Yesterday Cadence announced the release of its latest product in the Kit family it created almost three years ago. This one is aimed to provide a packaged solution for SoC functional verification and it is the fifth entry in this product family.
If you visit Cadence's web site you will find that: "Cadence Kits simplify the application of EDA technology and overcome design productivity and predictability challenges in a market environment where the price of failure is much higher than ever before."
A kit generally consists of three components: IP blocks, methods, and consulting services. As a former executive with an EDA company, I think Kits are a brilliant marketing invention. They offer a structured channel to sell IP and consulting services which may otherwise be more difficult to sell, and they tie the customer to the company more closely than what a tool license can do. By selling a kit you make your customer your partner: the customer design flow is modified to be friendly to your products, your way of approaching a specific design problem, and its employees establish a dependency bond with your consulting services staff. It cannot get any better for the sales rep: tools license renewal is practically a done deal once the customer buys a kit.
For customers who need a quick fix in order to get to market in a timely manner, kits are a good invention as well: the kit is a recipe you can follow to blend various elements into a flow: no need to experiment and, consequently, pay for mistakes. The fact that the kit may not be the best solution, or the best way to use one's engineering resources, becomes secondary when compared with the imperative to get to market in time: the cost of inefficiency is likely to be less than the cost of missing the window.
I believe that Cadence intends to provide a service to the design community through its kits, there is nothing devious or sinister here. But I wonder if the Law of Unintended Consequences is not a play here. Design engineers are, or used to be, a proud crowd who use their creativity, knowledge, and experience to solve the most challenging of design issues. They are professional individual contributors who engage in daily acts of discovery. But there are few of them, in comparison to the avalanche of consumer products that can be sold to the gadget hungry masses with increasing access to discretionary income. We "know" everyone needs a $500 wireless phone.
The only way to quickly increase the number of designers available is to lower the quality. Worldwide design teams working to develop the next product 24/7 could insure shorter design times, if they just could do it right. Enter the kit: follow the recipe and you too can be a line chef, turning out exquisite dishes following a recipe you might not fully understand or appreciate. And if something goes wrong, blame the EDA tool and purchase more consulting. And so we outsource design jobs, especially verification jobs, because we can use less experienced (read less expensive) engineers who also can follow directions without questioning them. Anyone who has had to manage highly creative engineers knows how difficult they can be: they challenge you to think, to justify directions, to allow flexibility that often requires adapting corporate rules to specific situations. This is hard and, unfortunately, the number of managers that can perform these tasks successfully is far less than what is required.
Electronics companies are growing more dependent on their EDA vendors each month as design problems get more complex. Creative engineers grow frustrated and leave, or worse yet, join the "borg" of complacency. The result is that the concentration of EDA revenues among the four leading companies will increase and the opportunity of a startup to break into a design methodology instituted through a kit-like approach will decrease to practically nothing. I cannot draw any ethical conclusions about the trend: it is neither good nor bad, but it is real and we should understand what the direction of the industry is in order to avoid unproductive regrets later on.