Evolution and innovation in the EDA ecosystem

Welcome to the premiere edition of OpenSystems Media’s Digest. Whether you are an electronics designer who uses EDA tools on a daily basis, an EDA tool developer, or in some other role as an EDA vendor or industry observer, I hope that you will find our new expanded coverage of the Electronic Design Automation industry to be informative and helpful to you in your work.

EDA evolution

The EDA industry has undergone significant change in recent years, with large acquisitions and mergers resulting in consolidation amongst the major players. In February, Magma Design Automation, the former 4th place EDA supplier, was acquired by Synopsys for $523 million, greatly increasing the size of the largest EDA vendor, and coming only months after Synopsys’ acquisition of semiconductor IP supplier Virage Logic for $315 million. Just a month earlier, Cadence Design Systems acquired Denali Software, also for $315 million. Now, the industry is watching as Synopsys moves closer to completing another $300-plus million acquisition, bringing in SpringSoft Inc. to fill the gaps in their custom/ design solutions.

As the landscape is being reshaped, we think this is an excellent time to develop an annual EDA Resource Guide to assist users in finding the tools and vendors that can help solve their most challenging design problems. Our expanded cover of the EDA Ecosystem, including semiconductor IP, serves as a map to guide readers to products in each category of our EDA taxonomy from Electronic System Level (ESL) design to Technology Computer Aided Design (TCAD) to tools for Printed Circuit Board (PCB) design.

With EDA becoming more concentrated in “The Big 3,” namely Cadence Design Systems, Mentor Graphics, and Synopsys, no review of the state of the industry would be complete without the perspectives of the leaders of those companies. Each company kindly agreed to participate in interviews in which we presented the same set of five questions to their CEOs and executive staff members. We asked the executives to discuss how universities and the industry can foster further, future innovations, reflect back on the most significant innovations in EDA in the past 25 years, forecast the future impact of 3D ICs, and opine on the greatest challenges facing EDA today. From Mentor Graphics, we have the viewpoint of CEO and Chairman of the Board Dr. Walden C. Rhines; Cadence Design Systems President and CEO Lip-Bu Tan shared his insights; and from Synopsys we received responses from John Chilton, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Development.

I think you will find that the interviews reflect both the personalities of each company’s leaders and their companies’ relative strengths within the EDA ecosystem. We get a look at some of Synopsys’ strategic thinking as they attempt to absorb their recent series of large purchases: Cadence Design Systems, the original developer of the OpenAccess data model, placed a great deal of emphasis on collaboration within the ecosystem in their interview; and Mentor, most involved of the Big 3 in providing tools for embedded systems designers, reflects that influence in their outlook for greater hardware-software integration.

The varied outlooks on the future impact of 3D ICs are particularly interesting, which range from perspectives that little change in existing tools will be required to thoughts that changes will be needed across the board that could even alter “how the semiconductor industry works.” There are also significant differences in opinions regarding the role that universities will play in advancing EDA. The greatest differences in perspective emerged from the executive’s choices for the single biggest challenge facing the EDA industry today. From their answers, I believe we can gain a great deal of insight into the directions and positioning that these companies will likely be pursuing in the coming years.

One consistent theme from the executive interviews is the need for ecosystem cooperation and support of standards for interoperability. The consolidation that we are seeing could potentially lead to big EDA companies expanding their efforts to own a greater portion of design flows. We hope that efforts toward more truly open standards continue, and that companies realize that barriers to interoperability only inhibit growth and innovation for the entire industry.

EDA innovation

As you will see, innovation is a central theme in this issue of EDA Digest. Much has been said and written about the need for more innovation in the EDA industry, where it may often seem that the task is left to the small startups. Those intrepid entrepreneurs often toil away in cash-starved, bootstrapped operations in the hopes of eventually being snatched up by one of the bigger companies. After we solicited nominations of the “Top Innovators in EDA,” we were pleasantly surprised by the breadth of the submissions, which brought to light many (perhaps lesser known) innovators from large and small companies with long records of contributions that have advanced EDA.

Arriving at just three “Top Innovators in EDA” was a challenging task. Each of the nominees is highly deserving of having their work brought into the spotlight. We invited EDA companies to “Nominate your Mover and Shaker!” by submitting their Top Innovators along with the contributions he or she has made to the EDA industry. With that as a starting point, the emphasis in selecting winners was on both the innovator and the impact of their contributions. Merriam-Webster defines innovation as “a new idea, method, or device,” that is often “an improvement to something already existing.” We might sometimes overlook innovations that make big improvements in established tools and methods, but their impact can be even greater than a novel idea that fails to achieve wide adoption. There are some very interesting new innovations among the nominations, such as Breker’s approach to SoC verification, and the NextOp/Atrenta technology for assertion synthesis, but time will tell if they have the impact of those we chose for the top three. In my feature on the winners, each with an established track record of significantly changing how design is done, you can read more about their accomplishments and what made them stand out for special recognition.

Kathryn Kranen, the 2012 Chair for the Electronic Design Automation Consortium (EDAC) and President and CEO of Jasper Design Automation, frames the innovation question perfectly in her article “Innovation is alive and well in EDA!” As she points out, since the very beginning of EDA the entire electronics industry has marched along to the two-year rhythm of Moore’s Law. This has driven the core EDA vendors to continue innovating just to keep up. Besides the startups, she also identifies innovation outside of the largest companies, which has been essential for enhancing and tying together the components necessary to build a complete EDA ecosystem.

Enhancing EDA

We would like to hear from our readers on the same questions we posed to the EDA companies. What do you think has been the biggest innovation in EDA over the last 25 years? Who would you nominate for Top Innovator? What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the EDA industry today? You can join the discussion in our “EDA Digest” LinkedIn group (opsy.st/QxtaTs), on Twitter @EDADigest or @, or via email at mdemler@opensystemsmedia.com.

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