End User Report: EDA Industry Realignment

What the consolidation of the IP and EDA prototyping sectors mean to STMicroelectronics


By Ann Steffora Mutschler

The EDA industry has seen a number of large acquisitions as of late, most notably of Denali by Cadence, as well as CoWare, VaST and Virage Logic which were acquired by Synopsys, but just what impact does this realignment have on the biggest EDA customers? Commenting on these changes is Jean-Marc Chateau, director of system platforms and tools at STMicroelectronics, the world’s fifth largest semiconductor manufacturer, in this exclusive System-Level Design interview.

SLD: As one of the industry’s largest EDA tool customers, how do you view the recent acquisitions?
Chateau: It is very interesting what is happening. It looks like all of the big players – Cadence, Mentor and Synopsys – are waking up to say, ‘We should change speed on ESL and try to create a market,’ which has always been so far in the $200 million range. Synopsys has been very aggressive, first with Virtio [in 2006], then with CoWare and VaST. It’s quite interesting because it can bring consolidation around pieces that were not fully interoperable. There are positive aspects of SystemC but there are things lacking in the standard – there are still missing pieces. So every company including semiconductor companies – not only tool and IP vendors – they have been obliged to build their own extensions. The fact is that companies like CoWare and Synopsys have to solve the interoperability between models and tools of what they have acquired because it’s not enough to be SystemC compatible. It will be positive because they will have to solve the problem for us.

But on the negative side, the risk is that they will build a closed solution and try to milk the user community—especially the software community—with a proprietary solution to which, when you enter you can not get out, and you have to follow all the flow with their tools. So we are looking at what will happen. I believe it will take Synopsys two years to really consolidate a single modeling solution out of what they are buying today. Cadence is more on the IP because Synopsys was very strong on IP; Cadence was stronger maybe on tools and they are trying to complete their solution. Mentor has a lot of pieces as well but still not very coherent and consistent all together.

SLD: Given that ST had a development relationship with CoWare, will the acquisition by Synopsys change ST’s relationship with the companies in terms of ESL development?
Chateau: In terms of ESL, ST has a long history of internal development. We have quite a large team developing solutions for all the divisions of ST and ST-Ericsson and this started more than 10 years ago. We have been pioneering ESL, especially pushing for open standards such as OSCI TLM. We have been chairman of the board at the beginning and also involved with SPIRIT IP-XACT for assembly of different IPs into SoC and subsystems. Therefore, we have an internal solution that is widely used for complex SoCs in TV, set-top boxes and mobile phones. The usage we have of CoWare is marginal – focused on the processor. We use technology to manage the coprocessor and to generate ISS and also to configure the coprocessor attached to a flexible processor. We have our own internal processor called XP70 – Tensilica-like, let’s say – and CoWare is our supplier in terms of technology to configure this processor. It is widely used in many applications such as set-top boxes and mobile phones. But this is very marginal.

There is another usage of CoWare in ST-Ericsson, which comes from the legacy of the acquisition of NXP Mobile and Ericsson. They were using CoWare especially in NXP so there are some platforms or subsystems that are using CoWare models, but fortunately they followed the TLM standard and we have been able easily to build a completely interoperable platform from the various pieces in ST-Ericsson. So for us, CoWare is relatively marginal and the fact that it was acquired by Synopsys is not impacting us much.

SLD: Do you sense from what you hearing that the top EDA vendors understand users’ biggest challenges in ESL?
Chateau: It is much better than it was, I would say, because we have been talking with them for years on that and there is really a change today in those three companies. I see, for example, Cadence has launched EDA 360; Synopsys of course will have to merge Virtio and CoWare into one platform, but it may leave it aside for the moment and maybe merge it later. And Mentor, they try to put together what they have in a consistent way. The verification part was a bit forgotten before but it is more part of it.

What they have not understood in the past is that the cost of modeling is very high and we cannot afford, by any means, to duplicate the platform for several flavors. We have system-level platforms that require a higher level of abstraction above RTL. You have the architects that need performance from this platform with certain flavors. There are verification people, mostly the sub-verification people, who require some testbenches at a high level. You also need to have a virtual platform for software development. The three cases would require in theory different approaches of modeling, but we cannot afford this so what we did 10 years ago was to make a decision and say, ‘We are going to define one way to do models and we have to apply it all of the categories,’ because it is always difficult to populate fully in TLM a complete system platform with models. To do that three times – no way. I think if you look at all of those companies – VaST, CoWare, etc. – they are focused on either verification or software virtual platforms or architecture investigation, but not the three of them together. Now, it seems to me, it is my perception that they need to tackle all, having in mind that the biggest population is software development. But if you look at the software budget we put on the shoulder of the software designer, it is very light in terms of CAD. We buy very few tools; we mostly rely on point tools so to introduce the same business approach as in hardware design with CAD seats that cost several $10Ks will not work in the software world. I still think they dream a bit.

SLD: With Synopsys acquiring Virage and Cadence acquiring Denali, how do you view this consolidation?
Chateau: To me it was very obvious Synopsys was missing the embedded memory part in their portfolio. With Virage they don’t target anything but that part. I don’t think they are very interested in the other part. They will have to make a choice between the differentiation on parts I’m sure. For Denali and Cadence, it is a little bit different because Cadence is still very weak overall in its IP portfolio, so I have no comment on this. Denali is strong in models so that can be a good asset for the company to position because they have acquired also a lot of companies for VIP and transactors and this is key to build an offering in ESL. So I think they have a good strategy, which is a lower cost strategy than what Synopsys did. So, we’ll see.

SLD: Does ST mind that the IP it purchases come from the tool provider?
Chateau: We preach for interoperability and we are very active in standards for that purpose, so we would like to deploy the IPs with the tools as much as possible. This is why in OSCI we are very much attached to the fact that there is an open source simulator that you can run with any models from any IP vendor to see if it is really following the standard. Of course the companies would like to kill this and do only paper for the standard because they would like to make money out of simulators in Mentor, Cadence and Synopsys, and CoWare before the acquisition. I understand, but we are fighting to keep that preference because TLM OSCI SystemC cannot be as strict and non-ambiguous and RTL-like as Verilog and VHDL. You really need to have an open source to check interoperability. The higher level you go, the more reference you will need like this, and therefore, our wish is to be able to buy IPs wherever we want independently of the tools. Today, if you look at what we buy … our biggest supplier is Synopsys, but it’s not because of the tools.