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Two Tiers EDA Industry

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

Gabe Moretti, Senior Editor

Talking to Lucio Lanza you must be open to ideas that appear strange and wrong at first sight.  I had just that talk with him during DAC.  I enjoy talking to Lucio because I too have strange ideas, certainly not as powerful as him, but strange enough to keep my brain flexible.

So we were talking about the industry when suddenly Lucio said: “You know the EDA industry needs to divide itself in two: design and manufacturing are different things.”

The statement does not make much sense from an historical perspective, in fact it is contrary to how EDA does business today, but you must think about it from today and future point of view.  The industry was born and grew under the idea that a company would want to develop its own product totally in house, growing knowledge and experience not only of its own market, but also of semiconductor capabilities.  The EDA industry provides a service that replaces what companies would otherwise have to do internally when designing and developing an IC or a PCB.  The EDA industry provides all the required tools which would have otherwise been developed internally.  But with the IoT as the prime factor for growth, dealing with the vagaries of optimizing a design for a given process is something most companies are either unprepared to do, or too costly given the sale price of the finished product.  I think that a majority of IoT products will not be sensitive to a specific process’s characteristics.

The Obstacles

So why not change, as Lucio forecasts.  The problem is design methodology.  Unfortunately, given the design flow supported today, a team is supposed to take the design through synthesis before they can analyze the design for physical characteristics.  This approach is based on the assumption that the design team is actively engaged in the layout phase of the die.  But product developers should not, in general, be concerned with how the die is laid out.  A designer should have the tool to predict leakage, power consumption, noise, and thermal at the system level.  The tools need to be accurate, but not precise.  It should be possible to predict the physical behavior of the design given the characteristics of the final product and of the chosen process.  Few companies producing a product that is leading edge and will sell in large volume will need to be fully involved in the post synthesis work, but the number of these companies continues to shrink in direct proportion to the cost of using the process.

EDA startups should not look at post synthesis markets.  They should target system level design and verification.  The EDA industry must start thinking in terms of the products its customers are developing, not the silicon used to implement them.  A profound change in both the technological and business approach to our market is needed, if we want to grow.  But change is difficult and new problems require not just new tools, but new thinking.  Change is hard and almost always uncomfortable.

Software development and debug must be supported by a true hardware/software co-design and co-development system.  At present there are co-verification tools, but true co-development is still not possible, at least not within the EDA industry.

As I have said many times before “chips don’t float” thus tier one of the new EDA must also provide packaging tools, printed circuit board (PCB) design tools, and mechanical design tools to create the product.  In other words we must develop true system level design and not be so myopic to believe that our goal is Electronic System Level support.  The electronic part is a partial solution that does not yield a product, just a piece of a product.

The Pioneers

I know of a company that has already taken a business approach that is similar to what Lucio is thinking about.  The company had always exhibited at DAC, but since its new business approach it was not there this year.  Most customers of eSilicon do not go to DAC, they go to shows and conferences that deal with their end products’ markets.  The business approach of the company, as described to me by Mike Gianfagna, VP of Marketing at eSilicon, is to partner with a customer to implement a product, not a design.  eSilicon provides the EDA knowhow and the relationship with the chosen foundry, while the customer provides the knowledge of the end market.  When the product is ready both companies share in the revenue following a prior agreed to formula.  This apparently small change in the business model takes EDA out of the service business and into the full electronic industry opportunity.  It also relives companies from the burden of understanding and working the transformation of a design into silicon.

Figure 2: Idealized eSilicon Flow (Courtesy of eSilicon)

What eSilicon offers is not what Lucio has in mind, but it comes very close in most aspects, especially in its business approach to the development of a product, not just a die.

