Published on April 13th, 2009
DVCon 2009 had a panel discussion titled “EDA: Dead or Alive?” It was an interesting discussion because everyone who has been in the industry long enough would have observed the significant changes that have happened in the EDA industry through the last decade. My answer to the question is that the EDA industry is not dead; rather it has grown and matured.
Back in 1990s, the EDA industry was like a young adolescent, full of excitement, energy and potential. The three major EDA companies (Cadence, Synopsys and Mentor Graphics) didn’t have a consolidated design and verification flow, therefore opening up opportunities for new ideas and innovation, creating a healthy environment for startup companies. Investment money flowed into the industry and new startups being acquired by bigger players offered quick return on investment. Customers adopted new technologies into their flows as they were dealing with the ever-increasing challenges of designing bigger and more complex chips. A lot of research activities were happening in the field of design automation in the academic communities and many talented Ph.Ds took on EDA as a promising career with an excellent income potential. It was a great time for innovation and invention in the EDA industry.
In the world of design verification, simulation was still the dominant tool in the verification flow. I remember when I was working at SUN Microsystems, we were running simulation over the weekend on large CPU farms so we could debug the results on Monday. Debugging hundreds of failures at the chip level was the bottleneck. The complexity of the verification tasks and latency imposed by the verification process led me to seek alternative solutions to improve the verification ROI. In the early days, Rajiv and I would meet at the McDonald’s in Stanford shopping center to discuss new verification ideas using formal techniques. Real Intent was born as one of the several startups in the formal verification arena. The other companies founded during that era in the formal verification field included Averant, @HDL, 0-In, Verplex, Tempus Fugit (later became Jasper) etc., with each company having a different spin on how to make a contribution.
The 1990s was definitely a fast changing period for the EDA industry. However, in life the energy level, growth and changes of adolescence cannot continue forever. It was the same for the EDA industry and the high growth and change rate observed then was not sustainable. This might not seem as desirable but it is the natural growth path for all industries and life in general.
Over the last decade, we have seen the EDA industry mature. Consolidation has happened both at flow level, as well as in the companies that offered some of these solutions. Many companies tried and failed in the process. Investments are harder to come by since the barrier to entry has become higher due to the consolidation. While early growth in the EDA industry came from leaps in technology, today, the changes in matured EDA industry are driven by solutions that require steady execution over an extended period of time.
In the verification world, earlier applications of formal technology were available in two forms: equivalence checking and model checking. While equivalence checking was adopted in the verification flow fairly quickly, model checking (or property verification) has had a much slower adoption rate due to the barriers posed by the complexity of the verification problem, the lack of standards in the language involved in the earlier days, the level of user involvement and expertise needed to obtain useful results (this is still true today).
Today, there are two new trends related to the use of formal technology. The first trend is wide adoption of automatic functional verification, which performs functional analysis taking advantage of the exhaustive nature of formal techniques yet with minimal user involvement. This overcomes an adoption barrier for property verification tools and offers great verification ROI for designers. The second trend is the extension of formal technology to other solutions such as clock-domain crossing (CDC) verification, timing exception verification and other backend applications. Formal techniques have become an integral part of today’s design and verification flow.
I am pleased that our business has continued to grow in the last decade. Much changed along the way and many lessons were learnt in the course of business. For me, the most important lessons are the required efficiency of execution and the synergy one must build within the team to accomplish this. The charisma of the team directly affects the efficiency of business operations and professionalism in the level of customer support. For this reason, we have chosen to build the development team in the U.S. This has allowed us to be efficient and work closely and efficiently with field AEs and customers, provide quick turnaround, and deliver the highest level of products, service and support to our valued customers. This strategy has served us well in the past and will become even more important in today’s economy.
So the changes in the EDA industry are inevitable. Though growing at a slower rate with seemingly less energy compared to 10 years ago, there is much more wisdom accumulated throughout the years. Strong business opportunities are still available in the industry but pursuing them will require sound strategy and disciplined execution. I have great respect for the course the EDA industry has taken, the people that make up the industry and the culture we have created during our tenure. I am glad to have started a business in the EDA industry 10 years ago and I remain confident about the future of the EDA industry.
Dr. Prakash Narain's career spans IBM, AMD and Sun where he got hands on experience with all aspects of IC design, CAD tools design and methodology. He was the project leader for test and verification for UltraSPARC IIi at Sun Microsystems. He was an architect of the Mercury Design System at AMD He has architected and developed CAD tools for test and verification for IBM EDA. Dr. Narain has a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana where his thesis focus was on algorithms for high level testing and verification.