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Issue 4, 2011

Standards Column
Four Reasons Why Synopsys Supports Industry Standards

An analogy of “three big dogs hovering over a bowl of dog food” has been used to explain one of the business challenges of the electronics design automation (EDA) industry. This oft-cited quote is attributed to Cadence's founder and first CEO, Mr. Joe Costello, describing how EDA had become a fixed-pie industry on a panel at the Design Automation Conference (DAC) in 1995. For history buffs the amusing response from Synopsys' CEO – then and now – Dr. Aart de Geus, was “If you think of yourself as a dog, you only deserve dog food!” Surely, the quote was highlighted out of context, but it leaves one with a nagging question. How does an industry go about growing the pie (in this case, the EDA market) rather than redistributing a fixed pie?

There are many proven business strategies for growing the market, and employing technical standards is certainly one of them. Besides increasing the pie, standards bring other benefits to the EDA industry, which is why Synopsys invests considerable time, expertise, and money into the development and support of industry standards.

Growing the Pie
An ecosystem built around technologies that are based on standards has many advantages. Even while recognizing Apple's successful strategy of controlling the entire ecosystem, one must realize that all those consumer devices connect through well-known technical standards such as Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11n) and USB, and the iPhone connects through several different phone carriers. It will be interesting to see whether Android can topple Apple again like the IBM PC compatibles did decades ago.

Standards — specifically, standards-based interoperability – enable two or more industries or industry segments to interact with each other to provide a customer desired and complete solution, thereby growing and benefiting each of the industries. However, the mere creation or existence of a standard does not by itself grow the market. In fact, until it is widely adopted, it is difficult to say whether there is actually a standard or not. To produce an actual standard, adoption of the standard needs to be shepherded through product introductions, education, books, conferences, white papers, and so on. It is also necessary to nurture new business models, forge partnerships, and continue on an evolutionary roadmap for a period of time before it becomes apparent that the use of certain technology has become a standard. The length of this time varies by industry and degree of difficulty to implement the standard, but in the EDA industry it is usually at least two years.

A good example of an EDA standard that grew the pie is SystemVerilog. Based on contributed technologies, it took (arguably) about three years to complete before design teams started to adopt it seriously. At present, there are at least 125 products, solutions, and training offerings that make up the SystemVerilog-enabled market.

Clearly, the benefits of standards are applicable not only to Synopsys, but also to its customers and partners, as well as to competitors and the industry-at-large. So let's differentiate between the benefits of standards in general and those derived by Synopsys as a supplier to the semiconductor industry. Synopsys sees these advantages:

  • Establishing and maintaining technology leadership
  • Discovering complete solutions for our customers in collaboration with key industry players
  • Enabling innovations on top of maturing technologies rather than reinventing the wheel

Though some of the benefits Synopsys derives from these activities can be realized by others, it requires a long-term vision and commitment. Let us consider each of these benefits in greater detail and explain Synopsys' participation in the corresponding activity.

Technology Leadership
The first “commandment” from the book, The Ten Commandments of Effective Standards by Karen Bartleson, states “Collaborate on standards, compete on tools”. We definitely practice what we preach. We collaborate with wide-ranging players in the industry on standards issues. That includes competitors, partners, and customers – typically in a Standards Development Organization (SDO) such as IEEE or Standards-Setting Organization (SSO) like Accellera. Through such participation, we often find that our efforts to solve some of the customers' problems are exactly the same as our competitors'. In fact, at times, the customers who are participating in standards activities are asking us to solve the same problem they are asking the other tool suppliers to solve. In many cases, standards-based collaborative efforts are far more efficient than one vendor working directly with each customer or trying to solve the problem using three-way non-disclosure agreements. The Universal Verification Methodology (UVM) and Unified Power Format (UPF) under Accellera (which is now IEEE Std.1801) are great examples of standards helping solve much larger problems across the broad industry than what individual companies could do on their own.

Such efforts are often led with technology donations from Synopsys, such as with the core of SystemVerilog, register package in UVM, and several low-power technologies for UPF. Donation (in standards parlance, “contribution”, to differentiate it from money) of production-proven technologies helps align the tool developers and IP providers with the customers in the most effective and expedient manner. As customers and non-customers become aware of the public standards based on our technology, not only does it continue to build Synopsys' technical leadership and respect for our technologists, but it also provides the opportunity for adoption of our tools and methodologies because they are standards-compliant. This is a good reason for Synopsys to be actively involved in standards activities.

