Software as a Service (SaaS) for EDA applications has been a hot topic lately, but most of the discussion has been theoretical. Cadence Design Systems’ implementation of SaaS brings some practical experience to the discussion.
Software as a Service is a concept in which applications are hosted remotely as a service, and provided to customers across the Internet, as opposed to traditional software licenses that run on a customer’s compute infrastructure. SaaS has great appeal because it can reduce both software and hardware costs, more closely match immediate customer needs, and get companies up and running quickly with new design environments. The most commonly cited challenges are data security and bandwidth.
The issues, advantages and challenges of SaaS have been well documented elsewhere. Within the Cadence Community, Joseph Hupcey’s blog includes a three-part review of a recent SaaS and cloud computing panel at DVCon 2009. Harry “The ASIC Guy” Gries has run a number of postings on SaaS, the Xuropa blog has covered it extensively, and Gary Smith recently posted an Industry Note on the topic. I’ll thus confine my commentary here to what has been learned from the Cadence experience.
Cadence announced its Hosted Design Solutions last September. This SaaS solution provides web-based access to Cadence EDA software, but it’s not just a random collection of tools users can rent on an ad-hoc basis. Rather, it provides pre-configured or configurable solutions in areas including custom IC design, logic design, physical implementation, advanced low-power design, and functional verification. Tools are validated to ensure they’ll work within a service-oriented architecture. The intent, said Vishal Kapoor, group director of services marketing at Cadence, is to create a user experience no different from that of running locally hosted software.
The EDA applications, along with the design database, are hosted in a worldwide network of Cadence data centers. Access is through a tool bar built on top of a Citrix client. Tools are not “metered” but are licensed for time periods of one quarter or more.
So what’s been learned from Hosted Design Solutions? The first point, Vishal said, is that there’s widespread interest in SaaS. “We went in with a healthy caution about how well it would resonate, but it is defintely a model customers resonate with, especially in this economic climate,” he said. Cadence initially thought startups would be the most interested companies, but found that existing companies – both small and large – are considering SaaS as well, he said.
The ability to rapidly set up a new design environment has turned out to be a big plus for SaaS. For one startup, Cadence was able to set up a design environment in two days.
Vishal said that customers have had initial concerns about the security of their design data, but those concerns are quickly resolved when he explains the hardware and software security features that are used at the Cadence data centers. This security “is not something startups or smaller companies have right off the bat,” he noted.
While batch tools are intuitively the tools that would work best in a SaaS model, Cadence has found that interactive tools with GUIs can also work well, Vishal noted. But customers need sufficient bandwidth – you can’t sit on a beach with a 1600 baud connection and expect good results.
The “service” component of SaaS should not be ignored. As implemented by Cadence, SaaS comes with a lot of support and consulting. Again, it’s not just about throwing some point tools onto a web server -- it’s about developing a combination of tools and services that will provide a comprehensive solution.
Issues like data security and bandwidth can ultimately be resolved by technology. The real question, in my view, is whether EDA users view in-house CAD design infrastructures as something that differentiates their companies. If not, parts of that infrastructure can be “outsourced” through SaaS. The real differentiation comes from the engineers – not the servers and data centers that run their tools.