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Why is your mouse connected to your computer by a 480Mb/s interface when you could boil an egg between the bits transmitted? Well, I exaggerate a little. But speaking of cooking and kitchens, it’s for the same reason that when we remodeled ours, the space under the counter left for the dishwasher was 24” wide. The mouse interface on the computer could have run at 7Kb/s—and the dishwasher space could have been 23” wide. But then I’d have had to buy a special expensive mouse that didn’t use USB, and I’d have had to get a dishwasher custom-made if that is even such a thing. Standards require you to have a hood over your stove, but if your stove is on the island in the kitchen and you have vaulted ceilings… well, sometimes it takes some creativity to come up with a workable solution.
Much as I like to think that my new back door was built to order with unique dimensions by a carpenter who lovingly polished and smoothed the wood using the sand he collected from the shining beaches of Normandy, inlaid with glass and iron that he forged himself while feeding the forge with hot air from his father-in-law, the reality is that we could only afford a door that was at least partially mass-produced, in a standard size. Having three standard sizes of doors to choose from makes them less expensive than designing and building a custom door from scratch.
Not mass-produced doors
Standards make things work together that were never designed directly to work together. They also prevent you from making mistakes that could lead to, say, your entire home burning down or being sued for your trash compactor eating your houseguests. So ultimately? Win, no matter how inconvenient they might be.
In a company like Cadence, standards affect two parts of our business: IP and EDA.
In the IP space, a lot of our IP is standards-based, meaning that the IP block implements some standard like the USB. Cadence isn’t completely passive, just waiting for a standard to show up; we participate in the standards committees to make sure they don’t make decisions that will be costly to implement and to make sure that we understand them well even when they are only in the draft stage.
Standards are also essential for making the IP business scalable. The most important thing about an IP block is whether it meets the set standards. Nobody cares if you have a USB 2.0 interface that runs at 470Mb/s but has really low power and small area; it just doesn’t meet the standard and no one will use it. As the performance of standards has gotten higher, they have become extremely difficult to implement, but they bring no differentiation. The result of this—hard to implement, no differentiation—means that big companies that could implement the interface focus on other things, and small companies have no choice because they don’t have the competence in-house to implement the standard anyway. So they buy IP from third parties (like Cadence).
The other space that standards affect are the EDA tools. We don’t change the syntax of SystemVerilog just because we thought of a neat idea; then it wouldn’t work with other tools. Microsoft, at the height of its dominance, could maybe get away with “embrace and extend” as a business strategy, but eventually, the effect was that people avoided Internet Explorer altogether because it was too incompatible with everyone’s websites.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Cadence tools, Voltus and Innovus, and how they relate to infrastructure in a town. I started thinking about the role that an individual house plays in the analogy. You can pan out or in as far as you like, from the universe to the wiring on the chip that goes into your television set.
As you can see here, we have layers upon layers of systems within systems within systems. To tease out the design of a refrigerator, you find that it’s connected to the rest of the world. And in this case, thank goodness you don’t have to reinvent a fridge every time you want a cold beer.
Cadence is the “contractor” getting together with architects and designers and carpenters and plumbers and electricians to agree that certain things will be built a certain way, with certain parameters, so they can all play together and communicate appropriately. The creativity comes with figuring out the best ways to meet the standards while simultaneously meeting all the requirements and specifications of the design.
Which is the long-winded way of explaining why we went with a down-draft stove.