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Cadence has grown from a small startup to a $1.7B corporation. Its history includes companies that have come under the Cadence fold, to help drive Cadence's growth in those early days and also provide underpinning key technologies that the company continues to advance and ship today.
The story starts when Jim Solomon left National Semiconductor, where he was director of IC design for analog and mixed-signal, to found SDA (which, depending on who you talk to, either stands for Solomon Design Automation or Silicon Design Automation). It was based in Silicon Valley. He funded the company, half coming from VCs and half from four companies (including his former employer), getting them to provide an investment in return for being able to send two engineers to work there and access to the software that resulted. At the time there wasn't really an EDA industry and top-tier semiconductor companies developed their own tools, leaving companies that had fewer resources without many good options. In that era, funding a company for access to design tools was attractive. In 1987, SDA filed to go public but, unfortunately, the day that their initial public offering (IPO) was to take place turned out to be "black Monday," the biggest one-day fall in the stock market ever. So the IPO never took place.
Meanwhile, Glen Antle and Paul Huang launched a company called ECAD to commercialize physical verification, in particular a design rule checker (DRC) called Dracula. ECAD went public in 1987, before the IPO window closed on black Monday.
Cadence came into existence in 1988 when SDA merged with ECAD. Since ECAD was already a public company, this was a sort of way for SDA to go public. The new company was called Cadence and Joe Costello, who by then had become SDA’s COO, became the first CEO.
Four key products from that era were Analog Artist, the Virtuoso layout editor, the SKILL scripting language, and the Spectre circuit simulator. All four of these products are still very widely used today.
The first key acquisition that the young Cadence made was Tangent Systems in 1989, who had a place-and-route product for standard cell and gate array called Cell 3 Ensemble and another version for gate arrays called Gate Ensemble. For years these formed the backbone of Cadence’s place-and-route franchise under the new name Silicon Ensemble.
Next, in 1990, Cadence acquired Gateway Design Automation. Gateway was the creator of the Verilog language and register-transfer level (RTL) simulator, and also had an extremely fast gate-level simulator, Verilog-XL. This would turn out to be a prescient acquisition as design abstraction moved from the gate level up to the RTL level and the simulation business grew explosively. Verilog became a de facto standard and eventually an IEEE standard. Since then, Verilog has been joined by VHDL and SystemVerilog as significant languages, and that initial simulator has grown into today's Incisive simulation platform.
Cadence had schematic capture for analog called Composer, but it was not widely used for digital design. In 1991, Cadence acquired Valid, who had a front-end design system widely used for both gate-array design and PCB design. Cadence was suddenly no longer a company with just IC design tools, they were suddenly in PCB, too. The acquisition also meant that Cadence was then the largest EDA company.
During this period Cadence was dominant in the merchant market for tools for semiconductor design, and the company grew fast. Tools whose names are still famous today, such as Dracula, Virtuoso, Silicon Ensemble and Verilog-XL, had explosive growth as semiconductor companies switched from internally developed tools to commercial tools, and as system companies started to design their own semiconductors, typically using an ASIC methodology where the design close to the system was done in the system companies and the design close to the silicon was done in the semiconductor companies. This was also the period of explosive growth of the PC industry and its surrounding ecosystem, which had a lot of semiconductor content.
Through the 1990s Cadence made lots of smaller acquisitions. In 1997 Joe Costello stepped down as CEO and passed the reins to Jack Harding, who had joined Cadence earlier that year when Cadence had acquired Coopers and Chyan Technology, who had a shape-based router called IC Craftsman.
To be continued...