Existing Structure

Not surprisingly there are consortia that already provide structure to help the development of a two tiers EDA industry.   The newly renamed ESDA can help define and form the new industry while its marketing agreement with SEMICO can foster a closer discourse with the IP industry.  Accellera Systems Initiative, or simply Accellera, already specializes in design and verification issues, and also focuses on IP standards, thus fitting one of the two tiers perfectly.  The SI2 consortium, on the other hand, focuses mostly on post synthesis and fabrication issues, providing support for the second tier.  Accellera, therefore, provides standards and methodology for the first tier, SI2 for the second tier, while ESDA straddles both.

The Future

In the past using the latest process was a demonstration that a company was not only a leader in its market, but an electronics technology leader.  This is no longer the case.  A company can develop and sell a leading product using   a 90 or 65nm process for example and still be considered a leader in its own market.  Most IoT products will be price sensitive, so minimizing both development and production costs will be imperative.

Having a partner that will provide the know-how to transform the description of the electronic circuit into a layout ready to manufacture will diminish development costs since the company no longer has to employ designers that are solely dedicated to post synthesis analysis, layout and TCAD.

EDA companies that target these markets will see their market size shrink significantly but the customers’ knowledge of the requirements and technological characteristics of the tools will significantly improve.

The most significant impact will be that the EDA available revenue volume will increase since EDA companies will be able to get revenue from every unit sold of a specific product.

Collected Thoughts About DAC

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Gabe Moretti, Senior Editor

The Design Automation Conference (DAC) will be holding its 53rd event.  This means that DAC is older than the EDA industry.  At a time when companies and consortia strive to underscore the importance of “system” in its heterogeneous components, DAC continues to focus on system on chip (SoC), especially if you look solely at the exhibits floor.  DAC has always emphasized chip design, and the number of FPGA and PCB tools shown in the booths is much smaller than the importance both these tools in system design demands.

Austin Skyline

I sent out a brief questionnaire a few weeks ago that asked only five questions about DAC.  Here are the results, edited to preserve anonymity.

Why are or are you not exhibiting at DAC?

First of all none of the companies not exhibiting responded, but I have to assume that there are some on my list that will not be there for various reasons.  Here are some of the responses.

-          We exhibit for many reasons. Foremost, we are there to meet existing and potential customers. It’s also an opportunity for us to analyze technology trends and validate our product roadmap.

-          Our company is exhibiting at DAC because it is a great venue to meet with our existing and new virtual platform customers, catch up with partners and the press, and learn about new technologies and products.

-          We do as always plan to exhibit at DAC.   Since our team is global it is important for us to convene as often as possible as DAC is a great place for this.

-          DAC gives me a target customer base to help me get the word out.  Also all the prototyping vendors are there and I need to be one of them also.

-          DAC  is the premiere conference for the design automation industry.   We use the DAC conference to make announcements of new products and new product features for our platform products.   DAC is an excellent venue to provide design automation users, industry press and industry partners with exposure to our products.

Exhibits draw a crowd

To get a point of view from one of the DAC sponsors I asked the same questions to Bob Smith the new and very energetic Executive Director of the ESD Association.

-          The ESD Alliance is exhibiting at DAC because we want to share our new vision and mission with attendees. DAC shares this vision as well since it has expanded the scope of the conference to include IP, embedded systems and the like. DAC is a great venue for us to spread the word and have one-on-one interactions with folks who might have been involved with us (EDAC) before but are not current on our new charter and direction.

-

The bottom line is that in an age of virtual communications and various means to express ideas, it is still valuable to assemble in one place, look one another in the face and exchange opinions, ideas, and even emotions.  To be at DAC is a signal that the company has something to offer and is real.  Unfortunately some segments of our industry are not covered, PCB is a glaring example, or not covered well at DAC, so there are companies that do not exhibit at DAC because they feel the business of DAC is irrelevant to them.

What is the thing that DAC does best?

Participating to DAC as an exhibitor is a costly enterprise.  The exhibit fee, the booth, the staff, months of preparation, all adds up to a significant amount, no matter if you are a small start-up or a large established company.  So I wanted to know what DAC does that makes them come back.

-          It creates a lively environment for information exchange and networking.

