The Testbench

For EDA, The Forecast Calls For Clouds

There’s been a lot of chit-chat of late in EDA circles about clouds, and I’m not talking about weather, gloomy market forecasts, or a Joni Mitchell song. There was a bit of buzz at DAC about cloud computing and what that might mean for EDA. The EDA industry isn’t exactly a leader in the movement to cloud computing, not even close. But the fact that vendors are even talking about it shows that as computing in general moves to the cloud, the EDA community is at least casting about for ways to make it viable and useful for designers.

At least one vendor that I spoke to at DAC has given a lot of thought to the matter. Nimbic, which used to be known as Physware, has set up the necessary infrastructure to allow users of its 3D electromagnetic field solvers to leverage cloud computing. Nimbic’s nCloud, as the company terms its cloud computing environment, is hosted in Amazon Web Services. nCloud consists of a Web portal to access the services, the infrastructure to host and deliver the services, and the company’s software itself (an example is nWave, Nimbic’s flagship full-wave 3D electromagnetic field solver.                                                                                                                           

Licensing for cloud services obviously differs from the traditional EDA time-based license (TBL). Rather than purchasing a one- to three-year TBL, nCloud customers are essentially metered in time increments as short as one hour. To my mind, this is worth the price of admission alone. Does everyone need to purchase a TBL for a 3D full-wave field solver? Probably not. But can almost every design team, especially those working with RF, use one at times for a day, a week, or a month? You bet they can.

The other big benefit of cloud computing is in parallelism and scaling. With Nimbic’s cloud services, you can run as many jobs in parallel as you have purchased. It costs the same to run 10 jobs in one day as it does to run one day during each of 10 days. Not only that, but you can marshal as many virtual machines as you like to get a given job done more quickly.

If there’s a downside to cloud computing when it comes to EDA, I’m not seeing it. Availability of the services is pretty much assured with a big vendor like Amazon behind it (in Nimbic’s case, at least). Security is well thought out. A cost comparison is a tough one, although it’s reasonable to assume that cloud computing will become less costly over time as economies of scale are brought to bear. It’s a trend that design teams should watch closely going forward. Meanwhile, someone cue Joni Mitchell?
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