One reason you don't see a lot of semiconductor startups is that it's very costly to build a hardware and software infrastructure for IC design. But there's an alternative to buying a bunch of servers, licensing EDA tools, and hiring an IT team. It's called Hosted Design Solutions (HDS), a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering that Cadence has been successfully providing since 2008.
In a recent video Chris Menkus, founder and CEO of City Semiconductor, talked about how his company used HDS to design its first product, a high-speed A/D converter. You can access that video at the end of this post. But first, here's some background on HDS and how it works, thanks to Larry Drenan, services group director at Cadence.
The crucial point, Drenan said, is that HDS "offers customers a proven environment that enables engineering teams to focus on designs with a lower cost of ownership." Instead of building their own compute infrastructures, customers purchase a services contract that allows them to run Cadence software inside VCAD (Virtual CAD) chambers. These are highly secure environments that contain compute resources, essentially providing a "private cloud."
Inside the Chamber
Drenan noted that Cadence has several hundred VCAD chambers in various places around the world, and companies of all sizes are using them for services engagements. With HDS, customers can run Cadence software within the VCAD chambers. To maximize security, each HDS customer has their own private chamber. The compute resources inside the chamber can vary, and Cadence can take away or add servers as the project's needs change.
The following diagram shows how HDS augments the traditional SaaS software stack to create an offering that's optimized for IC design. HDS provides the same environment, and the same support teams, that Cadence design services engineers use.
HDS customers don't actually purchase software licenses - they buy a services contract. The EDA software is not metered and runs on what Drenan calls "a hotel model, rather than an electricity model." You would "reserve" a certain amount of equipment and software for a given period of time. However, there is flexibility. "If you thought you would need it in July but you really don't need it until August, we would give it to you in August," he said.
Drenan cited three main advantages of the HDS approach:
HDS has a special appeal to small IC design companies and startups. But Drenan noted it's also used by large companies that are perhaps just getting into IC design, or that don't have the infrastructure and expertise to support advanced new projects. In any case, some of the world's largest companies use VCAD chambers for debugging, and the VCAD chambers used by HDS customers are just as secure.
HDS in Action
I also spoke to Chris Menkus about how City Semiconductor is using HDS. City Semiconductor focuses on very high-speed, high-quality IP and design services. Their first product was a 2.5 Gigasample/second 12-bit A/D converter, and it was designed using HDS.
Menkus said this product was designed by a team of around 5 people in different locations who used their laptops to access Cadence Virtuoso software for schematic design, layout and simulation. "We don't have to have any compute power locally," he noted. Additionally, he said, the Cadence collaboration software "let us feel like we were closer than we really were."
So why didn't City Semiconductor build its own compute infrastructure? "Because it was a big chunk of learning that I did not have to do," Menkus said. "As the owner of a startup I had to learn about HR, finance, and marketing, and I did not want to have to add to that list." The main advantages, he said, are the close availability of support and the configurability. Cadence can add more compute power and storage space as it's needed.
Any concerns about data security? "I thought about that and concluded that Cadence can probably do a better job at security than I can do myself," Menkus said. Overall, he noted, HDS is "straightforward without too many surprises."
Hosted Design Solutions is aimed more at design teams who are doing or planning to do IC design, but don't want to invest in a large compute infrastructure.
How this HDS will help to an individual VLSI Engineer.