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    Sunday, November 30, 2008

    Brave New World : SaaS and Its Implications For EDA

    There's been a lot of attention being paid to the SaaS(software-as-a-service) model in EDA recently. Harry (The ASIC Guy) started it all with his views on (re)deploying the SaaS model in the EDA industry. Gabe Moretti and Daya Nadamuni are publishing an ongoing series about SaaS in EDA. What's all the fuss about?

    What does SaaS model offer ASIC design companies?

    • Unlimited licenses (The concept of buying a license does not exist in SaaS model. It's pay as you go.)
    • No upfront license cost (Pay as you go, remember?)
    • Lower IT investment (Since the EDA applications are hosted, the cost of compute and storage resources are built into the rate the vendor charges you).
    • Scalability (Since both tools and infrastructure are no longer your concern, scalability is only limited by your engineering team).
    What does SaaS model offer EDA companies?
    • Constant revenue stream (Rather than one lumpsum payment, the EDA company receives a stream of revenue. Value-adds such as storage and compute services increase your revenue.)
    • Increased Margins (The pay-as-you-go model allows EDA companies to charge higher rates than the current model)
    • Unlocked Revenue (Since small customers can now rent tools, compute and storage resources rather than invest in them upfront, the market size that can be addressed the SaaS model is larger than the current ratable model).
    Can SaaS succeed this time around?

    The reality is that ASIC design companies rarely use tools from one vendor across all flows. Given this, can one company moving to the SaaS model make an impact? You may think you're achieving lock-in but end up being locked out. Sure, an EDA company can put in hooks that allow tools from other vendors to run on their SaaS platform but I'm not sure that option will even be permitted. I really don't see one EDA company handing over its tools and licenses to run on a competitor's network. If you now have to transfer data to/from/across SaaS platforms to use tools from different vendors, it's going to be a real mess. ASIC design companies want to use the tools that they want to use and it's up to the industry to figure out a way to allow that. Self-hosted SaaS platforms do not seem to be a viable option for EDA companies. One option I see is the creation of independent third-party(non-EDA) vendors that host applications from all vendors.

    What are the implications of the switch to SaaS for EDA Companies?
    • Interoperability: Once every tool is available on one unified SaaS platform, interoperability becomes more crucial than ever. Users will expect that best-in-class tools from different vendors work seamlessly.
    • Best-In-Class Tools as Profit Centers: Right now, every major vendor is trying offer solutions for all aspects of design and selling them as such. Under the SaaS model, each tool will stand alone. The ease of switching tools is so low that best-in-class tools are the only ones that will survive in the end. EDA companies may see that trying to support a large number of tools to address the entire flow may actually be detrimental to their business.

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    Sunday, November 23, 2008

    Desktop Supercomputers : The CUDA-enabled EDA (Near) Future

    In my first ever post, Need for Speed (way back in Oct'2007), I proposed that specialized EDA platforms could be built using Nvidia's CUDA technology. Since then, Nvidia's CUDA technology has a steadily increasing list of EDA adopters.

    • February 2008: Gauda uses Nvidia's CUDA platform (and distributed processing) to accelerate OPC by 200x.
    • April 2008: Nascentric announced the availability of a GPU-accelerated spice simulator (OmegaSim GX) using none other than Nvidia's CUDA technology.
    • August 2008: Agilent announced the use of CUDA technology for the acceleration of signal integrity simulations in their ADS (Advanced Design System) Transient Convolution Simulator.
    Is this a flash in the pan or is CUDA-enabled EDA here to stay? Why use CUDA?
    • C-Based SDK allows for easy porting of code to the CUDA platform
    • Ecosystem of tools and applications built on the CUDA platform. Nvidia's doing its part by hosting CUDA-based code design contests. Right now, you can read and download academic papers on the utilization of the CUDA platform for statistical timing analysis and graph algorithms.
    • Cost-effective computation is perhaps the biggest thing going for the CUDA platform. Where else can you get a 100x improvement in runtime for a mere $600?
    Despite these advantages, there are some missing pieces that would hold CUDA back from really taking the EDA world by storm. My wishlist for CUDA is the following:
    • Backward compatibility is key to a low-risk path to adoption. Without it, who's going to risk porting their code base to CUDA hoping that their customers will move to CUDA-enabled platforms? With backward compatibility comes a great hook: "Use our tools on your current platform but you can get a 100x improvement in runtime just by buying a PCI card". Right now, that's not the case. Nascentric, for example, offers OmegaSim and OmegaSim-GX as two separate tools. Wouldn't it be great if the same code could run on both platforms but one runs a whole lot faster because of CUDA?
    • Native support for distributed processing could bump performance up even higher. Graphics processors are built to solve "embarrassingly" parallel problems. It's not really much of a leap to distribute the workload amongst multiple graphics processors. The CUDA pitch (do more with less money) becomes that much sweeter.

