Steve SchulzLately, there has been increasing discussion in the industry about the need for a set of standards that specifically support interoperable description of intent for analog and custom design, a.k.a. “analog design intent” standards. It is a big, complex, and intriguing topic, with multiple valid points of view representing different aspects of the supply chain. Most concede that it consists of a set of specifications, some being extensions of existing standards, supplemented by several new ones. With the analog and custom IC product landscape increasing with a large consumer / mobile market, and the potential for increased tool automation also of growing interest by EDA vendors, it is hardly surprising that the topic has transitioned to more actionable, tangible calls for action in the standardization space.

Proponents calling for analog design intent standardization point to the rising percentage of effort in handling non-digital design and layout tasks, made worse by technology changes due to advanced process nodes. While digital enjoys formal executable models, automated synthesis, and top-down constraint specifications, the analog world relies on exchange of datasheets, manual topology selection and sizing, and less automated place and route and verification. Some reason that the relative gap in automaton is largely due to the lack of formalism in description of intent and the lack of commonality preventing the various “views” to be exchanged between tools across a design flow. Open standard interfaces could permit far greater exchange of analog intent, with greater formalism and clarity, to greatly improve time-to-market, quality, and efficiency for the industry as a whole.

Those who are less eager for such standardization argue that some of that information is really the result of proprietary IP investments made over many years, and the resulting methodology used with those tools reflects as much the internal product-level details as it does more generic description of intent. The point has also been made that the goal may be more about pricing leverage than about innovation in analog design intent.

Si2, playing such a prominent role in related standards such as OpenAccess, OpenPDK, and OpenDFM, is indeed the logical place for such a conversation, and those efforts cited were in fact created in response to similar requests from our members and industry at large. At this time, Si2 is seeking serious, qualified input from those who are stakeholders in this arena, and we have no formal position either way. As with our past efforts, Si2’s response will be rooted in careful analysis of the breadth of industry need, the potential for widespread benefit and ROI to outweigh likely cost / effort, ability to leverage existing standards and technologies, legal constraints, and the expectation of active participation and contributions to help the adoption of the investment succeed. With five major active efforts at Si2, including the ramp-up of Open3D taking place as we speak, we are not looking for more work! However, we do have the ability to scale, only if needed, to address important challenges within Si2’s scope.

So, please share your thoughts with us on this topic. Si2 will listen carefully — to our members, but also the broadest possible audience, the “engineering community” represented by readers of this blog. Feel free also to add comments below for more general feedback. Or better still, come see what’s going on at the 16th Si2 Conference on October 20 in Santa Clara:
Thank you!