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March 8, 2011

EDA Industry Leaders Build a Case for Clouds, Explore Limitations

Nicole Hemsoth

Clouds are forming over the Electronic Design Automation (EDA) industry, albeit a bit slower than some other arenas. While there are a number of challenges that persist, our discussions with executives from five major EDA shops indicates that a warming trend might be on the horizon.

Last summer during the annual Design Automation Conference, Bernie Meyerson, Vice President of Innovation at IBM engaged in a lengthy diatribe on the possibilities clouds offer for the Electronic Design Automation industry.  Meyerson claimed that one of the most powerful drivers for this market lies in server and power costs above all.

As he told the crowd, “IT spending is growing at unsustainable rates. This is making innovation very difficult. No longer can two guys in a garage start a major company…today startups must equip themselves with a lot of expensive compute hardware. Unless. Of course, they decide to use the cloud.”

IBM’s VP of Innovation put these statements in perspective, claiming that Big Blue has “working on cloud computing for twenty years…we have 3,000 designers from around the planet and if you start giving them a common infrastructure, efficiency goes up dramatically.

For Meyerson and IBM that common infrastructure to connect globally dispersed designers with complex computational needs lies in the cloud—an idea that is playing out on their current systems.

The IBM exec says that the internal cloud has “20,000-plus cores, controls 150 terabytes of memory and runs 40,000 discrete jobs per day plus 50 million simulation cycles.”Again, since this cloud is used by designers from around the world, all who have differing hardware and other needs, by running in the cloud this complexity on the infrastructure side is rendered almost invisible.

While this abstraction is one benefit that has been addressed by those we spoke with this week in the EDA space (and beyond, this is one rare universal golden points of cloud), there are still a number of detractors to the idea of cloud for the industry. As we reported in a short recap from DesignCon, “Cloud Still Lofty Concept for EDA Execs” the challenges are great, which has prompted more than a little speculation for decision makers in the industry.
 
Despite the challenges, we were able to take a few moments away from five players in the EDA space to gauge their sentiments about cloud computing. In our brief interviews with Physware, Cadence, Synopsys, Magma and Tanner EDA, it seemed that clouds were anything but a lofty notion. Each addressed, at least lightly, potential roadblocks, but their responses overall indicate that there is some well-reasoned movement, at least as far as these companies are concerned.

Picking up on a New Cadence

IBM’s private cloud is certainly not the only story that the EDA industry can take to the bank. Large companies in the space, including Cadence Design Systems have made similar infrastructure choices to boost the ability to scale to serve, both for customers and internal development.

Daniel Salisbury, Vice President of IT at Cadence Design Systems told us that his company is already realizing benefits from deploying clouds. He notes that as it stands, Cadence’s private cloud serves more than 130 secure customer environments as well as R&D functions. Salisbury states that this “gives us the ability to allocate hundreds of virtual servers to meet our customers’ needs within minutes as opposed to days. It also allows us to securely allocate very large physical servers between customers in hours versus days.”

The VP of IT also stated that Cadence is already working with commercial cloud providers to address some of the EDA-specific requirements of clouds. He notes:

“Several EDA applications can be addressed in the currently available commercial clouds. Examples of this include verification and simulation, which can leverage the cloud because their batch-oriented nature and their smaller datasets. These applications can take advantage of the high number of virtual machines that are offered in today’s clouds.”

Salisbury recognizes that there are certainly some limitations to the role that clouds can play in EDA due specifically to network bandwidth and speed that might be limiting adoption. He suggests that eventually commercial clouds will continue to evolve to address more difficult challenges around large datasets as well as IP and license security.

The idea that clouds still need to mature before they’re ripe for the EDA’s needs has been echoed by nearly every industry exec we chatted with. For companies like Synopsys, however, clouds have a clear appeal but there are some issues beyond simple performance that need to be addressed.

A “Synopsys” of the Future of EDA Clouds

Hasmukh Ranjan, Vice President of IT at Synopsys is responsible for the company’s global IT infrastructure, which he claims represents a scale of operation comparable to some technologies far larger than Synopsys. He explains that this is because “in addition to supporting Synopsys’ extensive engineering development and business operations the IT infrastructure also serves as a critical resource for customer activities.”

Synopsys had a slightly more detached view of the role of clouds, at least from their corner of the EDA market. As Ranjan stated, overall  the company is taking “measured, data-driven steps in accessing the benefits of cloud computing across our enterprise. We believe that cloud’s potential can be compelling, but the cost of cloud infrastructure must continue to fall in order to support wider adoption.”

