ESL 2.0 = EDA 4.0
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ESL Tools Table
If you think everything that can be said about ESL has been said, think again. If you think for a minute that ESL is a done deal, do so at your own risk. Electronic system level design is neither a closed book, nor a completed technology. Far from it. In fact, ESL is more volatile, controversial, fluid, and transient today than ever before. It's on the verge of change, it's riddled with opportunity, and it's fraught with danger. And you should be very afraid. Because if you're not, somebody else is going to beat you to the punch and the move to ESL will happen without you.
Part 1 - Fact or Fiction
An Epic Story
One version of the story says the EDA establishment is rooted in the successes that led to the RTL-to-GDSII flow. That's where the action's been over the last 40 years. It's been good action, and it's been profitable. But the action is starting to slow down, the tools for hardware design are increasingly commoditized, and hence the big players in EDA need to continue to innovate to survive. Their core competency, however, is becoming their core albatross. They're spending so much capital - financial, human, and otherwise - in shoring up their established positions, it's not clear they'll be able to make the bold move to a larger playing field. They want to be able to control that playing field, but their cleats are stuck in the artificial turf of their current contest venue. Only if they're willing to untie their cleats and leap out of those constraints through disruptive thinking will they be able to do what they need to do to be part of the definition of EDA 4.0.
EDA 4.0? If Calma, Applicon, & Computervision were EDA 1.0, Daisy, Mentor, & Valid were EDA 2.0, and Synopsys, Cadence, & Mentor are EDA 3.0, then the next group of leaders will constitute EDA 4.0.
Who will be those leaders? In this version of the story, the answer resides in the move to electronic system level design.
First, we need an optimized hardware/software system solution. That's ESL 1.0. We need a way to get from a system-level description of a device to an optimized implementation, and not just for the datapath, but for the whole enchilada - even if it's multi-chip or multi-core. The ESL 1.0 system-to-implementation solution honors hardware/software partitioning and co-design, it understands that sometimes an optimal solution resides in reconfigurable software and/or hardware, it has the ability to search out and incorporate the specific IP needed to optimize the path to solution, it deals with modeling and verification needs using optimal levels of cycle-accuracy at the appropriate time, it inserts the necessary and sufficient on-chip test structures, and it understands and respects the variability, statistical implications, and painfully obscure realities of device manufacturing and usage conditions that will eventually come to pass downstream. ESL 1.0 must embrace DFM, DFY, and DFV. There is no other way.
Second, we need an optimized organizational system solution. That's ESL 2.0. We need a way to orchestrate product development that's really, truly top-down, not just a bunch of EDA tools with a system viewpoint cobbled on top. ESL 2.0 takes into account every stakeholder in the organization, everybody from marketing, to product definition and R&D, to accounting, procurement, design, verification, manufacturing and test, sales, distribution, customer service, and management - not to mention the IT glue logic to hold it all together. Of course, ESL 2.0 has buried in its bowels the algorithms and tools of ESL 1.0, the tools for creating an optimized hardware/software solution nimble enough to respond to fickle, surprising markets, evolving materials, and rapidly shifting conditions and human resources.
In this version of the story, creating this type of top-down solution should be the chance of a lifetime for our friends in EDA. Pass on it, and companies like Oracle, SAP or Microsoft, the user community, or a company just getting underway in a loft above some pizza parlor, will rush in and grab it. It will be a squandered opportunity and the EDA industry will become even further frustrated with its inability to grow beyond its current limitations. The high priests of semiconductor device physics and design live within the EDA world, they own the holy grail of that knowledge, and they should be able to wrest control of the way that knowledge is implemented across the entire organization. They're smarter than everybody else, and should act on it.
Finally, to complete the story we need an optimized ecosystem solution, which when it happens will be ESL 3.0. We need to take ESL, and its implications, to its full and complete potential. An optimized ecosystem will be international, and it will include universities, government-sponsored labs, industry R&D organizations, investors, corporate leadership, designers, manufacturers, analysts, environmental pundits, and an educated class of consumers.
Call ESL 3.0 the final frontier, call it visionary, or call it nuts. But between the redundancy in research efforts across industry, academia, and standards bodies, the ferociously global nature of electronic design, manufacturing, and markets, and the short-sighted production of products that nobody wants and nobody needs, the EDA industry has an opportunity to stand tall here, act in a leadership role, and define the far-reaching ramifications of the electronic systems and gadgetry the industry helps to create that fall nothing short of redefining life as we know it here on Planet Earth.
ESL 3.0? Surely that's not too much to ask in this version of the story. So don't just sit there - ESL is on the move, and in every version of the story, it's a tale of epic proportions. ESL 1.0 is coming to fruition, ESL 2.0 is on the horizon, and who knows what may come after that.
Be part of the story, or be very, very afraid. Because if you're part of EDA 3.0 and you're not helping to set the definitions and technologies associated with electronic system level design, you'll be history. ESL 1.0 and 2.0 will come to pass, EDA 3.0 will come to a close, and the story of EDA 4.0 will be told without you.
This article began over coffee with Ken Karnofsky from The MathWorks. He agreed during that conversation that it would be interesting to orchestrate a dialog between U.C. Berkeley's Bob Brodersen and Sunburst Design's Cliff Cummings. It was to be a dialog something along the lines of RTL versus ESL, and although we had hoped it would happen in real time, it turned out to be sequential rather than concurrent - first a phone call with Cliff, and then a phone call with Bob.
Meanwhile, not only did Mentor Graphics buy Summit Design, but the team of EDA analysts at Gartner Dataquest, led by ESL guru Gary Smith, was discontinued. In addition, I spent three days at ICCAD in early November. Suddenly, ESL, RTL, and everything in between, took on a larger-than-life significance and what started out as a human-sized article on ESL, became super-sized. It grew to include comments from 25 people engaged in one way or another in the discourse on ESL within the industry. Hence this article is long, and has been divided into two parts.
Part 1 includes comments from Cliff Cummings, Gary Smith, Bob Brodersen, IMEC's Rudy Lauwereins, and IBM's John Darringer.
Part 2 includes comments from more than 20 ESL observers and vendors.
Please carve out the time to read both parts, and everything that everyone has to say. Then study the table of ESL Tools posted here along with the article. Although it doesn't pretend to be an exhaustive list, certainly it hints at the wide diversity of offerings in the ESL market today.