For the second year now I’m virtually attending the DAC, the 47th annual EDA conference held this week in Anaheim. As a web oriented company we’ve yet to exhibit at the EDA industry’s biggest conference in Anaheim. Not being there physically, I enjoy all the info I can obtain remotely using twitter, blogs, and other online media. This year there seems to be more chatter about cloud computing and EDA - a topic that’s of particularly interest to a web oriented EDA company like PDTi.
Firstly, I saw a twitter post from James Colgan, the CEO of EDA community provider Xuropa, indicating that Kevin Bushby claimed that the Cloud is the only way EDA can grow. I’m assuming this is Kevin Busyby COO of FastScale Technology which was acquired by EMC, and who formerly worked at Cadence. While I agree that the cloud can help EDA grow, I’m curious to understand how Kevin and others see it growing.
Here are some ways I can see EDA growing using the cloud:
Some of these are things that we have already realized with our SpectaReg web application for register management and automation, which is offered onsite, hosted by the customer, or online, hosted by us. Whether hosted by the customer or us, the application is essentially the same, except the online user has the opportunity for some additional customizations. Interestingly, some of our customers are using virtualization technologies to create their own private cloud where they deploy SpectaReg onsite.
The great thing about the cloud is the ability to scale the compute resources, like RAM and CPUs on demand, and to have failover/redundancy available should some piece of hardware fail. If one has a fairly static requirement for these then cloud computing might not make sense. For example, a while back I ran the numbers on the cost of the equivalent of a dedicated machine would be on Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). To have the equivalent compute resources available 24 x 7 x 365 via EC2 would cost more; however, a lot of machines are not used full-time and the compute requirements are bursty. This burstyness of compute requirements is where cloud computing really adds value.
To really take advantage of cloud computing, the application must be able to monitor/predict it’s load and be able to scale things up or down dynamically as needed. EDA applications or their wrapper scripts would need to get smarter to do this.
Another obstacle that critiques of EDA cloud computing often point out is that need to move files between tools and script flows. Technically, I don’t think this is an issue, aside from perhaps the need for EDA users to increase the bandwidths of their network pipes. Web service APIs would allow people to script all sorts of operations in their flows and move info between different EDA tools in the cloud, perhaps hosted by different cloud providers.
There are many other angles to cloud computing and EDA, and I could likely write 10 more blog postings on the topic. In terms of an end market, the cloud is a electronic system and there are opportunities for EDA to serve this growing market . Lori Kate Smith of ARM wrote up the 47DAC reception, mentioning how Mary Olsson of Gary Smith EDA cites Cloud computing as an application driver for EDA.
Another opportunity for EDA and FPGA vendors would be to have a cloud of FPGAs that could be re-configured. This re-configurable cloud computing would be pretty cool. Perhaps we’d need FPGA virtualization first, if it doesn’t already exist. Wonder if the folks at Google are looking into stuff like that…
Of course there is also the issue of security when it comes to cloud computing. I see Harry the ASIC guy was interviewing 2 cloud security experts at DAC and I’ve yet to check that out. Knowing Harry it will be worthwile. One concern is that if the cloud infrastructure becomes compromised then everything running on it can potentially become vulnerable. This is a bit different than a data center with isolated and distinct dedicated machines where each machine would need to be compromised individually.
Clearly there are a lot of opportunities and challenges for EDA with respect to cloud computing. It will be exciting to see how the future unravels. Stay tuned.
Everyone in chip design uses a browser - there’s little doubt in that. I’d wager that most chip designers spend more time in a browser than in any other tool, including the command line, emacs or vi text editor, the Eclipse IDE, and the logic simulator.
Today, chip designers are likely to use a browser for:
Though not a chip designer anymore, I’ve been spending more time working in a browser, especially now that I’ve warmed up to Google Apps. And I’m not alone. I’ve even heard of some chip design companies using it too. Now that the word is out that Google is building chips, there is a good chance that they’d use Google Apps. Let’s face it, there is a lot of spreadsheet work in chip design and Google Spreadsheets is quite powerful, especially in a collaborative context. There is also a lot of block diagram work too and Google’s new Drawings tool offers hope there. Whether you like web-apps or not, I think most chip designers would agree, the browser is increasingly used for legitimate work.
