This is the second part of a piece by Sandeep Srinivasan. The first part is here. This follows on from my piece yesterday and sets up a different view from mine (you’ll have to wait until next Tuesday, or read lots of this blog, to find out my opinion). Be at the San Jose Doubletree at 6.30 on February 23rd in the Oak ballroom.
EDA and the 50 picosecond problem, part 2
There has been a lot of introspection and analysis recently, by EDA executives and analysts as to why we are where we are, as an industry. There seem to be no easy answers as to why EDA is at the bottom of the economic food chain, in-spite of the stellar growth and demand for electronic devices. We can blame the recent economic crisis, declining ASIC design starts, rising mask costs etc. but the writing was on the wall much before the market meltdown.
There maybe a variety of reasons as to why there maybe a lack of significant differentiation amongst physical design tools, as discussed in the previous segment, some of which are highlighted below.
Cost of EDA software development is extremely high compared to any other segment of the software industry. For a startup to shine and differentiate itself, it has to build the mundane first (foundation, database, file format support), before attempting to show it’s value proposition. By the time the foundation software layer is done, there are significant cost pressures for the startup to scale-back it’s differentiation and compete head on with incumbent products on features.
The cost of sales in EDA is high, not in the traditional accounting sense, but when we look at a typical sales cycle. An EDA tool ‘benchmark’ can last for months, extending the sales cycle to a degree where it ceases to make financial sense for a startup company.
The large EDA vendors do innovate significantly but tend to be encumbered by their existing customer base, and choose to focus on incremental rather than disruptive innovation.
So what is the answer for us an industry to get out of this slump ?
Reduce the cost of EDA software development.This will require EDA companies to devote significant effort on an ‘open-source’ like paradigm.
Engage with universities to encourage the next generation of EDA developers with fresh ideas. This may lead to us finding the 100 picosecond or 1 nanosecond differentiator.
Short circuit the long benchmark cycles by enabling web deployable tools and focus on ease of use.This is perhaps easier said than done, due to the complexity of EDA software tools, but it is a necessary step for the industry to jettison out of an archaic business model.The burden lies on the creativity of EDA developers to make tools easier to use and deploy.
Large EDA companies need to step up and encourage disruptive innovation, either through funding or feeding the software ecosystem. Companies like Cisco Systems have mastered the art of spin-offs and spin-ins,. While on the other hand, companies like Google and Yahoo have contributedsignificantly to the ‘open source’ software ecosystem. EDA industry should follow these model to accelerate innovation.
There are significant technical challenges for EDA developers to solve and capitalize on. Some technical challenges that come to mind are the following: Power distribution, Fine-grain on-chip voltage control, semi-synchronous logic, system level compilers for hardware-software partitioning.
Merging EDA with circuit IP can expand the market segment, while adding significant additional value to our customer base.This notion has been tried in past with marginal success. Perhaps the timing is right for these activities to accelerate and morph into a new business model for EDA.
Next generation of EDA entrepreneurs need to build companies without an overwhelming focus on an ‘exit strategy’, and not being shy about building profitable ‘lifestyle’ companies. Some of the most successful companies in the electronics industry were built on the premise of adding value to the engineering community, and not with a focus on how to ‘exit’.
Some of the answers to our industry’s problems lie in our ability to efficiently innovate out of the economic slump and to pay attention to creating differentiated products.