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We Need to Move "Past EDA": Tensilica Founder Rowen

Comments(10)Filed under: Cadence, EDA tool vendors, Electronic Design Automation, EDA tool companies, EDA tools, Top EDA companies, EDA, Tensilica, software design, EDA companies, ip, intellectual property ip, The Fuller View, Brian Fuller, Chris Rowen, microprocessors

AUSTIN, Texas—The EDA industry needs to move beyond EDA.

Sound counterintuitive? Not so much when the words come from the lips of Chris Rowen, the founder and CTO of Tensilica, and a guy I consider one of the most articulate observers of our industry.

And while it's counterintuitive, it's in fact not even at odds with EDA's traditional bread-and-butter proposition: tools to solve complex design problems.

Rowen, to be sure, has a unique seat from which to offer his views. Tensilica has been a longtime provider of data-plane processors in the IP space, where hardware meets software, where architects grapple with so many integration and design issues. Rowen sees Moore's law and its effect on SoC design (see embedded video outtake below) continuing to force specialization into and around that device. But as that happens in near real time, we can get lost in the weeds if we're not careful.  

"I would put it in crude terms of moving past EDA, past the focus of ‘this is how you do it' much more to today ‘this is what you should do.' Meaning, (EDA) is a lot more central to defining, architecting, building, programming these silicon platforms. And (it's) less about taking the architect's conception of it and doing the back-end implementation."

Up and Away

Over time, everybody in the electronics ecosystem moves up the abstraction ladder. For example, a systems company that started out supplying routers for a network becomes the network provider over time; its engineers increasingly focus on the network architecture and software layer and software services that run on their hardware. At that point, semiconductor vendors begin moving up to build systems and subsystems on silicon and help out those systems engineers with their hardware challenges.

That has implications a rung or two down the ladder.

Said Rowen, as we chatted during a quiet moment at the 50th Design Automation Conference:

"I do believe as the semiconductor guys have to move up and up in abstraction—they really are building the cell phones, they really are building the networks, the server farms, they're building things way up in that hierarchy—the question of the chip architecture can and should be left more and more to efficient suppliers who are able to fill in the holes."

 "Where exactly that line gets drawn between what the SoC architect at Intel, Qualcomm, Marvell, a HiSilicon does and what we as suppliers of infrastructure into their product is drawn, I don't know. It changes over time."

In those little vacuums, IP providers and EDA vendors will find enormous opportunity, Rowen believes.

He added:

"Not only are people going to be interested in subsystems, they're going to be interested in how the methodology wrapped around the subsystems becomes the methodology for the integration of the subsystems and therefore becomes the method by which you define, architect, program, build the chip."

At a busy DAC, his first since Cadence acquired Tensilica, that was what was on the mind of one of the industry's great technologist-poets. Rowen's not suggesting EDA abandon its core business, of course, but it never hurts to be reminded that in a relentlessly changing electronics world, rethinking one's strengths and opportunities should be just as relentless.

Here's a snippet from that conversation:

 
Brian Fuller
 
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