience at SNUG. SNUG guys need their verification tools to be user-friendly, well-integrated, and able to easily walk in lockstep into that magical land of First Time Success. Even if they weren’t at DVCon.

* And they need apps. Hundreds and hundreds of apps, which users are developing in a kinda/sorta open sorta way, which Synopsys is keeping an eye on, because it’s “always useful to share.” This might have been mentioned at DVCon, but with markedly less proprietary angst.

* When you show the slide of the ’77 Toronado at DVCon and ask rhetorically what was new and innovative there, your audience is full of real engineers and they shout out stuff about front-wheel drive. Having learned that lesson at DVCon, at SNUG you don’t pose it as a question that produces unexpected answers from the floor that forces the guy at the podium to acknowledge a lack of knowledge about “such things.”

At SNUG, you just tell the audience straight up that the first-ever on-board MCU lived under the hood of the ’77 Toronado. No keynoter in Silicon Valley wants to be reminded twice that they know less than their audience about what’s going under the hood of a muscle car.

[By the way, the audience at DVCon was wrong: It was the ’66 Toronado, not the ’77, that shipped with the first front-wheel drive in the modern era.]

* From March 3rd to April 19th is 46 days. So on March 3rd, when you ask a tech-savvy audience at DVCon what’s going to happen in 46 days, they better answer: The 50th anniversary of Gordon Moore’s earth-shattering pronouncement that every 12 months some metric associated with integrated circuits will do something stupendous — grow denser, smaller, cheaper, faster, smarter.

But when you pose the same rhetorical query to an equally tech-savvy audience on March 23rd at SNUG, you better ask what’s going to happen in 27 days. The MarCom team at Synopsys was on top of that particular tweak.

* Today, we’re producing chips with multiple billions of transistors on-board and they’re generally turning out a-okay. That’s all thanks to Synopsys’ better-than-6-sigma First Time Results. Oh yeah, and synthesis by Synopsys continues to improve, improve, and improve some more.

* At SNUG, you brag that IC Compiler II is now a year old and used by customers as diverse as LSI, Panasonic, ST, Imagination and Toshiba. At DVCon, you don’t want to sound like a marketeer, so you check your bragging rights at the door.  And you don’t talk up your well-integrated, all-inclusive suite of tools at DVCon. Too many competitors [read “point-tool vendors”] are in the audience, folks who aren’t fans of that World Domination thing.

* At SNUG, you brag that Synopsys is leading the world’s advancements in analog design. You also brag on last year’s agreement guaranteeing early access to the most advanced ARM cores. Again at DVCon, it’s best to check those bragging rights at the door.

* At the first SNUG in 1991, there were 100 attendees. Here in 2015, if you total the attendance at SNUG over an entire year across the entire planet, the attendance is closer to 10,000. That 100-fold increase in attendance reflects the astonishing factoid that some chips today have 10 billion transistors. Most of that progress is due to Synopsys and their loyal customers, you tell your audience at SNUG. At DVCon, best to keep that particular light under your bushel as well.

* IP reuse is the key to happiness. Did we mention that Synopsys sells IP? Why strive, why struggle, when Synopsys has got the cure for what ails you? Put your efforts into what differentiates your product, not what doesn’t. Synopsys’ portfolio includes quality PCIe, USB, LPDDR, dot, dot dot: “Mix up our IP with your IP to leverage your innovation!”

* At DVCon you conclude your talk with a Hallmark-card nod to your audience of gifted engineers. You say: “Thank you for helping to drive the future forward!”

At SNUG, however, you re-consider that enigmatic Hallmark thing because it is indeed baffling, and you conclude your talk instead in a far simpler, far more accessible way. You just say: “Thank you!”

Jokes shared at DVCon & SNUG …

* A man with two watches never knows what time it is.

* When Aart de Geus finally gets his augmented brain implanted, his wife will order him out for a haircut and a software update. Only then will he remember to take out the trash, a hotly debated chore in the de Geus household. This one produced more laughs at SNUG than DVCon, but then Dr. de Geus didn’t get a standing ovation at DVCon. That speaker’s honorarium was saved for SNUG.

Channeling Kipling at SNUG …

If you can model, you can simulate.
If you can simulate, you can analyze.
If you can analyze, you can optimize.
If you can optimize, you can synthesize.
And if you can synthesize, you’ll be a man, my son.

In defense of satire …

Hey, I spent two hours sitting in folding chairs, plus a helluva lot of time commuting in heavy traffic, just to hear the identical keynote twice. Having a little fun at the expense of the MarCom committee that designed this visually-stimulating talk surely makes up for some of the annoyance. And for that I say, thank you for helping to drive my future forward.


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