Electronic Design

EDA Tool Interoperability Effort Plods Along Despite Obstacles

Imagine that your design automation tools could all work through a common design-data application programming interface (API) and access a universal design database. The OpenAccess initiative, launched in 1999 under the aegis of the Silicon Integration Initiative (SI2) in Austin, but spearheaded by Cadence Design Systems as its chief technology contributor, seeks to achieve just that.

In mid-May, an open letter from Cadence's Lavi Lev, executive vice president and general manager of IC Solutions, asked all leading EDA companies to support the creation of an open, interoperable infrastructure among databases. The most recent large EDA customers to join the OpenAccess Coalition (OAC) are Philips Semiconductors and Sun Mi-crosystems. Like other coalition members, they could use technology that facilitates an interoperable infrastructure for design.

But among EDA vendors, the coalition counts only Cadence, Mentor Graphics, and Simplex Solutions (now being acquired by Cadence) as members. For its part, Mentor is evaluating its continued participation in OpenAccess. According to SI2's CEO Andy Graham, other EDA vendors will soon join.

Gary Smith of Gartner Dataquest believes that although the OAC may gain acceptance for a standard API, the goal of a single open design database won't happen. Meanwhile, Cadence is meeting its technology commitments to the OAC. In early June, it made available to coalition members the initial version of the database source code, which will be opened to the broader community early in 2003. Cadence continues to port its own tools to the OpenAccess database and showed a mixed-signal design flow based on it at DAC.

According to Graham, acceptance of the API itself on a broad scale would constitute success for OpenAccess. "The premise was never really to get the industry to standardize on a single database. The customers recognize this as impractical, because they have their own internal databases. But there's no reason why Synopsys, or any other company, can't support the OpenAccess API and do so with their own databases," said Graham.

Rich Goldman, VP of strategic market development at Synopsys, stands behind interoperability but sees problems with the OAC's structure. The 12-member Change Team is led by two chief architects, one of whom must be a Cadence employee. The other must come from a company that uses EDA tools. "Cadence is asking EDA companies to sign up for something where their main competitor is in control forever and they have no hope of ever having control," noted Goldman.

Cadence retains the right to veto changes to the code until early 2004. However, according to Charlie Huang, Cadence's VP of marketing, this veto power is transitory and intended only to protect Cadence as it ports its own tools. "We want to manage the transition well so that our business won't fall off a cliff and so that our code doesn't end up a mess," said Huang.

Graham decries the perception that the OAC's success hinges on getting all major EDA vendors to agree on sharing the database. "That's just an impossible argument to resolve even if they wanted to do it. I think the real issue is can we all talk to each other through the API?" he said. In Goldman's view, that's the goal for OAC members who use tools. Yet there seems to be a bit of intractability among the major EDA players over control. EDA users surely want interoperability, and the vendors say they do too. But apparently, each would like to dictate its terms.

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