Cloud Seeding

Despite past failures, the idea of renting resources as needed is starting to gain some traction.


Selling EDA through a software-as-a-service model is hardly a new concept. It’s also not a particularly successful one. Despite some initial hype and sporadic attempts to revive it, the idea has fallen flat due to concerns about version control, security and an almost universal aversion to engineers having to send large files back and forth to a server.

The approach is getting a new look, however, although less from the software-leasing side and more from a cloud-based resources type of scheme. There are several things driving this change:

First, the sheer complexity of new designs has greatly bumped up the need for additional resources to complete these designs. Even the most advanced chip companies working in the wireless communications space are complaining that they don’t have enough resources to run simulation, synthesis and verification. Everything is already multithreaded and multiprocessing, and it’s still not enough processing power.

Second, that complexity is creeping into designs even back a couple of nodes on the Moore’s Law road map. The companies that were working at 180nm and 130nm are now dealing with designs at 90nm and 65nm. That has driven up the need for new tools, but the low margins on their designs are forcing them to consider alternatives to buying tools. This explains why companies like Altium and Physware are now offering cloud-based services, and why even the largest EDA players are starting to revisit this approach.

Third, the infusion of more software into chip design has further boosted the need for additional resources, particularly emulation boxes. Because software teams typically don’t have the budget for these kinds of machines they have been scheduling time when the hardware team isn’t using them. The problem is that the hardware teams now need more resources to handle more complex designs, which may force the combined teams to look for those resources elsewhere. Cloud is a logical extension.

3D stacking will only exacerbate the resources shortages when it begins hitting the market in late 2012 or 2013. At that point either there will be a boom in EDA tools sale or in EDA tools rentals, or both. And there may be a mad scramble to assemble the infrastructure as these changes unfold.

–Ed Sperling