I was recently involved in a panel of EDA vendors and EDA users. Several EDA vendors were present and the discussion was rather heated. The designers made the argument that tools don’t address the difficulties and challenges of today’s designs. The point was that designers have to deal with the EDA tool shortcomings on daily basis.
The vendors in their own defense had a simple argument; designers need to understand the limitations of the tools and design to the capability of the existing tools. Designers need more training or they don’t fully appreciate the technology was other reasons cited. Maybe the customer is not always right! Follow up discussions with the designers made it clear that they were disappointed. They said the tools don’t work well together, and despite many attempts and claims of integration, the tools are at best a bunch of point tools strung together with many holes in the tool chain. The use models are patched up with scripts and handy work of designers. The chips have grown significantly, yet the tools have changed incrementally at best. Many tools in the flow are based on 10-20 year old technologies. Let’s “sell what we have” mentality dominates a good number of EDA vendors whom are typically run by “industry veterans” who have forgotten about the innovative part of this business and don’t spend the time to understand their customer needs. Instead these “veterans” focus on slide ware and selling processes, wasting their time and designer time, raising cost and risk and not addressing the real problem at the end. They try to convince the customers with fancy slide ware that their approach of fix and patch will address the design challenges, not even understanding what the customer does on daily basis and where they get stuck. The roadmap is often not much more than a repeating the symptoms gathered from designer not detailed understanding of the problem. So the vendor band-aids the symptoms and misses the mark on the root cause. So where is the innovation? The business that was born from innovation is dominated by recycling and rehashing decades old technologies. What a pity.
Well it is matter of simple economics. Changes to the flows can be costly and can potentially cause significant down time risk for design teams. On the other hand on EDA side the cost of tool development is high and even with best tools the company may miss the mark adding to risk and delayed revenues! So what is the problem? How one fixes the broken model?
If you ask any experienced designers they can quickly point out a bunch of issues with tools they use today. These designer issues are often rooted at EDA tool provider’s basic understanding of the problem and the tasks performed by designers. Designers often notice that EDA tools are designed by people who don’t understand SOC design. The software folks don’t always translate hardware related issues to right applications. This simple fact causes many issues and problems with the tools completeness and effectiveness. All is nothing but added cost and risk of development and deployment of EDA tools.
Generally once an EDA vendor finds a formula that works they stick to it and try to milk it for what it’s worth. The tools often address a portion of the designer needs. Then the vendors apply the same engine in more ways than imaginable to solve mutually exclusive problems faced by designer. The result is discontinuity, noise, inaccuracy and lack of interoperability causing nothing but pain for designers. The design flows are littered with such tools. Bottom line the vendor must understand the most detailed issues customer is faced with before designing tools. That’s when innovation takes place. We are all familiar with tools that share nothing but a name, “The Brand” and not much more. Either the integration is nothing but a few slides, or the problem space is so far off between various options of the tools that despite marketing tricks it is impossible to integrate. Nothing but a marketing ploy. Tool vendors are interested in solving big problem, some of which are not even a problem from designer perspective. Sometimes simple observations of what bottlenecks designers deal with on daily basis will reveal a wealth of information and opportunities to improve the tools often missed by tool vendors. A simple change a small innovation in tool implementation can have a huge impact on the designer satisfaction.
Back to the original question, who is the master and who is the slave? If the tool designers understand the problems faced by the designers in detail and get beyond superficial problem statement slides, then the goal of building better SOCs can be met at lower cost and risk. Bottom line the chip has to be designed and that’s what makes our world to go around. Efficiency and accuracy comes at a cost and if the gains are shared on both tool and design side, the result is higher quality chips, better processes, as well as lower risk. The designer needs to be aware of innovation and recognize slap and patch approach compared to tools designed based on sound engineering fundamental. This saves everyone the cost and increases profits.