SANTA CRUZ, Calif. At a "build or buy" panel discussion at the recent DesignCon, vendor representatives predictably raised a number of arguments against in-house tool development. If you write your own tools, they said, it takes a lot of time, you'll have bugs and it probably isn't your area of expertise. It may be a more-difficult and expensive proposition than you envision.
Long-term support may emerge as the most critical problem. As one panelist noted, in-house CAD organizations do well with tool support so long as the person who wrote the tool is around. When that person leaves, so does the knowledge of how to fix the tool.
And yet, there seems to be an increasing trend toward internal tool development. According to Gartner Dataquest figures, 27 percent of chip designers were using in-house tools last year, an increase over previous years. There are "power users" who have always used in-house tools, but they constitute about 10 percent of the total design population. It thus seems that in-house development is moving to the mainstream.
But what kinds of tools? An EE Times survey last year found that 56 percent of responding chip designers use in-house tools, but when we asked them what they were using, 81 percent said "scripts" that drive other tools. Only 35 percent were using internal system-level modeling tools.
A user panelist at DesignCon commented that he really doesn't want to develop his own tools, but has to because capabilities are missing from the commercial market. The two areas he pointed to are electronic system-level (ESL) and design for manufacturing (DFM). While ESL often has application-specific requirements, DFM depends on hard-to-get process data from foundries.
If you're thinking of developing an in-house tool, and you don't have a huge in-house CAD operation, here are a few suggestions.
First, consider partnering with an EDA startup. There are plenty of those, especially in the ESL and DFM markets. Some have good people and good ideas. They may be able to help solve your problem for a relatively low cost as you help them refine their software.
Second, there are companies that specialize in helping people develop custom EDA software. One is SoftJin (Bangalore, India), which recently rolled out "building blocks" for custom DFM applications.
Finally, you may not need to start from scratch. There's a wealth of open-source EDA software in a number of tool categories. It may not solve your particular problem, but perhaps it can be used as a starting point.
EE Times online has a directory of open-source EDA software at http:// www.eet.com/news/design/ resources/opensourcelinks.html.
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