13 September 2010
Wally Rhines, veteran, EDA
EDA veteran Wally Rhines tells Graham Pitcher that system design is the future for the industry.
If you want an overview of the eda industry and its history over the past 15 years or so, then who better to ask than Wally Rhines, Mentor Graphics' chairman and ceo? Rhines is a 17 year veteran of the eda business; unusual in a world where change is perceived to be the watchword.
"Some things have changed," he observed, "but the more things change, the more the industry looks the same."Like all businesses, how you make money is the most important aspect. "When you look back," he continued, "the only revenue growth for eda came when new technologies were introduced and methodologies were adopted. Otherwise, eda was a very stable, slow growing business." But that slow growth has been punctuated with the arrival of new technologies and, with it, spikes in revenues.
"During the last decade, the things that have generated all the revenue growth have been design for manufacture (dfm), particularly resolution enhancement, electronic system level design and formal verification. Together, these have contributed 80% of the growth in revenues.
"In the previous decade," he recalled, "customer owned tooling fuelled growth; routers, for example. But once everyone had tools, the growth slowed to the increase in the number of users."
Looking back, he sees the 1970s as the decade of pcb design and the 1980s as the one of asic design. What does he see in the future? "The thing that's changed now – and will continue to change – is systems and software. Automation of system design will become important as systems get ever larger," he said, "and UML and Matlab approaches are working their way downwards."
But the traditional eda world isn't going away. "While today's offerings aren't seeing rapid growth, they still require a lot of effort to adjust them to new technologies, particularly 28 and 20nm designs. There will be some growth, but we need to extend existing capabilities; optical lithography, for example."
What is Mentor doing to help chip designers in the future? "We're adjusting our tools to handle 3d die stacking, for example," Rhines offered, "and some of that will require us to develop new capabilities."
Functional verification will also become increasingly important. "But we will have to play more and more tricks in order to verify tomorrow's chips."
Another issue which all eda companies are grappling with is power; specifically low power. "The big thing for the future will be low power," he contended, "starting at the system level."
What does Rhines make of the spread of foundries? How has this affected the eda world? "Technology is being made more widely available through foundries," he conceded, "and the number of companies using foundries is growing. This is having a positive effect on design. Chip design used to be a function of process technology; now, everyone has access to the same technology and at the same cost."
But he noted that, by making technology available to a broader range of companies, foundries are creating new challenges for the eda industry. "How do we support foundries so they can support their customers?," he asked.
Rhines contended that, while eda has always been design focused, the industry is now becoming manufacturing focused. "Design has always dominated eda revenues," he said, "but, in the last decade, dfm and resolution enhancement have become an important part of eda. In fact, resolution enhancement is now a $200million market."
For the future, Rhines sees opportunities in system design and he is not alone amongst eda companies in targeting this new market. "We're entering an era where system design and traditional pcb design will be growth areas. Users can now automate more and more of system design and automation of system design will become a big growth area."
He believes that the complexity of pcb design is changing dramatically because of the higher speeds involved and the high packaging density of components. "But we've always had complexity at the box and the system levels. The difference now is that users can abstract more of that complexity. With more automation of the design process, the way in which systems are being designed is changing."
Rhines said the eda industry had, traditionally, not dealt with system companies, except at the pcb design level. "EDA is becoming the solution to designing the system," he claimed.
In particular, he sees offering the ability to trade power and performance at the system level being important.
EDA companies have been renowned for voracious acquisition of start ups in the past. But Rhines is adamant the number of eda companies continues to grow. "The market share of the 'big three' has stayed the same for 15 years – 75% – and we expect that to continue. The growth of new companies makes eda a dynamic industry and, although there is less venture capital available to support start ups, the number of companies selling design software continues to increase."
Admitting the eda industry is 'not as healthy as it was', Rhines believes a recovery in demand for chips will soon be followed by an upturn in eda's fortunes. "EDA lags the recovery in demand. Companies need to feel comfortable before they return to their previous levels of spending. But the major opportunity for growth will come from systems and embedded software," he concluded.
Walden Rhines is chairman and chief executive officer of Mentor Graphics.
Prior to joining Mentor as president and ceo in 1993, Rhines was executive vice president of Texas Instruments' Semiconductor Group, with direct responsibility for revenues of more than $5billion and more than 30,000 people.
Along with managing TI's entry into the dsp market, he was responsible for development of the first TI speech synthesis devices and is the coinventor of the GaN blue-violet light emitting diode.