Streams or Fences?

While growing up in the concrete jungle of New York (Brooklyn to be exact), I developed an interest in the natural world that I got to see too little of. I almost never missed a Sunday night episode of Marlon Perkins and Jim Fowler on Wild Kingdom.  And now, of course, there are dozens of regular shows on the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, and on and on and on.

If you’ve watched any of these shows then you know that there is a universal truth in nature. Where there is water, there will be life.  Find a stream and you will find water which nourishes plant life which is food for small animals which are food for larger animals. A stream becomes an oasis of life … a little ecosystem that supports itself and flourishes.

Once they find such an oasis, animals won’t leave on their own.   Even if there may be something better far away, it’s not worth the risk of the trip, because they have all they need. But sometimes nature intervenes. Perhaps there is a drought and the water dries up and the plants fade away. Then the animals have no choice but to look for “greener pastures”.

When animals were first domesticated, shepherds understood this principle and concerned themselves primarily with the care of the flock (imagine some pristine image of David). They knew that the sheep would not stray as long as they were provided for. Ranchers understood this as well, but eventually the they started to worry about other ranchers rustling cattle.  So they built fences to keep the cattle rustlers out and to keep their cattle from straying.

In business, companies have a choice … to focus their time and efforts on creating streams that satisfy their customers’ needs or to create fences to keep the customers in and the competition out. In EDA, the industry leaders have done both.

  • More than a decade ago, Synopsys was an innovator by creating SolvIt! (now Solvnet), a 24/7/365 available knowledge database that enables uncountable designers to solve problems on the weekend or in the middle of the night. I have spoken to several Synopsys customers who cite Solvnet as one of the key reasons they stay with Synopsys tools. Solvnet is a stream.
  • Just a few months ago, Cadence launched it’s Online User Community. Extended from it’s existing user forums, this community offers access to Cadence and designer tool expertise and interaction with those driving the direction of future tools. This is also a stream.
  • Over the last several years, Synopsys has resisted customer requests to offer short-term (e.g. monthly or weekly) licenses for peak use, so that customers could match their license usage with peak needs. They feared that such an offering would jeopardize longer term sales and  lower switching costs for customers. This is a fence. (To be fair, Synopsys has recently started offering short-term e-licensing options)
  • Cadence recently kicked dozens of competitors out of its Connections Program. This is a fence.

I’m not such an idealist to think that EDA companies will focus entirely on creating streams and not consider the competition.  That would be foolhardy. But there is a corporate culture, a corporate mission, that is either focused on the customer or focused on the competition.  That’s a key difference.

There has been a lot of discussion lately about Cloud Computing and Software-as-a-Service for EDA. Some feel it is inevitable. Others point out all the barriers that exist.  Ultimately, I think it boils down to one simple question:

  • Does the EDA industry as a whole, and do EDA companies individually, see their mission as creating streams or building fences?

If just one company sets as it’s mission to build a cloud computing stream, a SaaS oasis, to nourish the design community, then it’s going to happen. And designers and customers will come.

On the other hand, if the EDA industry focuses on building fences to lock customers into long-term agreements, to discourage interoperability, and to squash standardization efforts, then nothing will change and the industry will dry up and die.

It’s up to you. Go build a stream.

harry the ASIC guy

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