Scott Clark on EDA Clouds

scottclark.jpgAlthough I had heard his name mentioned quite often, it wasn’t until this year at DAC that I finally met Scott Clark  for the first time. Scott was describing how, as Director of Engineering Infrastructure at Broadcom, he led a project to virtualize Broadcom’s internal data center in order to transform it into a private cloud. It was a great discussion. We had lunch a few weeks later to talk about his new business, Deopli, a company that he has founded to help other semiconductor and EDA companies improve their compute infrastructure operations in similar fashion.

So, when I saw Dan Nenni’s blog post on cloud computing and some of the responses, I thought I’d contact Scott. You see, as opposed to most of those commenting on Dan’s post, Scott has actually taken EDA tools and moved them to the cloud, so he knows what he’s talking about. Scott was kind enough to contribute a blog post on the subject, so please enjoy.


Harry the ASIC Guy pointed me to Dan Nenni’s Silicon Valley Blog to take a look at this post regarding Daniel Suarez’s books Daemon and Freedom. His post intrigued me enough to download the first book to my iPad to get a feel for the style and atmosphere. That was good enough that I plan to read both. You can read Dan’s post to see his overview of the books, but at the end of his post, he poses a question that seemed to spark lots of conversation and varying opinions. His question was “Who can be trusted to secure Darknet (Cloud Computing)?”

I think Dan was making reference to concepts in the book where all data in the world becomes controlled by a finite set of service providers, and therefore creates an exposure based on the singularity of the solution. His references hit pretty close to home in Apple, Microsoft and Google, but that did not seem to be the focus of the responses. Because Dan’s background (and blog) is primarily in the EDA / Semiconductor space, the responses seemed to fall into the category of “Should Semiconductor companies use Cloud Computing?” and the array of opinions seemed to align on the two ends of the spectrum. There were a few respondents who felt that EDA would never ever move into the Cloud or gave somewhat skewed definitions of “cloud” to say “it’s impossible” but for the most part, it was refreshing to see some open minded views of what was possible and how things could work. I was particularly intrigued by Dan’s comment that he felt foundries would venture into the cloud hosting space. Given the history of the fabless semiconductor space, how can that not make perfect sense! The leadup to the creation of foundries was that internal manufacturing was growing in capacity and complexity to the point that it made more sense to have that done externally. The same dynamics are happening in the datacenter space for chip design today.

Some of the comments were very accurate in my experiences, so just to highlight a few (please read the blog for specifics so I don’t mis-quote). Daniel Payne made the observation that semiconductor companies will start by creating their own private cloud, and that is exactly where we are today (compute clusters really are private clouds). James Colgan injected sanity throughout and made some very astute observations about the functional dynamics and applicability of cloud to certain parts of a design flow. I can’t say how much I agree with Kevin Cameron’s comments on security; cloud has the potential to be a huge boost in security for the industry. Tom Anderson indicated that he is already doing chip design using Amazon EC2 resources, and I think there are many more like Tom out there. One of the last postings to date is by Lou Covey, and his opinion is that Cloud for the industry is inevitable - I happen to agree with that. It’s not that we “have to” but more of “this is the right answer for the business, and we should do the right thing”.

One of the missing concepts that I notice is that this blog is looking at generic cloud solutions, and not industry specific solution. You will see the development of EDA specific cloud solutions that is very focused on EDA customers, and in the beginning it will be private clouds with technology added to elastic expansion. That said, looking at Cloud for the EDA industry, there are still going to be several roadblocks to adoption that will need to be addressed:

  • Ego – getting around the perception that IT is a core competency of chip design companies. The core competency of a chip design company should be … chip design.
  • Cost – getting around the expectation that cloud should cost ½ as much as what I am currently paying. There are many economies of scale and efficiencies that cloud brings. Cloud is an opportunity for cost avoidance as time goes forward, not a refund policy.
  • Trust – letting go of what is a critical function / resource and having confidence that you can still get the results necessary. This industry has a very powerful model to refer to. In this case, how the fabs were released, and successful partnerships were formed.
  • Control – how to let go of a critical resource, and still maintain control over the resources, costs, schedules, and dynamics of capacity / priority decisions.
  • Security – probably the most wielded blade in the “you can’t do it” arsenal, but also probably the most misunderstood.
  • Performance – the final roadblock, which is the one with the most technical merit, is performance. There are many different facets to performance, but it will primarily fall into “internal cluster performance” and “display performance”.

My perspective, the ego part we can get around. Current conversations with many EDA companies indicate they are already leaning this direction, which is a good sign.

