Upcoming Trends in Design Automation

Date:   Friday , November 30, 2007

Electronic Design Automation industry is undergoing a silent revolution. With the rapid growth of the electronics market and the scaling of semiconductor technology, the EDA industry has evolved into an area that is vibrant with innovation and research. The tendency of software companies to design tools as accessories that fit naturally into a larger vendor’s suite of devices has blurred the gap between hardware and software. According to recent reports, the industry revenue for Q2 of 2007 grew by 11.4 percent to $1,408.8 million, versus $1,264.8 million in Q2 2006.

Synplicity is a provider of innovative IC design and verification solutions that serve a wide range of communications, military and aerospace, semiconductor, consumer, computer, and other electronic applications markets. In an exclusive interview with The Smart Techie, Gary Meyers, President and CEO of Synplicity, shares his views on the latest trends in the electronic design automation industry.

How is the verification space evolving?
The verification space in the EDA industry is growing steadily and will continue to do so. The use of programmable logic to validate the functional correctness of the circuits as well as the opportunity to develop software prior to receiving Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) samples back from fabrication has revolutionized the verification space. With the use of programmable logic, the Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) space has also acquired high capacity in terms of verification. The maximum number of gates in an FPGA is currently around 500,000 and it doubles every 18 months. Hence, today you can put two million ASIC equivalent gates into a single FPGA and the verification of the ASIC equivalent is complete with the help of two or three FPGA’s. This has helped the semiconductor industry to cut cost and make verification task simpler and feasible. Earlier, the FPGA capacity was relatively small and the complexity of the process was enormous. The availability of low cost prototype boards from various providers and the ability to realize a clear version of your silicon before the receipt of the fabricated silicon are very attractive.

Going ahead, how would the FPGA and ASIC market fare? What is the future in terms of the technology and market place?
The emergence of programmable logic has changed the landscape for design technology, making it simpler and affordable. Hence, we see a lot of movement from ASIC market to FPGA market. Nevertheless, ASIC holds a high volume market in consumer durable industry. There are many players who cannot afford the cost of moving to FPGA which provides greater flexibility but comes at a higher per unit cost. With regard to technology, in the next few years we will see the emergence of a new generation of programmable logic devices in the 45 nanometer technology, which is expected to double the capacity of the chip.

What are the challenges you face as you march forward?
Power consumption is a big challenge the whole industry faces today. There is a clear demand in the industry for reducing the power consumption while implementing the design. You will also find that today companies are spending more money in managing power wastage. We are looking at ways by which we could reduce power consumption and wastage. One way out is to do it at the architectural level of chip design, partially by the use of software which will help in reducing heat generation.

Another big challenge is in attracting the right talent. In this industry, for the kind of products we build, we do require people with knowledge of software development, semiconductor technology, mathematics, computer science, and also physics. To find the right candidate with such a wide range of knowledge is a real challenge. Moreover, the developments in this industry are so fast-paced that we find a real gap between the available talent and the skills required.

Synplicity has been in the industry for 14 years. So, how do you plan to revolutionize the verification space?
As a company which is into this space for this long, we are continuously looking for ways to help our customers by accelerating their system development, by allowing them to begin simultaneously their software and chip development programs. By helping them prototype the ASIC, they can save a lot of time.

Previously, the companies had to wait till the chip comes out of the fabrication unit to start the verification process.