The announcement of the release of Precision Physical by Mentor got me to think about the market dynamics in EDA. (See Mentor). Competition in the EDA industry happens in three dimensions: engineering, marketing, and sales.
Competition in the engineering dimension is what justifies the existence of the EDA industry and what the industry prides itself of. New products that provides solutions to emerging problems are the engines that power startups and a measure of the vitality of the industry. But established companies also participate in developing new products and new functionality in existing products.
It is well known that EDA vendors compete in price on the sales front. In fact this competition is often blamed for the lower than wished for levels of revenue in the industry. You often read that a critical industry such as EDA should be able to command a greater portion of the profits its customers make in the electronics market. Licenses bundling, the need of new companies to break in the market, or even the desire to maintain market share by an established company, all contribute to price elasticity (as economists call it).
Marketing professionals are good at packaging functionality into products and at building levels of functionality in a product line to serve different market segments. They are also good at describing products to make them sound more advanced or more desirable.
The announcement of the release of Precision Physical by Mentor got me to think about the market dynamics in EDA.
Synplicity and Mentor are by far the largest independent providers of FPGA synthesis solutions. The Synplicity line is built around the Synplify family of products and has three entries: Synplify, Synplify Pro, and Synplify Premier. Yesterday, mentor launched its new entry into this market. It is built around the Precision family of products and now has three entries: Precision RTL, Precision RTL Plus, and Precision Physical. To say that the makeup of the new release is not accidental is to state the obvious.
Precision Physical was the missing link in the head-to-head competition between the two companies, and being the latest entry, it needed something special to attract attention.
The methods to implement place and route in ASIC differ drastically from those used in FPGA. A generic place and route product can be used with any foundry process by using a set of rules or guidelines to guide the tool to tailor the results to the characteristics of a specific process. Place and route of an FPGA is intrinsically connected with the fabric of the device, and therefore one cannot build an efficient physical synthesis product that is generic. In order to do a good job, the physical synthesis tool must work together with the proprietary place and route tool of the specific FPGA product family, and at times, the specific FPGA product.
My curiosity was stimulated when Mentor claimed to have a vendor independent physical synthesis product: Precision Physical. What engineering wonder was I to discover? What a major breakthrough was about to change the FPGA synthesis landscape?
My excitement was due to having chosen the wrong coordinate. The breakthrough was not from engineering, but from marketing. It turns out that Precision Physical achieves its vendor independence by packaging all the individual place and route solutions into one product. So no need for a Xilinx Virtex5 version of Precision Physical, or an Altera Stratix one. You get all of them in one product. if you happen to use devices from only one vendor: do not worry -- you never know what the future will bring.
So the world is back in symmetry: both Synplicity and Mentor have three products that compete head to head. I guess Mentor has the marketing advantage because no one from Synplicity has told me that Synplify Premier is vendor independent, but if I am wrong correction is sure to come. If I am not, a new version of Synplify Premier is just around the corner.