Electronic Design

EDA Sees The Very Good, The Good, And The Ugly

Yet another growthless year for the EDA industry has passed. EDA retains its status as the mother of all enabling technologies for the global electronics industry. But like Rodney Dangerfield, it continues to get no respect.

The holiday season is upon us, and many millions of highly complex ASICs and systems-on-a-chip will be sold in smartphones, video iPods, computers, cameras, and other consumer electronics. But EDA, without whose tools and design flows those ICs would never exist, remains mired as a $4 billion industry as it has for several years now. And $4 billion is rather paltry for an industry with such a vital role in the success of the worldwide electronics industry.

Why is this? One could point to any number of factors, many of which are brought on by the EDA industry itself. There are the endless bouts of litigation between vendors, which wouldn't be necessary if there weren't outright thefts of source code. There's the price wars between the industry's major players as they wrangle over market share. And as a result of both, there's the disdain for EDA on Wall Street, which sees an industry with shrinking profit margins and a near total lack of visibility outside of the community it endeavors to serve.

Then there's the technology proffered by the EDA industry. Many designers have a love-hate relationship with their tools and flows, finding them barely adequate but having no alternative. There's a good deal of hand-wringing over whether viable flows for functional verification and physical implementation will be ready in time for designers to take advantage of 45-nm process technologies. Also, designers are getting antsy about the overall lack of interoperability between tools, flows, and models.

This isn't to say that there aren't bright spots on the horizon. Piece by piece, the industry is beginning to cobble together a workable flow for those designers brave enough to venture into abstraction levels higher than RTL.

A great deal of attention in the electronic system-level (ESL) space is focused on virtual hardware platforms that enable a head start on software development. We've seen a year of consolidation in ESL, as Synopsys acquired Virtio with its virtual-platforms for Texas Instruments' OMAP 3 architecture, and Mentor Graphics acquired Summit Design with its SystemC-based tools for ESL design.

One of the year's most interesting introductions in the virtual-platform arena came in the form of CoWare's Virtual Platform family (see the figure). In many ways, the Virtual Platform exemplifies the direction in which ESL methodologies must go if they're to impact the efficiency of the design process and see broader adoption.

The Virtual Platform supports the creation, distribution, and use of virtual-hardware platforms for software development. The suite takes advantage of a SystemC-based hardware model to move software development up so it can be pursued in parallel with hardware development.

The product of the tool is the virtual platform itself, a self-contained and distributable package that includes an executable model of the hardware and everything needed to link that model to the software developers' environment. As hardware development progresses, updated models can be generated and distributed to the software team so that they move forward together.

Speaking of ESL and its adoption, one of ESL's perennial champions, Gartner Dataquest's Gary Smith, has recently found himself and his group out of a job. The word on the street is that a lack of support from the EDA vendors led to Gartner's decision to axe its team of EDA-industry analysts.

I'd like to publicly thank Gary and his group for speaking with an independent voice through the years. Loss of that voice only exacerbates EDA's visibility problems and could serve to further hinder its growth. Only time will tell.

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