set_max_area 0

I stopped by a lunchtime presentation yesterday given by the local Synopsys AC. He was updating my client on what was new in Design Compiler and other tools when he put up a slide that said something like this:

set_max_area 0 (now default setting)

For those who don’t know what this means, it tells the synthesis engine to try to make the design area as small as possible, which is obviously a desirable goal. Why would anyone ever want to set their area goal higher? If you’ve used Design Compiler before, you know that this has been somewhat of a running joke, a command that was in each and every synthesis script every written, as follows:

set_max_area 0

So it got me thinking. Were there any other artifacts of a bygone EDA era that were still were hanging around, like a running joke, that had served their purpose and needed to be put to rest. Of course there were, or I would not be writing this post. Here are 3:

1) Perpetual licenses. As Paul McClellan points out on his excellent EDA Graffiti blog, in the early days of EDA “the business model was the same business model as most hardware was sold: you bought the hardware, digitizers, screens and so on… And you paid an annual maintenance contract for them to keep it all running which was about 15-20% of the hardware cost per year.” EDA companies loved perpetual licenses for 2 reasons.

  1. They got to recognize all the revenue for the purchase at the time of the sale, so they were able to show better numbers on the books quicker.
  2. Once you “bought” the software, you only paid a small fee each year for maintenance. If you wanted to switch to another competitor’s tool, you’d need to pay that up-front perpetual license cost again, which was a real disincentive to switch. Basically, they could lock you in.

Even though most EDA companies have gone to a subscription license model, some still predominantly license software as perpetual. With the advent of short term licensing like Cadence’s eDaCard and Synopsys’ e-licensing, the perpetual model is as outdated as Sarah Palin.

2) Large direct sales teams. I need to be really careful here, because I worked in various customer facing roles at Synopsys for almost 15 years and I still have several friends who work in direct sales at various EDA companies. Many of them are very skilled and I don’t want to cause them to lose their jobs. But the fact is that all of us rely on “the Web” to get information on all things, including EDA tools, much more than we rely on salespeople. I’m part of the older generation (although I don’t feel or act that way), but the newer generation of customers views the internet in all its forms (static web pages, social networks, blogs, podcasts, twitter) like the air that they breath. They can’t live without it. And if you think they are going to want to have to schedule a visit from a “salesperson” to get access to a tool they are interested in, then you don’t have a clue about what these people expect. They expect to go to a web page, log in (maybe), and be off and running. And if your tool ain’t accessible that way, sorry, they’re not interested. Of course, that sounds shortsighted, but that’s they way it is and will be, like it or not.

This does not mean that some direct sales has no use or value. After all, a company is writing the check, not an individual with a credit card. And sophisticated customers will still (for now) want to install software and use it, so they will still need support. So there will still be a need for some direct sales and support, but much of the early stages of the sales process will move to the Web.

3)  Closed tool suites and solutions. As I stated in a previous post, most EDA companies seek to fence customers in rather than provide streams to nourish them. With all due regards to folks like Karen Bartleson and Dennis Brophy who have unselfishly worked to promote standards, we fall far short of the goals of the Cad Framework Initiative, which sought to enable true plug-n-play interoperability between EDA tools. It’s definitely getting better, due mostly to customer pressure. But we still have a long way to go before we have truly standard standards that enable collaboration between EDA suppliers. So, if you’re an EDA company, get with the standards.

That’s just 3. I’m sure there’s more. Let me know if you come up with others:

harry the ASIC guy

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One Response to “set_max_area 0”

  1. Jeremy Ralph says:

    We’ve been using a subscription model since the start with our SpectaReg product. Having moved from early beta to a more featured and stable offering, we increased our annual pricing for one of our beta customers. The purchasing dept. was a bit taken aback to see the yearly subscription rate increase but they couldn’t argue the value they were getting since the engineering team is happy and the ROI/NPV makes perfect sense. In this situation, it’s win-win for all, since the cost is better amortized and there is less up-front risk for the customer. The vendor has incentive to keep the customer happy on an ongoing basis by creating more value and providing it immediately, not when the next generation of the product is purchased.

    With your 3rd point, open XML initiatives like SPIRIT IP-XACT and OASIS DITA SIDSC make good sense and I hope they continue to make progress. It’s a tough problem to herd EDA, IP, and SoC cats… like trying to build the EU with so many differing perspective and agendas.

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