Posts Tagged ‘EDA Confidential’

EDA Is Only “Mostly Dead”

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Last Wednesday at DVCon, Peggy Aycinena MC’ed what used to be known as the Troublemakers Panel, formerly MC’ed by John Cooley. The topic, “EDA: Dead or Alive?” Well, having attended Aart’s Keynote address immediately preceding and having attended Peggy’s panel discussion, I can answer that question in the immortal words of Miracle Max, “EDA is only MOSTLY dead”. But first, some background.

Back in the mid 90s, I attended a Synopsys field conference where Aart delivered a keynote addressing the challenges of achieving higher and higher productivity in the face of increasing chip size. The solution, he predicted, would be design reuse in the form of intellectual property. Although most of us had only the faintest idea of what design reuse entailed and could barely fathom such a future, Aart’s prediction has indeed come true. Today, there is hardly a chip designed without some form of soft or hard IP and many chips are predominantly IP.

Some years later, he delivered a similar keynote preaching the coming future of embedded software. This was before the term SoC was coined to designate a chip with embedded processors running embedded software. Again, only a handful understood or could fathom this future, but Aart was correct again.

So, this year, immediately preceding Peggy’s Panel, Aart delivered another very entertaining and predictive keynote. After describing the current economic crisis in engineering terms using amplifiers and feedback loops, he moved to the real meat of the presentation which addressed the growing amount of software content in today’s SoCs. He described how project schedules are often paced by embedded software development and validation. How products are increasingly differentiated based on software, not hardware. And he predicted a day when chips would only have custom hardware to implement functions that could not be performed with programmable software. In essence, he described a future with little electronic design as we know it today, where hardware designers are largely replaced by programmers.

Immediately following Aart’s keynote was Peggy’s panel. (If you want to know exactly what occurred, there is no place better to go than Mike Demler’s blow-by-blow account.) Peggy did her best to challenge the EDA execs to defend why EDA would not die out. She kept coming back to that same question in different ways and the execs kept avoiding directly answering the question, choosing instead to offer such philosophical logic such as: “If EDA is dead, then semiconductors are dead. If semiconductors are dead, then electronics are dead. And since electronics will never die, EDA will never die”.

On the surface, logic such as this is certainly comforting. After all, who can imagine a future without electronics? Upon closer inspection, however, and in light of Aart’s keynote, there is plenty reason for skepticism.

Just as Aart was right about design reuse and IP…

Just as Aart was right about embedded software …

I believe that Aart is right about hardware design being replaced by software development.

As processors and co-processors become faster and more capable of handling tasks formerly delegated to hardware…

As time-to-market drives companies to sell products that can be upgraded or fixed later via software patches…

As fewer and fewer companies can afford the cost of chip design at 32nm and below…

More companies will move capabilities to software running on standard chips.

With that, what becomes of the current EDA industry. Will it adapt to embrace software as part of its charter. Or will it continue to focus on chip development.

Personally, I think Aart is right again. Hardware will increasingly become software. And an EDA industry focused on hardware, will be increasingly “mostly dead”.

harry the ASIC guy