Innovation is the lifeblood of the EDA industry, and it is only because of innovation from many sources – including academia and industry – that modern IC design is possible at all. Today at Cadence (Nov. 3, 2009), we are celebrating Cadence Innovation Day. As such, it seems like a good time to consider the “greatest” innovations that shaped our industry.
Also this week, the EDA Consortium will present the 16th annual Phil Kaufman award to Prof. Randal Bryant, whom I interviewed for a recent Industry Insights blog. This award is the EDA industry’s highest honor, and a look at the past 16 award winners provides some good background into the history of EDA innovation.
Here are my nominations (not necessarily in order) for the “greatest moments in EDA innovation.” Any further suggestions are welcome.
1. Spice simulation
Spice (Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis) was one of the very first EDA programs, and it’s still the gold standard today for analog and custom circuit simulation. Spice was derived from a program called Cancer, which came out of a class project led by Prof. Ron Rohrer (2002 Kaufman award winner). Prof. Donald Peterson (1995 Kaufman award winner) oversaw the Cancer rewrite that became Spice, which was first publicly presented in 1973.
2. Verilog HDL
The Verilog language ushered in the present era of language-based IC design, and made RTL synthesis and simulation possible. Verilog was developed by Phil Moorby, 2005 Kaufman award winner, at Gateway Design Automation in the early 1980s. When former Cadence CEO Joe Costello won the Kaufman award in 2004, one reason cited was Cadence’s 1989 purchase of Gateway and subsequent opening of Verilog for standardization.
3. Multi-level logic synthesis
Nearly all complex digital circuits are designed with logic synthesis today. Synthesis was first applied to two-level logic with programs such as Espresso. However, a breakthrough in multi-level synthesis was required to make the technology practical for contemporary IC design. That came about in the 1980s through efforts such as IBM’s Yorktown Silicon Compiler project and the MIS and SIS programs from U.C. Berkeley. Prof. Robert Brayton, 2007 Kaufman award winner, and Prof. Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli, 2001 Kaufman award winner and Cadence board member, collaborated in the development of Espresso, MIS and SIS.
4. Automated IC layout
Today’s ICs could not be designed without placement and routing software. Prof. Ernest Kuh, who was at U.C. Berkeley from 1956 to 1993, helped lay the groundwork for IC physical design in the 1970s and 1980s. He won the 1998 Phil Kaufman award for his foundational work in circuit layout theory, partitioning, floorplanning, placement and routing.
5. Structured VLSI design
EDA innovation is not just about tools and algorithms – it’s about methodologies. Prof. Carver Mead, winner of the 1996 Phil Kaufman award, is known not only for his work in areas such as silicon compilation, but also as the co-author along with Lynn Conway of “Introduction to VLSI Design” in 1980. This seminal book set forth a structured methodology for the design of large-scale ICs.
The innovators mentioned above have set a high bar to follow. But given the emphasis that Cadence is placing on innovation and R&D, it just could be that someone at today’s innovation awards ceremony will follow in their footsteps.