EDA’s Cloudy Vision

It’s just a matter of time until EDA is ‘cloudified,’ gradually moving from an IaaS model to a SaaS model.


By Ann Steffora Mutschler
Since the dawn of EDA, the industry has largely operated under a traditional software distribution model whereby the customer would run the software it licensed on its own hardware equipment. With the sophistication of advanced IT management techniques as well as education surrounding “The Cloud,” it may be safe to predict that engineers in the not-to-distant future will be designing and verifying SoCs entirely in the cloud.

Right now, however, it’s a different story.

“As an industry, it’s pretty nascent for EDA applications,” observed Dave Desharnais, senior group director for product management in the silicon realization group at Cadence. “We ended up getting permission to use our tools in the cloud with constraints because there really was no formal way to do that in a third party cloud context. It’s really been large-scale companies that have been coming to us for about the last three years, on the tune of probably 10 to 12 a year, asking us because they are Cadence customers, ‘How do we use your tools in the cloud? We want to use your tools in the cloud.’

A frontrunner in this model, Cadence has offered its Hosted Design Solutions since 2007. It is a turnkey, private cloud offering born out of its design services. “It’s not a driver for our business but it’s certainly an option for a certain class of customers—mostly small and medium sized,” he said. With about 50 customers today, it has seen linear growth since the program began.

Desharnais is quick to point out, “This is really our entrance into the software as a service (SaaS) market because the customer owns the data but we want to provide that pathway in, all the compute resources, it’s turnkey and it’s beyond emulation, it’s everything: custom analog to digital ICs, all the physical and logic verification, emulation.”

Datacenter at Cadence Design Systems (Source: Cadence)

“It’s really no different from a business model in traditional EDA—you buy a license for a certain time. In this case you’d buy a set of licenses for a certain time with some bursting capabilities. That’s the SaaS model,” he said.

An even earlier player in the cloud arena is Sonics. Drew Wingard, co-founder and chief technology officer, said he feels like a grizzled veteran of this topic. He explained that way back in 2001, Sonics introduced a vehicle called SoCworks. Today it would be referred to as SoC- and IP-core-based design in the cloud.

“A challenge we were trying to address in those days, if you look at the basic business transaction model behind selecting IP cores to go onto an SoC, is that one of the big challenges is this horribly long dance that happens at the beginning before the customer can actually do the evaluation,” said Wingard. “It ends up being very messy, and in many cases it’s like six months to get through this process. The idea we had at the time was the reason for a lot of this protectiveness is around worries about the theft of the IP or worries about the pollution of the engineering, and that in the chip field we don’t worry about this as much because the chip that we distribute is pretty obscured. It’s buried inside a package, and you can’t really figure out what’s going on inside. The distributor can ship you a chip for evaluation purposes without all of this stuff. What if we could get to that same level of abstraction around IP cores?”

Sonics built a set of servers, in what would now be called the cloud, that ran the development environment that was part of its solutions. It still is, and it “allowed people to mix and match IP cores from who were then some of the major providers of IP cores—guys like MIPS and Tensilica, the inSilicon part of Synopsys—and actually plug and play them together around our interconnect fabrics, run some basic simulations so they could try before they had to go through all that legal stuff. We were way ahead of the curve on this clearly,” he added.

Mentor Graphics too is not new to the private cloud. Michael Buehler-Garcia, senior director of marketing for Calibre design solutions explained that as part of Calibre, there is a multi-thousand CPU farm in the floor of the building where the Calibre team is located, which is run as a private cloud to its different development teams around the world. “So are we doing cloud? Well, yes, and anybody who runs OPC accesses an SoC cloud because the size of designs requires multiple CPUs to run it.”

Datacenter at Mentor Graphics (Source: Mentor)

Today, the company expands its cloud play with its announcement (http://www.mentor.com/company/news/) of a cloud-based DFM Analysis Service based on the Calibre platform for TSMC 28nm and 40nm foundry customers, which analyzes the customer’s design database to meet the requirements for TSMC’s lithography process checking (LPC) flow. It delivers a results database containing hotspot locations and fixing hints that can be used by routers to perform corrections. Buehler-Garcia expects it to be attractive option for customers who tape out only a few advanced- node devices per year.

In addition, Synopsys has been offering verification-on-demand in the cloud for a few years.

IaaS Before SaaS
Before engineering teams embrace SaaS, Cadence’s Desharnais believes the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) model will take off as an interim step.

Interestingly, he said, customers are requesting permission to run Cadence software in the cloud…even if they don’t know what to do with it yet.

“What is shocking to me is very large sophisticated mobile telecom-type companies [like those] in the San Diego area—those guys aren’t doing it. Those guys are leading, bleeding edge, and they are the guys you would expect would have it. They want permission but they haven’t pulled the trigger on it yet because they are still trying to figure it out and how they are going to use it,” Desharnais continued.

“What I’m seeing the most, if you look at the semiconductor industry at large, it’s not so much a SaaS model, it’s more of an IaaS model. There’s a huge reluctance to put anything like an RTL on the Web or any sort of physical design that can be effectively pirated or moved so the security pieces scare them. As an EDA vendor, we’re actually not in a position to solve that. There are more systemic kind of things that are in the way. But we see companies taking a baby step in this direction, and this is where they are getting pressure from their CFO or their CIO or their CEO to start moving to more of an operational expense versus a capital expense model. And they say, ‘If we’re doing it for other things in our company (financials, HR) why not do it with EDA tools?’” he suggested.

In the long run, what probably makes the most sense is for EDA tools to be hosted by third party cloud providers such as Osmosix, Plunify and Xuropa, as opposed to private clouds hosted by the EDA vendors since customers won’t want a locked solution.

A newcomer to this scene is SiCAD, which comes out of stealth mode today. What’s different about this company is that it makes no tools of its own, but pulls together a cloud-based multivendor solution for a number of vendors’ products, including all of the Big 3 EDA companies and many point tools. As CEO Jai Iyer tells it, the key was to identify the pain points where utilization is extremely high but utilization over a year is low.

“The problem is that peak use for some of these tools last two to three months, and the rest of the time they’re sitting around idle,” said Iyer. “When you look at signoff tools for static timing analysis, extraction and DFM, they’ve all got low utilization and they’re expensive.”

It remains to be seen whether a multivendor complete solution will fare any better than previous attempts by established companies. At the end of the day, many will still argue that the business model is not working. But there are still those who believe that—at least someday—it will. The only question is when.

Customer IT Deployment Types (Source: Oracle)