This is the first of what I hope will be a regular feature of this blog: guest entries from other people with insight into EDA and the ecosystem around it (venture capital, semiconductor, embedded software…)
Jim is one person in EDA who really doesn’t need any introduction. He was one of the early guys at Cadence and was a mainstay there for many years, in particular driving a lot of their (then!) strategy doing advanced product R&D by acquiring successful startups. Since then, after a stint at Artisan, he has been a VC, a private investor and a board member of many EDA startups. Not many people would try to start an EDA company without running it by Jim.
The rest of this entry is Jim not me (Paul).
It is clear that EDA in its core flow is increasingly under pricing pressures from customers and is being commoditized. Using the “building the house” analogy, EDA needs to move from building hammers to extracting more value by being at least a significant subcontractor and if possible the general contractor.
I believe that EDA will need to move to the system level and software signoff specifically. A necessary component of this strategy is IP.
Interestingly enough, it appears customers are also viewing their IP assets in a new light. An event unimaginable a few years ago has occurred. Nokia sold off its IC implementation team to ST Micro. It appears they view this asset as something they don’t have to build or hold as a core competency, but can buy.
Let me try to put this in a context familiar to everyone. When was the last time you bought a car and looked under the hood? You don’t need to know what the engine is to use the automotive appliance. You still care about the car cost, performance, features and power, but if those needs are met then who cares what the engine is.
Synopsys clearly has integrated this thinking into their long-term strategy and are executing. Here are some recent quotes related to IP from their earnings call:
“Synopsys is uniquely well-positioned to be the partner of choice:
One, we are financially stable, with a strong cash position, no debt, good cash flow, strong backlog and a conservative business model–making us a stable partner as customers actively de-risk their future.
Two, we have strong, well-integrated technology, in a comprehensive solution, that is complemented by crucial IP and very experienced global support ready to help customers streamline their overall cost of design.
And three, we have the strategic vision, and resources, to continue to invest in the key technologies of the future.
Our IP business also deserves mention. We not only added a significant collection of new cores to our offering, but also grew the business as outsourcing semiconductor IP for cost reasons is becoming more mainstream. "
Synopsys, because of their history DC and DesignWare, comes by this strategy naturally enough. However, they clearly in recent acquisitions have demonstrated they understand that FPGAs are becoming more than just prototyping solutions but viable production vehicles.
EDA, by focusing on differentiated IP, or System-Level IP, offers several benefits to the customer: Predictability, Price, Performance and Power. It begs the question is EDA the right term at all anymore. We all need to re-define the space we are and will serve.
One example of System-Level IP is a processor. I believe the processor decisions have arguably already been made and customers have voted to use ARM especially in wireless applications.
In my opinion, there is a substantial untapped System-Level IP opportunities in block level interconnect and memory control–the architecture through which IP is integrated and IP interoperation is achieved.
The new platform opportunity for what EDA becomes lies in the successful integration of third party blocks in a System on Chip (SOC) or an FPGA.