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Collaborative Solutions
Standards-based collaborative efforts help solve a broad range of problems. Whether Synopsys technology alone is being donated to be considered as part of a standard or it is one of several contributions, the goal is always to look for ways the new standard will help solve a range of problems. As a solutions provider, Synopsys certainly has insight into some of the use models that will benefit from the new standard. However, often times, other participants in the SDO bring additional requirements for the new standard to support use models that were previously not considered.

For example, Synopsys made the Liberty format for technology library modeling - also known as .lib — an open standard more than a decade ago. As process technology continues to advance from 90-nanometer (nm) towards 14nm, many new features have been added to the Liberty format to represent corresponding abstractions for design and analysis tools. Operating under the IEEE-ISTO as the Liberty Technical Advisory Board (LTAB), a group of experts with a vested interest manages the evolution of the Liberty format. The group continues to tap into Synopsys' expertise which is made readily available. Most recently, the group discussed and approved several new features to help model low-power cells, which are critical to the success of mobile devices. Similarly, in the analog domain, interoperable physical design kits (PDKs) are the result of collaborative efforts under the Interoperable PDK Libraries (IPL) alliance.

The collaborative effort between semiconductor foundries, fabless design houses, semiconductor IP providers, and EDA tool vendors (several others besides Synopsys) is continuing to benefit the entire industry. It also helps Synopsys maintain close ties with the entire semiconductor ecosystem to better understand upcoming requirements and challenges — and to be the first to provide innovative solutions.

Enabling Innovations
Another aspect about standards that is often missed is that standards help enable innovation. Many people confuse standards activities with stifling innovation because standards provide precise specification. They mistakenly believe that once a standard is defined (or accepted) in the industry, all other ‘proprietary' alternatives are doomed and no further innovation is possible. This cannot be farther from the truth. In fact, having a standard – particularly an open standard — allows the entire industry to come to an agreement about common abstractions, representations, or terminologies so that the communication of certain problems and solutions becomes easier and less susceptible to misinterpretation.

EDA standards such as Hardware Description Languages (HDLs) have helped innovation in the semiconductor industry. These language standards did more than just raise the level of design abstraction to help enhance productivity; that was the benefit in the early days when the industry was migrating away from schematic-based design. The HDLs – initially Verilog and VHDL – allowed designers to think in terms of functions rather than structures, thereby moving designs from thousands of gates to millions of gates. The innovation came in many forms – from design and analysis tools to methodologies and global teams working around-the-clock on large projects. More recently, SystemVerilog has allowed us to think in terms of object-oriented verification environments for the ever-increasingly complex SoCs. The success of a “reuse paradigm”, both for design and verification IPs and the SoCs that are designed with them, is due in part to the standardization of HDLs and HDL-based methodologies.

From a different perspective, Synopsys is also a beneficiary of design standards such as PCI, USB, Wi-Fi and several other communication protocols/interfaces. As a leader in the IP business, we are able to provide standards-based design and verification IP to help our customers accelerate their product schedules. Availability of standards-based, verified components allows the precious skilled engineering resources to be focused on building innovative and differentiated products instead of reinventing the wheel of implementing standard interfaces. Our participation in the groups that create and maintain these standards means we supply IPs that are compliant with the approved specifications, and we help enable interoperability between devices adhering to the corresponding standard.

From our very beginning, Synopsys' business has benefited from using HDL standards as input to our tools, be it synthesis or simulation. Working with our customers and the entire semiconductor ecosystem, we have developed standards-based tools and methodologies to help ensure that each design moves from concept to silicon and then into a system (an end product) in the most efficient manner. We continue to invest in standardization efforts, lead with new and innovative technologies, and collaborate with customers, partners, and competitors alike to build strong platforms that enable the advancement of innovation.


About the Authors

Karen Bartleson is senior director of Community Marketing at Synopsys. She has been active in the EDA business since 1980 when she joined TI's Design Automation Department after graduating from Cal Poly. Karen joined Synopsys in 1995 and since then has focused much of her attention on EDA standards. She is the 2012 President-Elect of the IEEE Standards Association.

Yatin Trivedi is director of Standards and Interoperability Programs at Synopsys. He represents Synopsys on the Standards Education Committee (SEC) of the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA), the Board of Directors of IEEE Industry Standards and Technology Organization (IEEE-ISTO), and the Board of Directors of Accellera. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Standards Education Committee eZine, vice chair of Design Automation Standards Committee (DASC), and member of IEEE-SA's NesCom and AudCom governance committees. He represents Synopsys on several standards committees and manages interoperability initiatives as part of the corporate marketing strategic alliances group. He also works closely with the Synopsys University program.


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