-           DAC brings together the entire EDA/ semiconductor ecosystem, though one improvement would be to attract more attendees and exhibitors in the embedded software space.

-          The most important takeaway from DAC is the conversations that we have on the floor. Entire new product lines have been birthed by these conversations and just listening to the needs of the engineers we meet is extremely important.

-          It is a great training ground for our new people, since they are asked many questions and get to work alongside more seasoned employees all day, and there are many educational opportunities in the conference program.

-          Brings in Design Engineers and management to update them on the latest offering from vendors and hear technical paper of new ideas.

-          The DAC conferences are well organized by the promoters and bring all of the design automation industry into one venue for a few days.    DAC provides our company with the opportunity to meet customers, potential customers, press contacts and industry partners in one physical venue.   It is efficient for us to exhibit at the conference and to meet with a variety of industry participants all at one time and in one place.

And from Bob I heard:

-          It brings together both the academic / research side of our industry and the commercial side into one venue. It’s a great networking opportunity as well.

Once again the idea that virtual communication is not enough.  Discussions based on the internet alone are not enough to build an efficient team from a number of professionals that do not know each other personally and thus do not fully trust each other.

Networking is a major DAC activity

The greatest asset of DAC is its longevity.  The capacity to hold the conference for 53 years in a row has made DAC the place where one meets and shares ideas and opinions.  It is the place to go to see what is new.  It was once the place to strike significant deals although with the advent of internet marketing, big deal are no longer made at the conference.

What would you improve?

-          The exhibit floor can get noisy. I recommend reducing the decibel levels in some exhibits. The conference should create a non-overlapping schedule between exhibits and technical sessions. During the sessions, activity on the exhibit floor slows way down.

-          DAC is valuable in terms of both the exhibits and the technical conference, the business model of course needs to make sense for the organizers. Last year there were 2504 paid passes, 1889 free exhibits-only passes and 2618 exhibitor staff registrations which gives you the idea.

-          Trade shows in general are just a necessary part of the equation. They are costlier than they need to be, like all shows, due to the many add-ons by the venue, but we take it in stride and just budget for it.

-          There should be more press coverage on ASIC prototyping and Emulation -  This task is a must for all ASIC being developed today.

-          I hope they will move to Santa Clara convention center.  Most of the target companies are in San Jose area and companies would send more Engineers to DAC in San Jose area because they could meet with their local company or companies they work with.   I bet you would double the attendance at DAC by moving to the San Jose area.   Santa Clara convention center is the best for parking and hotels.

-          Promoting a company at DAC is a little expensive.      It would be nice to have lower cost promotional options at the conference.   It would also be more convenient for our company if the conference were permanently located in San Francisco (instead of Austin) since we and many other industry participants have offices in the Bay area.

Is this just to be different?

To answer this question Bob expanded the horizon of DAC to address the definition of “system” to the one I like the best.

-          Expand the focus on system design to include the entire design ecosystem. By “system” or “ecosystem” we mean the IP, chip(s), package, interconnect, and embedded software. DAC is evolving in this direction, but it should be expanded.

The issue of noise is a recurring issue at DAC.  In spite of all the measures taken by MP Associates, the noise level in some areas of the exhibit floor really impacts the conversation in those booths.  Unfortunately, the originators of the noise seem to be those booths that have popular entertainment appearances that draw relatively large crowd around the booth.  Clearly the cost of exhibiting at DAC is significant, and grows each year.  The conference is trying to stay away from San Francisco because that city is now very costly.  I think that DAC will have to find a way to fit in smaller convention centers while still maintaining the quality of papers and the broad coverage of issues.

The main problem with DAC is that it is still a chip design conference, and has not enlarge its scope to cover all aspects of systems design.  It needs to embrace electro/mechanical issues, software/hardware co design, FPGA versus ASIC.  Wouldn’t be nice to have the ability to evaluate the majority of system issues before the system is mostly designed?  What if it were possible to know in advance thermal and noise characteristics of the IP one is considering to use?