The cost issue is far more ambiguous. There are as many expectations of cloud as there are definitions, but invariably the expectations are rooted in economics. Given that, the only answer seems to be to create a realistic model for cost, present the data, and let nature take it’s course. There really is cost benefit, so companies will want to accomplish that

Trust seems like it should be the easy part for this industry, but it is proving to be more stubborn than that. I think that is mostly because of the implied threat to job security for the people who are currently performing the tasks (who are usually the people receiving the presentation about outsourcing their job). EDA companies should examine their own history to see what to do and how to do it.

The control front falls into the same category as trust. The same way that fabless semiconductor companies created internal organizations and positions for managing the outsource of the foundries, that model should be applied to the outsourcing of computational infrastructure. That is not to say there will not be contention issues for capacity and priority. The cloud suppliers will need to make sure they have enough resources so they can provide sufficient capacity to the customers, or they will not be the supplier long. Again, foundries will be a great model to look at for this.

On the security front, Cloud will at a minimum give data points to show how weak internal security has been historically. Applying best security practices in a consistent manner should actually help evolve an industry specific cloud security solution to better address security issues. And for the time being, we can just avoid the multi-tenant aspects of security by maintaining isolation – private clouds with share dynamic resources.

And finally, given that we are stalking about EDA specific clouds, they will be specifically designed to have “internal cluster performance” appropriate for EDA. It will be designed exactly like we would design that cluster for a companies private datacenter. The tricky part will be in addressing display performance issues for functions like custom layout and board design where network latency causes the engineer’s working style to be impacted.

So really this boils down to proper execution by the EDA cloud providers, and one technical hurdle of display latency, which has many ways to be addressed. There is a lot of money and attention being aimed at these issues and this industry, and really no real reason why it will not succeed. There might be some companies that choose to adopt at a slower rate than others, but I believe this will become the direction everyone goes eventually. Thanks Dan for a great read and thanks Harry for pointing me at it.


Scott Clark has been an infrastructure solution provider in the EDA/Semiconductor industry for the last 20 years, working for companies like Western Digital, Conexant, and Broadcom. He holds a bachelors of science in applied mathematics from San Diego State University and is currently President and CEO of Deopli Corporation. You can follow Scott on his blog at HPC in the Clouds.

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3 Responses to “Scott Clark on EDA Clouds”

  1. James Colgan Says:

    Nicely done Scott. Agreed on all points. I particularly like your point that the industry should look to the foundry model for inspiration (The CAD-less Semiconductor Company). We’ve been down this path before. Regarding performance - fortunately, there are many companies and industries out there that their business depends on continually raising the bar on this front. Screen refresh is cited as an initial concern by our customers, but side-by-side benchmarking done by Cadence on Xuropa have shown comparisons of between 98% and >100% of local performance. Public Cloud vendors will likely lag what semi IT departments have built in terms of cluster performance for a while, but that’s fine. Not everyone needs that level of performance all of the time. (One size does not need to fit all.) The longest pole in the technical user experience tent will continually be transfer rates. High-Definition Video-on-Demand proliferation will help stimulate solutions to this problem, but it will be a while before we see 1TB “zipping” over the wire ;-)

  2. Scott Clark Says:

    I agree that the bar will continue to move on refresh performance, and the question we always face is not what is “fastest” but more of what is “acceptable” from a user experience perspective (and that is qualitative and specific to the user). One thing that is coming though is much higher bandwidths at far more reasonable prices (still does not change latency, but if congestion is an issue, will definitely change the experience). The challenge with this (getting much more for the same price) will be to get IT and/or the CFO to accept the performance increase for the same price instead of trying to get credit for a cost “savings” while maintaining the same performance :)

    I would be really interested in hearing more about your display benchmarks, that sounds like good stuff…


  3. Meenu Sarin Says:

    Hi Scott, a very insightful article, even though I “stumbled” on this article 2 years after it was posted :-)

    One way to look at how chip designing can leverage from cloud computing is to look at the main benefits of cloud computing and project the same onto IC design. Obvious ones here are on demand access to computing power and data storage in a scalable mode. It is a capex to opex biz model. Another way of looking at is to see what are the major challenges facing an IC designer and see how cloud computing can help. Coming from an ASIC background, I personally find the second approach as one which if addressed properly will provide much compelling reasons for the chip design community to embrace the cloud; and optimally leverage from it.

    Had done a piece on this in my blog ( as well as published in EE web Pulse mag ( Would be interested to see your comments on this.


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