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AUSTIN, Texas—The EDA industry needs to move beyond EDA.
Sound counterintuitive? Not so much when the words come from
the lips of Chris Rowen, the founder and CTO of Tensilica, and a guy I consider
one of the most articulate observers of our industry.
And while it's counterintuitive, it's in fact not even
at odds with EDA's traditional bread-and-butter proposition: tools to solve
complex design problems.
Rowen, to be sure, has a unique seat from which to offer his
views. Tensilica has been a longtime provider of data-plane processors in the IP space, where hardware meets software, where architects grapple with so many integration and design issues. Rowen sees Moore's law and its effect on SoC design (see embedded video
outtake below) continuing to force specialization into and around that device. But as that happens in near real time, we can get lost in the weeds if we're not careful.
"I would put it in crude terms of moving past EDA, past the
focus of ‘this is how you do it' much more to today ‘this is what you should
do.' Meaning, (EDA) is a lot more central to defining, architecting, building,
programming these silicon platforms. And (it's) less about taking the
architect's conception of it and doing the back-end implementation."
Up and Away
Over time, everybody in the electronics ecosystem moves up
the abstraction ladder. For example, a systems company that started out
supplying routers for a network becomes the network provider over time; its engineers increasingly focus on the
network architecture and software layer and software services that run on their hardware. At that point, semiconductor vendors begin moving up to build
systems and subsystems on silicon and help out those systems engineers with their hardware challenges.
That has implications a rung or two down the ladder.
Said Rowen, as we chatted during a quiet moment at the 50th
Design Automation Conference:
"I do believe as the semiconductor guys have to move up and
up in abstraction—they really are building the cell phones, they really are
building the networks, the server farms, they're building things way up in that
hierarchy—the question of the chip architecture can and should be left more and
more to efficient suppliers who are able to fill in the holes."
"Where exactly that line gets drawn between what the SoC
architect at Intel, Qualcomm, Marvell, a HiSilicon does and what we as
suppliers of infrastructure into their product is drawn, I don't know. It
changes over time."
In those little vacuums, IP providers and EDA vendors will
find enormous opportunity, Rowen believes.
"Not only are people going to be interested in subsystems,
they're going to be interested in how the methodology wrapped around the
subsystems becomes the methodology for the integration of the subsystems and therefore
becomes the method by which you define, architect, program, build the chip."
At a busy DAC, his first since Cadence acquired Tensilica,
that was what was on the mind of one of the industry's great technologist-poets. Rowen's not suggesting EDA abandon its core business, of course, but it never hurts to be reminded that in a relentlessly changing electronics world, rethinking one's strengths and opportunities should be just as relentless.
Here's a snippet from that conversation:
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