In your opinion if the exhibits did not financially support the technical conference, would DAC have fewer attendees?

Although this topic is not widely discussed in the DAC arena, everyone knows or will soon find out, that the exhibit fee pays for more than just the exhibit area.  Without exhibit attending the technical program would cost significantly more.

-          Yes, while the two groups don’t overlap, exhibitors subsidize the cost of the technical conference registration. Without that subsidy, attendance could drop off due to budget constraints.

-          Hard question – depending on the technical papers.    If no vendors, then the papers could be on Youtube or DAC video web site.     Besides the papers and the vendors, DAC is a place to meet fellow Engineers, make new friends and visit with old ones.    Thinking more about you question I bet DAC would stop if you didn’t have exhibits – I bet this does carry most of the cost of DAC.

-          We don’t know the value of the subsidy or how the loss of the subsidy would affect attendees.

And of course Bob knows since he is on the inside.

-          Yes, because the cost of entry would go up dramatically to provide the same level of conference program.  It would result in a smaller technical conference.

The issue of the cost of exhibiting at DAC is a serious one.  Travel costs are mounting yearly and so do the cost of the conference facility.  Anything outside Silicon Valley is inconvenient, including San Francisco.  Since part of the cost of renting a booth space at the conference includes in part a subsidy to keep registration fees as low as possible, this aspect needs to be considered.  Are too many parallel tracks being offered?  Are we doing things just to fill unused space?

Do you think that giveaway at the booth generate increased sales?

Every year I see engineers walking the aisle on the exhibit floor with bags full of giveaways.  It seems the main reason to come to DAC is to collect “stuff” not to explore products.  Yet exhibitors bring all sort of stuffed animals, small toys, and other handouts to attract visitors to their booth.

-          Not directly. They can create a buzz about the company and help to drive booth traffic.

-          I think that most engineers are actually more motivated to explore new tools and methodologies they can use professionally, than to pick up freebie giveaways. Although some are fun!

-          As far as giveaways, it just depends. Sometimes they are a hit and bring traffic, sometimes they bomb. We keep trying new things and in the end sometimes it really is just fun to see people happy when you give them something, whether they turn out to be a customer or not.

-          It did not work for us.  Maybe if I can away $5 bills, I would get more traffic at the booth, but would I get new customers.  Most likely no.

-          No, not directly.    The giveaways generate a small amount of goodwill and act as a reminder about the company giving away the item.    They alone do not generate increased sales.   The giveaways act in a very small manner as one of many similar small items that help push a customer toward purchase commitment.      Customers purchase products based upon a clear demonstration of need, not because they received a giveaway.

Bob defended the use of giveaways and made the point that their use is not to increase sales but to provide a material reminder of the company.

-          Giveaways are best at building brand awareness, especially for newer companies in the space. If an attendee is carrying a visible giveaway, it could drive traffic to the company’s booth. For that reason, they are valuable for gaining mindshare, which can ultimately lead to increased sales. The correlation between giveaways and increased sales is a second-order effect.

Well, some of the “gifts” are either useful or cute, so go on and hand out stuff.  After all the cost of giveaways is a small part of the entire DAC budget.

Conclusion

The most important item I extracted from these questions is that no one dares to miss DAC.  If you are not there, you are no longer in business, and that includes the press.  The structure of DAC requires a larger venue than most localities offer, including San Jose or Santa Clara.  A significant amount of restructuring would be required in order to hold DAC in Silicon Valley.  In my opinion this could be done but one of the problem facing DAC is that it is sponsored by more than one organization, and they have different missions and different interests, including financial ones.  When it comes to money it is always difficult to depart from the known model for an unknown one.  As far as giveaways are concerned, I think the solution is experience.  This will be my 38th DAC and I have stopped colleting “souvenirs” at least fifteen years ago.  Just too much stuff to bring back on the plane and then find a way to put in the trash without guilt.


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