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DAC Panel: A Reality Check On Cloud Computing For EDA

Comments(2)Filed under: Industry Insights, DAC, SaaS, Hosted Design Solutions, Xuropa, Amazon, cloud, Kuehlmann, cloud computing, Griffith

Does IC design have a future "in the clouds?" Yes, according to panelists at last week's Design Automation Conference - but selectively, over a period of time. As attractive as cloud computing is, there are still technology challenges and tradeoffs, and the EDA licensing model for cloud computing has yet to be resolved.

The panel followed a keynote address in which Bernie Meyerson, vice president of innovation at IBM, predicted that cloud computing will become a "dominant" technology within the next 5 to 10 years. He showed how IBM is using a private cloud for its chip design work. There was enthusiasm in the panel, too, but panelists also gave full consideration to cloud computing challenges and limitations. The result was a very balanced, informative and thought-provoking two-hour panel discussion.

The panel was organized by Andreas Kuehlmann, director of Cadence Research Labs, and moderated by Raul Camposano, consultant and the recent CEO of Xoomsys, a SPICE simulation startup that used cloud computing. Panelists included Rean Griffith, U.C. Berkeley; Deepak Singh, manager of business development for Amazon Web Services; Paul Leventis, director of design automation at Altera; James Colgan, CEO of Xuropa; Samuel George, services group director at Cadence; and John Chilton, director of marketing at Synopsys.

First, Some Definitions

Rean Griffith is a co-author of a seminal paper on cloud computing, "Above the Clouds, a Berkeley View of Cloud Computing." It's thus fitting that he started the discussion by offering some definitions. In brief:

The cloud is the sum of datacenter hardware and software. There are public clouds, private clouds, and hybrid clouds that combine both public and private. Key advantages of the cloud are 1) the appearance of infinite computing resources, 2) elimination of up-front commitments, 3) ability to pay for resources on a short-term basis, 4) economies of scale, 5) higher utilization of resources, and 6) simplified operations.

Cloud computing is the combination of Software as a Service (SaaS) with utility computing. Within the cloud are multiple layers, including Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). Top two benefits are 1) elasticity of resources and 2) risk transfer (the cloud provider is responsible for capacity planning, not you).

What's Good About EDA in the Cloud

As you can imagine, Amazon's Deepak Singh had lots to say about the benefits of cloud computing. "It is very empowering to sit at a command line and be able to operate an entire infrastructure with hundreds of servers," he said. With message-based computing, he noted, the cloud will dynamically scale to meet the user's resource requirements with little or no human intervention.

Singh said Amazon Web Services - a large public cloud -- is built on top of core principles including availability, durability, scalability, elasticity, security, and effectiveness. Concerned about downtime? Singh said Amazon S3 data storage is designed to provide "11 9s" (99.999999999%) durability of objects over a given year, because objects are stored in multiple data centers. If you have 10,000 objects, you'll lose one every 10 million years.

James Colgan, CEO of cloud computing provider Xuropa, is also a strong advocate. He noted that Cadence has successfully been using Xuropa for about a year for pre-sales evaluation and demos of verification IP. Prospective users don't have to procure an evaluation license, line up IT resources, and download and install the IP and associated simulation tools before trying it out - and people at Cadence don't have to get on a plane.

Cloud computing, Colgan said, "is a great opportunity to lower overall costs for the EDA industry and to deliver great value to design engineers. As we continue our way along the technology adoption curve, we'll learn and adapt the business models and the licensing, and we'll solve the technical problems. Our job at Xuropa is to make it easy for engineers and EDA vendors to take advantage of what is really a huge, massive paradigm shift."

Samuel George of Cadence cited the "promise" of cloud computing, including infinite capacity, dynamic access to compute resources, no up-front commitments, and a "pay as you go" pricing model that matches demand. He noted that achieving this promise will require an economy of scale, as well as standard (but configurable) use models.

Today, George said, some companies employ both a central WAN and a cloud farm. Interactive work is done on the central WAN, while batch work is done on the cloud farm, which is remote from the user. "We take advantage of these two things internally and offer them to our customers," he said, noting the Cadence Hosted Design Solutions offering. What typically goes onto the cloud farm? Applications like physical verification, DFM checks, circuit simulation, and logic regression testing.

John Chilton noted that Synopsys, Cadence and other EDA vendors have offered SaaS applications for some years, but "today's cloud is different." He said that "EDA always utilizes the highest performance available compute platform. It now looks like computing is moving to the cloud. We in EDA had better figure out how to move our applications there."

The Dark Lining Behind the Silver Cloud

So what are the challenges? There are obvious concerns about data security whenever data goes across a firewall, but cloud providers such as Amazon provide extensive assurances about security. Answers do not come as easily when it comes to software licensing. Altera's Paul Leventis is skeptical about cloud computing, and that's one of the reasons. "Even if I suddenly had access to a million computers, cost elasticity is not supported by [EDA] licensing models today," he said. "EDA doesn't lend itself well to a SaaS model given the way most EDA tools work today."

Leventis said that EDA software is much more expensive than the hardware it runs on, and predicted that even if EDA moves to the cloud, he won't save money because EDA vendors don't want to reduce their revenues. Another drawback: EDA flows are heavily customized, and how do you move a customized flow into the cloud? But Leventis said he would like to use cloud computing to run massive regression tests in parallel, for infrequent access to "big iron" computing, and for infrequent access to "boutique tools" that it doesn't make sense to buy.

George identified some "tradeoffs" for cloud computing. These include a reliance on remote systems, the fact that data is off-site, reduced flexibility in design flows (because of the need to fit into a more standardized model), and pricing that varies based on the service level. Speaking of services, he noted that the current SaaS model "needs to be very specifically configured for your needs. Right now this does not work out of the box."

Chilton had a list of questions. How should I think about security? How do I handle multi-vendor flows? How do I get on and off the cloud? Which applications are a good fit? What's the business model? As to the latter question, he remarked that "customers have to believe it's fair, and we have to believe we have a business model that won't put us out of business."

A Conclusion

This panel provided a lot of food for thought. I came away thinking that cloud computing is a logical and inevitable step for many EDA and IP applications, but we need to go into it with an awareness of the questions and challenges it poses. The licensing model question is difficult, but I'm sure there are creative solutions. The DAC panel was an excellent start to a dialog that needs to continue and needs to involve the entire IC design ecosystem.

Richard Goering



By Kevin Cameron on June 24, 2010
A simple question to ask could be: does the cloud do for EDA vendors what Google-docs has done for Microsoft?
Good for some that there isn't an Open-Office equivalent.

By rgoering on June 25, 2010
Kevin -- I don't think the cloud is about "free" or cheap EDA software. It's about more efficient utilization of resources. EDA software is complex and expensive to develop, and unlike Microsoft Office, it serves a small, specialized audience. That dynamic won't change.

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