Despite the cost detractor, Ranjan highlights how the company sees a few roles that are ideal fits for cloud computing, including in engineering development and business operations. On the engineering front he told us that “access to cloud infrastructure will allow engineering teams to maintain the pace of development activities during periods of peak demand, such as before product releases.” In terms of business operations, he states that Synopsis is working with some of their key vendors to adopt cloud-based products, “for example, with Ariba procurement services, which was announced late last year.” He claims that the company is working on a variety of initiatives that will be brought to light in the future.

Ranjan points to the appeal of maintaining the pace of development but as some EDA companies, including Physware, Inc. have noticed, the pace is also being accelerated by software that is an ideal fit for cloudy environments. After all, when software is comes out of the box primed for massively parallel or cloud computing environments, it stands to reason that the adoption curve will arc in favor of new virtualized flavors.

Pleasingly Parallel: Software Changes on the Horizon

Raul Camposano, CEO of Physware, Inc. sees a future in which a new generation of design technology, written from the ground-up with parallelism and clouds in mind will emerge.

Camposano already feels that integrated circuit, package and board design are all being affected by the onset of clouds and believes that this change “will, to some extent, migrate from workstations and corporate servers to the cloud.” This change goes beyond merely hosting design software to avoid hardware hassles. Rather, as Camposano told us, “The main driving forces are cost-effectives and the exploitation of massive parallelism.”

The EDA exec pointed to an example of this new generation of design technology as it is being born at his company, stating that Physware is currently developing their first generation tools that take advantage of parallelism from the ground up.

Code itself is an integral part of company decisions to make a move to use cloud resources, but still, the tools developed in a natively cloud-ready manner will come up against some roadblocks on the path to greater adoption.

Examining Barriers, Looking to Solutions

John Zuk, VP of Marketing and Strategy at Tanner EDA says, his company views cloud computing as a viable tool delivery mechanism for Analog IC and MEMs designers across a number of industry segments and geographic regions. He notes that “while adoption of this rapidly evolving capability has been relatively low within the EDA community, we believe that many of the key barriers are being addressed through both technological advances as well as competitive market forces.”

Zuk took a technical view and revealed what Tanner feels are two major impediments that their users have identified. As he explains that he first is related to security of design IP. Secondly is overall tool performance. 

“The security challenge is not unique to EDA; other business processes such as customer relationship management (CRM) and functions such as Human Resources (HR) have successfully implemented security that has bolstered adoption of “the cloud”.  As for performance, advances in distributed computing architectures and algorithms are being applied to successfully mitigate many of the previous challenges.

Complimentary to these technological advances we are seeing significant market forces help drive adoption of cloud-based EDA tools.  With time-to-market pressures continually mounting on Analog IC and MEMs designers, we see the ease of procuring and managing cloud-based EDA offerings as a contributor to competitive advantage.  Tanner users who are participating in our pilot on-demand software offerings have cited ease of procurement and the ability to tailor tool usage as key attributes that they value.”

Magma Hot on the Cloud Trail

While Tanner is taking an approach that emphasizes the roadblocks and how to best address them, some companies, especially those in the mid-sized market are enthusiastic about the opportunities.

Some EDA companies seem to be embracing the cloud with arms wide open, eager to hop on board with a cloud strategy to tout. In this camp count Magma Design Automation, a company that specializes in developing software to enable integrated circuit designers speed time to market and improve chip performance.

Magma’s John Molyneux states that for their company, cloud offers some significant advantages. The EDA shop is working on offering its FineSim circuit simulation software via the cloud which Molyneux claims will “allow Magma to empower customer to more effectively evaluate and get hands-on experience of the advantages of our software.” 

For a company like Magma, he continued, “a cloud-based strategy will enable us to more easily scale to meet the requirements of our customers. We’ll be able to provide customers with easy access to software that addresses their toughest design challenges when and where they need it.  They’ll benefit from real-time support and quickly scalable solutions that solve resource issues when they arise.”

Clouds are being used by a number of companies to provide a playground for potential clients, which is one of their more popular uses. However for broader adoption in more mission-critical arenas in EDA, there are some maturity stages that have yet to pass. The companies we interviewed shared their positive experiences but there are more than a handful of others who find the challenges addressed previously as too problematic to risk—at least at this juncture.