The innovation model in the EDA industry needs to shift. In the pc-board era, inventions like routing, placement, and logic synthesis greatly improved productivity. When applied to increasingly more complex ICs, implementation of tools became extremely important: Innovation came from new data structures and efficient algorithms. When predictability disappeared from the design flow due to submicron effects, a simple linear design flow stopped working and very complex integrated tools were created to iteratively solve design problems.
Today, this has resulted in an environment that’s not conducive to innovation. Startups are spending most of their capital recreating infrastructure. Universities are shut out of the innovation process. And, large CAD vendors put most of their capital resources into integration efforts. To keep up with technology, we need the efficiencies associated with “platform innovation”1 to put the EDA innovation ecosystem back into gear.
We need to convert these complex integrated tools into platforms by exposing “the platform layer within” for use by platform partners. The platform partner can then focus on truly differentiating innovation, instead of wasting effort to recreate “me-too” infrastructure. As an added benefit, the partner will be able to access markets that otherwise would be difficult to reach.
To implement a platform approach, we need to define standards as APIs and not ASCII formats. This will have two profound effects. First, it will allow tools to talk to each other, instead of spitting out data that another tool can barely read. Second, it will move a significant part of the problems that designers face in defining a design flow to the CAD tool developer. The designers will be forced to take on these challenges when integrating the code.
Since the cost of building working methodologies from EDA tools is estimated at two to three times the cost of the tool itself, this spending can flow into the EDA industry, fueling growth. Design-for-manufacturing (DFM) startups can focus on effectively changing shapes instead of rebuilding shapes engines. Maybe system-level design can become a reality by defining the correct APIs into the design implementation flow.
When the industry’s leading researchers, designers, and tool developers convene for June’s 44th Design Automation Conference in San Diego, a special management tutorial will focus on the innovation process throughout our industry.
1. Geoffrey A. Moore, Dealing with Darwin, 2005