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    Sunday, November 16, 2008

    Pushing The Envelope : Mobile/Wireless Design And The Advancement Of ASIC Design

    At a high level, the metric space for an ASIC design consists of:

    • Performance (Timing)
    • Area
    • Power
    • Effort
    • Schedule
    • Unit cost
    Depending on the application of the end device, each ASIC project has important metrics and some not-so-important metrics driven by the business concerned. Every ASIC design is sitting somewhere in the n-metric space as per the importance of each metric. For example:
    • Supercomputer applications : Performance is everything. The nature of the business (low volume, high margins, controlled device environment) is such that the other metrics don't really matter (within (relaxed) limits).
    • Desktop Processors : High performance and unit cost matter. Schedule and effort are very high (think of the teams to spend a year or two doing nothing else but designing the next-generation desktop processor) but that's ok because, with a low unit cost and high volumes, the business will still generate a profit.
    • Memories : Area and unit cost matter. The objective is to create the densest memories possible such that you can hit a performance standard at the least unit cost possible.
    In contrast to the above, consider the driving forces of the mobile and wireless business:
    • Short product cycles
    • High volumes
    • Cost-driven business
    • Power-sensitive
    • High performance
    • Smaller/slimmer mobile devices
    • Increasing functionality (multiple interfaces(Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, SD), on-device memory ..)
    Here's what the metrics look like for the space:
    • Performance : high performance (increasing functionality)
    • Area : ultra-low area (smaller die, smaller footprint)
    • Power : ultra-low power (very power-sensitive)
    • Effort : Low effort (small teams, fast turnaround time)
    • Schedule: Very short (shrinking product cycles, market windows)
    • Unit Cost : Very low (high volume, low margins)
    The mobile/wireless space works to satisfy almost impossible (and conflicting) requirements. There is no slack on any front. This is a good thing. The effect of the all-round pressure is that the techniques and methodologies used in the mobile/wireless space are required to push the state-of-the-art all the time and in all directions. Sophisticated power management, advanced mixed signal design, high-yield techniques, the list goes on and on.

    Performance-driven businesses (supercomputers, processors) usually receive the largest mindshare but it is mobile/wireless design that has been (and will be) quietly advancing ASIC design on all fronts.

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    Sunday, November 09, 2008

    Changing The Rules : Transforming EDA

    It seems strange to me, as an ASIC design engineer, that the EDA industry could ever get into trouble. Paul McLellan put it best when he said that $3 trillion electronics industry is fully dependent on the $400 billion semiconductor industry which, in turn, is fully dependent on the $5 billion EDA industry. How can an industry that is in such a position of strength be in so much trouble? It appears that, while EDA is very important, EDA companies do not seem to have much leverage when it comes to customers. When there's an industry that provides an essential service or product and yet has no leverage, it's a good bet that the concerned service or product has become a commodity. EDA is not a true commodity like, say, milk. There's still quite a bit of technological differentiation out there. The problem is that the differentiation is not enough to defend market share. There's a magic dollar number at which design companies will switch tool suites because there's not much you can do with one tool that you can't with another. The only exception appears to be sign-off tools. That's because the differentiation is not technical. The differentiation in sign-off tools is their long history of working silicon. What is to be done?

    • A change in licensing scheme or business model would not work in the long term. If the model has any merit, other EDA companies will follow suit and you're pretty much back where you started.
    • You can expand the scope of EDA to genetics or aircraft design but, eventually, those markets are going to be same low margin markets as EDA faces now.
    • The EDA community is gravitating to common standards (CCS, UPF, OpenAccess) and suddenly the playing field is more level than ever. The cost of switching vendors will get lower than ever.
    • Building differentiation is the key.
    • Differentiation (a.k.a. no one else can do what you do) is the only defense against commoditization.
    • Differentiation = Increased Profit Margins. When people need your product and when they can't get it from some one else, that's leverage. Actually, even better, that's a monopoly.
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