There are many areas in chip dev where the browser can play a bigger role, especially in a collaborative context. One recent example, is Synopsys’ Lynx Design System which appears to have a browser GUI for it’s Management Cockpit. At PDTi we’ve been pushing the limits of using the browser for all things register management, for capturing and modelling the executable specification and generating dependent code and documentation.
Google has been pushing the limits of what is possible in the browser. The impressive video showing Quake II running in a browser is mind-blowing and highlights the possibilities of HTML5 and the next-gen browser. This supports the argument that graphical EDA tools such as the simulation waveform debuggers and graphical layout tools are possible and could be supplied as a web application; perhaps even under the SaaS model.
Are the naysayers missing something here - could the browser be the ubiquitous platform for everything, even EDA tools and Chip Design?
Wow, what a spectacular run the equity markets have had since the low in March of 2009. Meanwhile, the jury is out on whether this is a sustainable recovery, backed by fundamentals and precedent? There are people calling for hyperinflation and others for deflation ahead. With such uncertainty, opinions vary widely regarding which way things will go as illustrated by the following articles which I found interesting (followed by my point form summaries):
The Greenback Effect
NT Times Opinion Article by Warren Buffett
Last week at the Moscone Center in San Fransisco, the 46th annual Design Automation Conference (DAC) took place. I’ve attended this conference for the past 4 years and decided not to attend this year. This year I attended virtually using the web.
In the EDA media and for EDA trade shows, as Bob Dylan sang, the times they are a-changin’. It’s no secret that the incumbent media is struggling to find a business model that works in the uncharted waters of the future. As history repeats itself, the “hidden hand of supply and demand” will no doubt fix some shortfall with the traditional model — a shortfall that may not be fully understood until it is solved.
With the electronic media shedding their top writers, the coverage of DAC by trade publications is diminishing. At the same time, new media, such as blogs, Twitter, and LinkedIn are picking up some slack. For example, Richard Goering and Michael Santarini who historically covered DAC for EETimes and EDN now write for Cadence and Xilinx respectively. Some of the best DAC summaries that I read were blogged by:
Additionally, on Twitter, the #46DAC tag provided useful information about what was going on at the tradeshow. For me, some tweeps who provided informative DAC coverage via Twitter included:
Based on the various reports and summaries from DAC, there is an apparent need for collaboration (as mentioned by keynote Fu-Chieh Hsu of TSMC) and productivity (as mentioned by the CEO panel). The same forces that are changing EDA trade media and conferences — the power of the Internet, coupled with economic forces –may enable the solution to better collaboration and productivity. Cloud computing business models like Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) are starting to prove themselves in other industries and will continue to find their way into commonplace. Exactly what the “hidden hand of supply and demand” has in store for EDA and cloud computing has yet to be revealed and we are just in the early stages now.
From various blogs and Twitter, without having attended DAC, I understand that:
In conclusion, I was able to absorb a lot of details about DAC without attending thanks to all the bloggers, Tweeters and trade media. EDA is changing in some exciting ways that scream opportunity for some and failure for others, and that’s what makes the future so exciting.
EDA Veteran Paul McLellan recently wrote an entry in his EDA Graffiti blog entitled SaaS for EDA. Being a vendor providing the only real SaaS tool for register automation, I was naturally excited. I was a bit less enthused when McLellan indicated on twitter (he tweeted) that he didn’t think SaaS for EDA would fly. Upon reading his blog posting, it seems his position is more along the lines that SaaS for EDA will not fly for the traditional, EDA bread and butter applications. He did indicate that SaaS for EDA does have a chance for the front-end of chip design and for FPGA flows. This is good to hear because it aligns with our coordinates at PDTi, where we focus on the firmware/software register interface.
I started to write a comment for McLellan’s posting but soon realized that I had a lot to say - more than should really be put in a comment. Hence I decided to write this RegisterBits blog entry.
