By Craig Cochran, VP Corporate Marketing Cadence
Rapid changes are occurring in the way electronic products are developed. Driven by increasing integration and complexity, a growing number of systems companies are assuming more control over hardware, software, and mechanical development. Semiconductor makers are dealing not only with the physics of advanced process nodes, but are also expected to provide much of the embedded software for each system on chip (SoC). It’s time for the EDA industry to expand its focus beyond hardware IC design and to embrace System Design Enablement (SDE), an expanded mission that will provide tools, design content, and services for the development of whole systems or end products.
Until very recently, most electronic products were created from the bottom-up by isolated groups of developers with minimal interaction. This was true across intellectual property (IP), semiconductor, software, foundry, packaging, and systems companies. The complexity of modern-day systems, the compression of development timelines, and the pressure for product differentiation make this kind of development unfeasible, driving a shift towards the integrated design efforts we’re seeing from system companies.
While semiconductors are at the heart of any electronic system, there is much more to consider. In many electronic systems, software represents the greatest cost and biggest bottleneck. Thermal and power restrictions apply across the chip, package, and board. Form factor and user experience impact mechanical design. Every part of the resulting system is interrelated and must be optimized concurrently to produce a leading product.
For many years, the EDA industry has focused on delivering tools to semiconductor companies to enable chip design. We call this “core” EDA, and it will remain a vital technology. With an eye to the future, successful core EDA companies will move up to system design with SDE. As shown below, SDE calls for the convergence of electrical, software, and mechanical domains, and its outcome is not just a chip but an end product.
Vertical Aggregation and Disaggregation Drive SDE
There was a time when chip design was confined to large companies with the capability to fabricate chips. Now we are in an era of fabless semiconductor companies and pure-play foundries, and as a result, hundreds of companies are engaged in IC and/or IP design. This has enabled a tremendous wave of innovation and creativity, but it has also resulted in a disaggregated product design chain.
Today, some systems companies across a variety of vertical markets are choosing to re-aggregate (albeit without chip manufacturing), with the end goal of ensuring a high-value product. For example, some of the world’s largest systems companies have created in-house chip design teams. These vertically integrated systems companies form a natural market for SDE tools and flows.
Meanwhile, semiconductors are representing a larger part of the overall value of the end products. This is one reason why systems companies are adding semiconductor design capability to their engineering teams. And systems companies expect that their semiconductor suppliers, be they in-house design groups or third parties, provide much of the software stack including drivers, OS, and middleware.
Tooling and IP for SDE
Embedded software development traditionally begins very late in the overall cycle, thereby becoming the critical path to product shipment. Hence there’s an urgent need to “shift left” and allow embedded software development and hardware/software verification to begin much earlier. SDE tools and flows support this added software responsibility by providing a continuum of pre-silicon development platforms that support hardware/software co-design and co-verification, virtual platforms, emulation, simulation, and FPGA-based prototyping.
Other tools and capabilities that support SDE include multi-fabric power, thermal, and signal integrity analysis; chip/package/PCB co-design; incremental co-design between EDA and Mechanical CAD (MCAD) tools; design of MEMS devices within custom/analog IC flows; and the development of 2.5D and 3D IC packages. All these capabilities are available today.
System Design Enablement is not just about design tools – it requires design content as well. At the chip level, that content is increasingly provided by reusable semiconductor IP blocks. Today as much as 80% of an SoC may be composed of such blocks, which may include processors, memory, communications protocols, analog functions, and verification IP (VIP).
As system complexity grows, the various components of an electronic system can no longer be designed in isolation. The focus of EDA needs to expand from single chips and boards to entire systems. This new challenge is addressed by System Design Enablement, and it requires tools, IP, software content, and services aimed at making whole systems possible. SDE opens a new chapter in the history of electronic system design, and it will greatly expand the reach of EDA technology to meet the challenges of today’s vertically integrated companies and their highly differentiated designs.
Craig Cochran is the vice president of corporate marketing at Cadence Design Systems, Inc. He has more than 20 years of corporate, strategic and product marketing expertise at EDA and electronics companies including Real Intent, ChipVision Design Systems, Jasper Design Automation and Synopsys. He began his career as an applications engineer at Valid Logic Systems and a digital design engineer at General Electric. Cochran holds a bachelor of science degree cum laude in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.