The Ever-Growing System Challenge

Who’s going to be running the show—and paying for the tools—remains a mystery on a global scale.


It used to be easy to define a system. It was an ASIC, an ASSP or even an SoC. Increasingly, however, that definition isn’t nearly broad enough.

With power issues now spreading across an entire device and software being used to manage everything from embedded applications to board-level functionality, the system is now much bigger than a single chip or even a system in package. It now encompasses software, hardware, IP and firmware. And in the case of communications, it can reach even beyond the device itself.

This creates problems at the architectural, design and verification level. More has to be thought about up front, and it has to be able to be verified further downstream. But it also creates a huge opportunity for the EDA industry, which has been relatively flat for the past few years. Rather than just competing for a bigger piece of the same pie, the opportunity is to compete for a piece of a much bigger pie.

It also creates a new challenge, and some big questions that have yet to be answered. While hardware companies are accustomed to paying for EDA tools and IP, software companies are not. And in places like China, even FPGA tools are considered expensive so many lesser-quality freeware tools are in use by indigenous startups.

What isn’t known yet is who will actually gain control of this design and development process in the future. Will it be the hardware engineering managers, who can easily justify an investment in tools, or will it be the software engineering managers who are reluctant to spend? And will it happen in places like Taiwan, Europe and North America where tools are considered an effective alternative to expensive labor, or in places like China where time to market may be perceived as reliant on a large labor pool rather than better tools?

What is clear is there is money on the table for those companies come up with the right solution to bigger design challenges and which can price it accordingly for whichever segment comes out on top. But there are still a lot of unanswered questions about exactly what those challenges will be, who will be facing them and who will be paying for them.

–Ed Sperling

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