Another shoe has dropped in the DFM market with Cadence's acquisition of Clear Shape, a company Gary Smith has liked for months. The reasons for Gary's enthusiasm is that Clear Shape has approached DFM from the design side, while most other companies in that market have focused their efforts on the place and route functions. He has said:" The Clear Shape models work, without giving up the fab's process secrets. They have figured out how to do that in a secure way, without hackers being able to crack the encryption."
It remains to be seen how Cadence can integrate the Clear Shape methodology into its design flow and whether the addition of Clear Shape analysis will also improve the results from the previous acquisition of Invarium and its lithography optimization software.
The fact that at the 65 nm process node and further on designers need a fully integrated flow is no longer in question. They not only need tools they can trust and work well together, they need methods, they need a wideband communication channel that connects them to the foundry, the mask shop, the test equipment maker. All four leading EDA vendors are focusing on the post RTL problem and, in their own ways, all are doing a good job at it.
But, as the vagaries of the ESL market have shown, it is not enough to build tools for a specific market, the industry needs integration of local flows into a sustainable method that assures the integrity of the design from conception to manufacturing and test of the final die.
The question remains: how viable is the DFM market? How many independent companies can not only survive but also prosper in the market? Dave Reed, vice president of marketing and business development at Blaze DFM said:" DFM problem-reporting tools from vendors like Clear Shape are only valuable if they are incorporated into some other company's overall optimization solution, so this is a good move for them. Designers have a strong need for an overall electrical DFM solution that includes optimization. We continue to believe that the best solutions will come from pure-play electrical DFM companies that remain focused on this area." To me this means that he thinks of DFM as a logical separate step in the design process. If it is not integrated into a flow, then it is a mandatory side excursion that has to be integrated in order to be useful. By the events of the last twelve months it seems that Ponte Solutions, a company that has declined buyout opportunities, shares the opinion that independent companies can profit in the long run in the market.
Of course both companies might just be waiting for a better offer as the field of acquisition candidates gets smaller and smaller. After all, Mentor might still want to strengthen its newly acquired post RTL flow with DFM capabilities, and Magma might still be persuaded, through business situation, to make an acquisition in order to consolidate its control over major customers, something that obviously happened with Cadence. And, of course, let's not forget Synopsys. They have been unusually quiet lately, scoring a big win by capturing the Intel account, but they cannot be content to be number 2 for much longer. I do not believe the inner fire has left in the CEO office. The latest acquisition has not left the DFM market in any clearer shape but my suggestion to all small companies aspiring to be acquired: get Nitin Deo as your business development guy.