In general, I know about the front end of EDA tool-flows and not much about the back end. That being said, having worked with complex IC development flows at Intel and a smaller startup, I understand how there is a common back-end flow and files are large. At the RTL level and above it’s not so clear cut, there are often many different point tools, files are small, and each project can use a different set of tools and scripts. Whether a point tool runs on the local machine or remote machine really makes no difference in this case, with negligible files sizes and local scripting environments that can access remote point-tools using web APIs.
McLellan assumes a tool/hour pricing model, and claims that using a metered usage pricing would not cause prices to go down. With SaaS, however, there could be many different pricing models that better align the value between the user and vendor. Pricing could be based on a project, per-user, or per unit of complexity (register, gate, area, …). If the fabs were to take hold of the SaaS model and offer EDA tools, since they know the production output they could even use a royalty based pricing model. If you look at the current EDA floating seat model, the longer jobs run for the more seats sold, and the more money for the EDA companies. Could it be that EDA vendors using a per-seat model don’t have the incentive to improve runtimes as much as they could?
Another objection is that SaaS doesn’t work well with highly interactive software. This has been true in the past, but is less and less true all the time with AJAX rich-client applications like Google maps. If Google maps can do the magic that they do then I would argue that place and route and graphical waveform viewers are reasonably possible today. For the most part, though, there is very little graphical instructiveness in EDA.
Perhaps the greatest SaaS for EDA benefit is the opportunity to reduce the maintenance and infrastructure costs that are so high for the traditional on-premise tools. Installing, patching, and upgrading EDA tools is a huge cost that must be considered into the total cost of ownership. SaaS ends the customers’ maintenance of the application and enables the customer to focus more on value added differentiating work while the vendor manages the maintenance. This is much more economical and cost effective. Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff circulated an internal note related to the “End of Maintenance,” which is an excellent read on this very topic. Then, there is always the argument that chip designers want to control what version of the tool they are using so everything is repeatable. There are ways this can be built into the SaaS offering, and at PDTi with SpectaReg, we’ve got a way to do this.
Referring to the Innovator’s Dilemma and the way SalesForce.com disrupted the CRM market, McLellan states that EDA is not like CRM since there is no “non-competition” - under-serviced users who don’t currently have access to a tool due to it’s cost. “EDA is not like that,” he said. I, however, think there are certainly aspects of EDA that are like that, especially with new and innovative tools. Register automation, where we at PDTi are focused, is one such area. We often encounter customers who don’t have any solution (in-house or commercial), who could certainly use a solution. There are a number of users in developing economies starting to work with EDA tools for ASIC and FPGA, who are waiting for better “legal” access to tools. There is the embedded software industry that is starting to realize that they can use FPGA embedded processors platforms and build custom (multi) processors chips for their specialized application. This is a new underserviced market for EDA. It amazes me how the EDAC is so hyped up about trying to stop piracy of EDA tools, which seems futile since the hackers will almost always be able to crack or cheat the next attempt to stop them. SaaS, however, does provide a solution to the piracy issue. To expand into these highly price sensitive markets, EDA will need to compete on price, like it or not.
While competing on price is not ideal, SaaS has the potential to afford a better cost structure for both the producer and consumer. More than the tool price needs to be looked at to get a true picture of the total cost of ownership. The traditional EDA sales channel is super expensive and unnecessary in today’s Internet age. The evaluation processes are too lengthy and difficult, the tool version release milestones are too long, onsite tool support is expensive, and the customer’s maintenance and infrastructure is very costly. The cost of having CAD engineers worrying about tool setup and maintenance is more than just the associated labour cost - there is an opportunity cost of not focusing as intensely as possible on core competencies. A SaaS tool can evolve better based on aggregate vendor observations of usage patterns. Also, it’s easier for the customer and vendor to work together to identify, reproduce and fix bugs.
There is much knowledge in EDA that is not packaged in an automated collaborative way. Lincoln Murphy from 16 Ventures and Ken Boasso of Keychain Logic predict that 80% of SaaS success stories in the future will not be the CRM or ERP leaders of today’s SaaS, but rather productization of knowledge. There is a lot of knowledge in EDA and chip design that has yet to be productized — the kind of stuff you find in the scripts, processes, procedures, emails, spreadsheets, and documents at a typical chip design company. This could potentially be formalized into SaaS tools with a user community and network effect.
