Atrenta Buys NextOp

Interest and competition heat up in formal methodologies as complexity explodes at advanced process nodes.

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By Ed Sperling
Atrenta said today it will acquire NextOp Software, a formal tools startup that was created in 2006 and which came out of stealth mode in 2010.

The move is interesting as much from a business perspective—it pits Atrenta against Jasper Design Automation, at least in the narrow assertion synthesis and assertion generation markets—as what it says about the increasing interest in formal methodologies. While formal tools have been talked about for years, the market for them really began heating up at 28nm due to mind-numbing complexity and the difficulty in pinpointing bugs even after they’re identified.

Rather than just being used for verification, though, formal methodologies are now being applied to a variety of areas such as power and for rooting out potential problems earlier in the design flow. http://chipdesignmag.com/lpd/blog/2012/06/14/getting-formal-with-power/

“This acquisition complements what we do with RTL and early analysis,” said Ajoy Bose, chairman and CEO of Atrenta. “We have been looking for an acquisition opportunity for some time. This helps us expand our footprint. Verification was synergistic for our business.”’

NextOp, which claims about a dozen of the top-tier chipmakers among its customers, has been working alongside the Big Three EDA vendors rather than competing with them, according to NextOp president and CEO Yunshan Zhu.

“We have been collaborating with most of the formal tools vendors around,” Zhu said. “We have active collaboration with Cadence for generation of assertions and functional coverage, and we have been working with Mentor and Synopsys on simulation and emulation. We collaborate with most of the formal tools vendors, as well.”

NextOp’s particular slice of this market uses design and testbench information to automatically create assertions and functional coverage, which is difficult and time-consuming to do manually. That makes it a companion piece to other parts of the verification.

Acquisition in the EDA industry is nothing new, of course. The industry was built on consolidation around startups that provide point tools to take the pain out of chip design. But some acquisitions are precursors to many more acquisitions in a sector, such as Synopsys’ virtual prototyping acquisitions, while others are unique. The question now is which category this acquisition fits into.