Taking the E out of EDA

As I said recently, I think Sony laid down the perfect long-range plan for the EDA industry. Here’s the money quote from Kondo-san again: "We don’t want our engineers writing Verilog, we want them inventing concepts and transferring them into silicon and software using automated processes."

First, note that this is not just about designing integrated circuits. It’s about the big strategic issue of how you design products. Those of us in EDA think that it is a fascinating industry with a strange combination of deep technology and a sufficiently large market to be an interesting business. As opposed to, say, TCAD, the software used to design semiconductor processes and develop process models without building silicon. I mean I’m sure it’s interesting and there’s a market but it’s not EDA. It is a market of 5 PhDs in each fab in the world or about $20M/year.  Certainly necessary but not at the top of anyone’s list of problems on any given day.

Unfortunately, how we view TCAD is how the rest of the world views EDA: an esoteric geeky thing that some people need to get their job done but it’s not solving the real business problem. Rocket science for rocket scientists.

There were always rumors that Cadence or Synopsys would buy Wind River, the leader in embedded operating systems and tools for embedded software development. I’m pretty sure discussions took place but obviously no deal was ever done and Intel bought them recently (as an interesting aside, that means that the PowerPC guys, primarily Freescale, are largely dependent on Intel for their RTOS and tools). So Wind River is on the verge of becoming Intel’s captive embedded software capability. However, EDA companies thinking about acquiring Wind River was at least thinking in the right kind of way. How does the E get dropped from EDA? How does it just become Design Automation, encompassing everything from software to silicon, boards, packages, supply-chain management. In short, how does EDA achieve the Sony vision of inventing products and then implementing them using automated processes.

How many people in EDA know what a BOM is? It is a bill of materials, a list including the price, of every component in a product. In most consumer industries, design is getting the BOM right because otherwise the product cannot be built for a price that the market will support. Design costs figure into the equation to some extent, but in the end for a volume product the final price of all the components is what matters. DA without the E is at least somewhat about BOM optimization.

RIM, the Canadian company that sells Blackberry, didn’t actually design it. I don’t know the details but I assume they came up with the basic concept and presumably wrote a lot of the higher-level software, both on the phone and on the server systems that implement the push mail. But then they used an “automated process” to get the guts designed. They subcontracted it to TTPcom in Cambridge England who put a lot of experts in software and phone design on the job. They wrote all the Verilog, and the call processing stack and designed the radio. RIM stayed focused on the user experience and how to deliver that in software applications.

But that’s not the true “automated process” Sony wants to have access to.

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