Utilizing the power of native web-applications, SaaS can bring about a new class of tools for EDA that use the Internet to help managers manage, and engineers collaborate across teams and locations. Perhaps like a social networking application, but not social, instead it’s engineering workflow networking around the project work, tools and flows. This is something that we’ve had good success with for our SpectaReg.com tool. Memory mapped registers are collaborative and we tie all the stakeholders together in a formalized way. This isn’t traditional EDA - it is a work-flow automation for electronics design, perhaps a new class of EDA that productizes what has traditionally been un-productized knowledge.
If you’re interested in EDA for SaaS be sure to join the EDA SaaS Enthusiasts LinkedIn Group. If you are doing firmware/hardware addressable register maps, try a free demo/evaluation of SpectaReg.com.
The following presentation was prepared for the first SaaS and Cloud Computing round table at DVCon 2009. Thanks Harry for organizing and coordinating!
It was strange to prepare this and not be there to engage with the audience for Q&A. Let’s get some comments and discussions going here using the comment feature. What do you think about SaaS in general and for EDA?
Harry the ASIC guy, has organized a meeting at DVCon for discussing the inevitable way forward for application deployment and computing infrastructure — SaaS and Cloud computing.
The incumbent EDA overlords, being a conservative bunch with an arsenal of tools that haven’t been architected for such deployment, have been slow to catch on. That is understandable, why would they want to change the way things are done and disrupt their entire business models? They would need to completely change their core competencies, values, sales channels, and architectures if that’s even possible.
The EDA users, well … , it seems many are trying to figure out what the heck SaaS and Cloud Computing are. Here are my definitions for these terms:
SaaS — Software as a Service, whereby the user does not download or install any software. Instead, the software is hosted by a service provider and available on-demand, as a subscription or pay-per-use over the Internet. Some (like Cadence) consider the case where a VPN client is downloaded by the client and configured for accessing hosted software a SaaS too. My definition of a “Pure SaaS” is that it must run only in a web-browser, as our SpectaReg.com register-map tool does. Poster children for SaaS include:
Cloud Computing — The concept of having massive common compute infrastructure, offered over the Internet, and shared and optimized between many different users and services for many different purposes. The Cloud host maintains the compute infrastructure and essentially leases compute resources (like CPU nodes, time, memory, bandwidth, and disk space) or specialized services based on some level of granularity. The Could essentially abstracts all the hardware, services, and related back-end work. Amazon has a big initial presence in this.
At PDTi we’ve been working towards building our SaaS for more than 4 years. At first we didn’t call it a SaaS, we just knew that we were building a web-application. When we first heard the term SaaS, we hated it and were reluctant to use it. One of my business advisers put me onto the term WebWare which I think would have been much better. Unfortunately WebWare didn’t catch on but SaaS did.
Anyhow, Harry has been following PDTi for a while now, and is very keen on SaaS, cloud computing and how these can be applied to EDA. Harry invited me to present at the DVCon roundtable, and I am honored to accept. Being a web-based company, though, remote to the Silicon Valley, we’ve decided not to attend DVCon or even have boths at most conferences… for us that is old school EDA and leads to a higher cost structure. Using the web, wherever possible, instead of costly business travel, we can achieve a lower cost structure and can pass along the savings to our customers. So if PDTi isn’t attending DVCon, how can I present? We’ll I’m going to pre-record my presentation, send it Harry over the web and take questions as comments on this blog, as twitter messages, and via email. I’ll post the recorded presentation online for all to see, after the event. Wait, actually, we will have someone live at the event, one of my business advisors from the Valley, Michale Sanie, will be in attendance.
Here are the details of the Details of the SaaS & Cloud Computing EDA RoundTable:
When: 6:30 - 8:00 pm on Wed Feb 25th
Where: Monterey/Carmel rooms at the San Jose Doubletree Hotel
More details are available at Harry the ASIC guy’s blog. Many thanks to Harry for or organizing this exciting event!
If you’re wondering how this relates at all to design verification, well SpectaReg.com does auto-generate SystemVerilog Register Abstraction OVM and VMM RAL SystemVerilog from the common register Specification.