EDA and the cloud

May 01, 2014

EDA and the cloud

The effect of the cloud can be seen everywhere, in just about every industry. I had the opportunity to talk with Larry Drenan, Services Group Director...


"The thing that's always driving EDA is the next-generation designs," Drenan says. System-on-Chip (SoC) designs tend to advance quickly. The main drivers are trying to keep up with the always-changing requirements of these advanced designs."

There is a trend of an increasing amount of Intellectual Property (IP) from multiple parties involved in making most large designs these days. When there is third-party IP involved, it's important to treat third-party IP in a secure manner. Today's SoC designs are so large you don't have the time to do it yourself, so there are a lot more third party capabilities being incorporated into those designs.

Hosted EDA design resources

The Cadence (www.cadence.com) Hosted Design Solutions provide software licenses, equipment, CAD, and IT support to facilitate customer designs. This isn't a cloud service per se – it's access to EDA design center resources where designs can be developed and tested. Cadence runs these services out of a number of large design centers in various countries around the world. Customers can plug into these development teams with established processes and not have to buy capital equipment or incur long, expensive set-up time. The main advantage is a known-good environment that can be used right away. Customers focus on designing chips and Cadence takes care of the process, materials, and resources. Cadence has been offering hosted design services for about six years now. It's not a large part of their business, but as design complexity increases, hosted design services become a more attractive option.

Drenan mentioned companies of all sizes utilize hosted design services. Small companies may want to do something new, and having the latest capabilities available without investment is attractive. Medium and large companies can utilize hosted design services as a more cost-effective option versus starting a design center in a different region. Or sometimes there is a new project that would be more advanced than anything they've done before. The Cadence Hosted Solutions option provides lower investment in new equipment in order to execute on the project.

Once the customer uses the design services, they typically handle their own process/foundry relationship. Once the design is done, companies can download the resulting package to the foundry. This foundry information is valuable, and it's important that the package not be exposed to others using the same hosted services. Cadence assigns an independent "chamber" for each customer. The chamber is a secure area distinct from other customers that provides data security. Only people approved by the company owning the chamber can have access to it.

When asked about the business model of using the hosted design services, Drenan mentioned two options:

  • "Electricity model" – the customer is billed at the end of each month based on resources the customer has used
  • "Hotel model" – at any given time, the provider of the resources allocates some amount of disk space, licenses, and equipment over the course of the project

The hotel model estimates what kinds of resources are needed month-to-month and the monthly charge is set accordingly. This may ebb and flow over the course of a project. For example, when companies are going through the tape-out process, they need more equipment and disk space. Based on agreeing to provide a designer the capabilities, Cadence offers a fixed price by month. Drenan was quick to point out that when it comes to chip design estimates can be wrong, so if the company is running early or late, the billing can take that into account and adjust the resources and billing accordingly.

When asked about any kind of ISO processes or certifications, Drenan says Cadence participates in security assessments. And although they follow ISO and security standards in the 2700 series, they aren't directly certified by independent third parties. They follow those standards and work with customers if they need those certifications. Cadence doesn't get certification because each foundry wants to evaluate their processes anyway, so the certification doesn't really help.

Cadence uses the "chamber" isolation model with a number of foundries and this has been certified and familiar with security models, so there is a comfort level among foundries. There have been instances where a contract called out the need for ISO-27001. So, working with the customer to get the proper certifications is possible on a case-by-case basis.

Cadence is making a significant investment in building their own IP portfolio and many hosted projects use that IP as part of their contract. There is still a large market where many players and people bringing in their own IP. Drenan mentioned that Cadence often has to make a security presentation with those third parties in order to assure separation.

Leveraging the cloud

Drenan says that many customers are looking to use the cloud and are coming up with concepts and designs. Cadence is evaluating how the cloud can be leveraged for its own purposes.

"Everyone sees the potential, yet everyone [also] sees the problem where people are taking things like 100 CPUs and 30 terabytes to use," Drenan says. "It's getting more capital-intensive – people are hoping that the cloud can provide solutions there." However, from what he can see, it fits from the cost perspective, but people are still working out the issues on how to do a large percentage of designs using the cloud model because of possible security issues and resource issues. Cloud security is getting better and improving constantly – at least from the top vendors. But you have to convince not only your team, but also your IP vendors, of the security. There may be models where you do things yourself, but go to the cloud to get extra compute power.

The challenge of bringing terabytes of libraries and test cases to a different place is problematic. People are working on and thinking about these kinds of issues, but it's still a ways off. There is certainly motivation, and EDA vendors that are working in the cloud are now working on parts of the design where this is less of an issue – for example, highly mathematical simulation. In this situation you don't have to carry data around or worry about third parties.

There is some FPGA design happening in the cloud. A large Altera or Xilinx design has the same resource and security concerns, but for smaller scale FPGA designs the cloud is viable.

A potential future in the cloud

Drenan says Cadence EDA is driven heavily by their customers' "care-abouts." Cadence sees customers are doing work in the cloud and trying to figure it out. At this point the cloud is not making their customers' top three care-abouts. Customers' priorities always vary by project, but accuracy, faster simulation, and ability to handle new foundry processes are higher priority concerns for many projects. So at this point that's where the most Cadence brainpower is focused.

Developers are dabbling in aspects of cloud services for EDA designs, but the massive data storage and I/O requirements for large-scale designs are currently problematic. Part of the challenge is to gain acceptance from designers and third-party IP vendors by establishing a comfort level with the security, performance, and storage capabilities available in the cloud. As these concerns are better understood and deemed acceptable by all parties within the EDA ecosystem, the cloud will evolve to provide more service capabilities within the EDA world.

For more information, contact Curt at [email protected].


Curt Schwaderer (Editorial Director)