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Proposal: A New Way to Collaborate in EDA

At DVCon I attended three different sessions where the relatively new Portable Test and Stimulus Standard (PSS) was discussed. It took me a while to realize that I was watching something play out that has played out many times before in the EDA world. Some smart engineers have an idea for a new tool. They develop this new tool, either in-house as part of their job at a semiconductor company, or as a start-up company of their own. It doesn't matter, the story goes roughly the same either way. At the semiconductor company someone realizes that the company has become dependent on this tool and A) the company is not a tools company and they shouldn't be spending time and money on developing this, and/or B) if these engineers leave, the company will be stuck with nobody to support this tool. So, the company approaches an EDA company and says, "hey guys, can you build us a tool that does this?" Here's where the story intersects with the other scenario where the engineers started an EDA company to develop and sell their tool instead of developing it in house. In both cases, the EDA company finds out that people want to buy this tool, but they don't want to be tied to a single supplier of the tool. Smart buyers know that if they get hooked on using this proprietary tool and only one EDA company sells it, that EDA company now has some serious leverage over them. Let's just call this, The Proprietary Tool Problem.

This is the story of PSS that I was watching partially play out right there at DVCon. PSS was initially invented by a start-up company, Breker. I imagine sales had been a little slow despite everyone seeing how great the technology was, because only Breker had the rights to this technology. It was a Proprietary Tool. Breker likely went the usual route that has always been taken in the EDA world to solve the Proprietary Tool Problem. Listen to how ridiculous the usual way is. First you have to join the Accellera standards organization by paying them $25,000 a year. Then you have to pay one of your top engineer to sit on a weekly teleconference call with representatives from other EDA companies for several years and essentially teach those other companies enough about your tool so that they can build competing versions of the tool which they can sell. For good measure, a couple of the large semiconductor companies usually also join this teleconference (also paying $25,000 a year, also paying some of their top engineers to sit in this teleconference) so that they can make sure all the EDA companies include the features that they want in the tool. Eventually the information that was shared and agreed upon in these teleconferences gets published by Accellera as The Standard.

To summarize:

  1. You create a tool
  2. People don't want to be held captive by a single provider of a tool, so…
  3. You pay for the privilege of teaching other companies how to make their own interoperable version of your tool
  4. Now people will finally buy the tool from you (or from one of your competitors)

Madness. But there is no other way to meet these customer demands and solve The Proprietary Tool Problem, right?

Humor me for a moment as I propose a much more efficient and less expensive way to make customers happy in this situation. Instead of paying Accellera and spending years hashing out a standard, just open source your tool and sell it the same way Red Hat sells open source Linux or Millennium Software Design sells our tools. Just like that, at no additional cost to you, your tools is now no longer a Proprietary Tool. No joining a standards body, no dues to pay, no teleconferences for years before a standard is ratified. Yes, you will still have the problem that other people can sell competing versions of your tool, but without all the other time and expense involved! It's even better because you don't have to sit down with the other companies and tell them details about your tool. They can just read the source. Or, if you are feeling like you want to be more helpful, they can pay you for training, instead of you paying Accellera!

EDA tool developers, whether inside semiconductor companies our out, please consider this new (to us) method for solving The Proprietary Tool Problem.

Author: Bryan

Published: March 13, 2020

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