Santa Cruz, Calif. -- Any EDA vendor or large EDA user will tell you there's a compelling need for a standard way to express power-management intent throughout the IC design flow. The problem is that two separate groups are working toward that objective, amid profound disagreements over how to get there.
In one corner is Cadence Design Systems' Power Forward Initiative, launched in May to develop a Common Power Format (CPF) across the design flow (see May 22, page 1). At its launch, Power Forward consisted of Cadence and seven user companies--AMD, ARM, ATI Technolo- gies, Fujitsu, Freescale, NEC and TSMC. No other EDA vendors were involved, and Cadence representatives said other companies would be able to join only after the conclusion, in January 2007, of a six-month initial development effort.
At last month's Design Automation Conference, meanwhile, Texas Instruments and Nokia initiated a meeting to launch what proponents promise will be an "open, inclusive and fast" low-power standards initiative. Represented at the DAC meeting were ARM, STMicroelectronics, Philips, Sun, Synopsys, Magma Design Automation, Mentor Graphics and Atrenta--as well as Cadence.
Just prior to DAC, Cadence had announced that other EDA vendors would be welcome to join a Power Forward advisory group, through which they would have access to the CPF 1.0 specification, expected in January, and could work with other initiative members on further standardization. But Cadence's closest competitors--Synopsys, Mentor Graphics and Magma--have thus far rejected the overture.
Things didn't get better after DAC. Jan Willis, senior vice president for industry alliances at Cadence, said her company wasn't invited to follow-up discussions for the low-power initiative that took shape at DAC. "How can a group call themselves open and inclusive, and not invite Cadence?" she asked.
Willis asserted that Power Forward also intends to be "quick, open and inclusive." While competitors such as Synopsys and Mentor Graphics have not responded to the invitation to join, she said, Power Forward is "actively engaged" with numerous other companies and is getting positive feedback on its technical direction.
Power analysis tool provider Sequence Design plans to join Power Forward, said Sequence CEO Vic Kulkarni. "We're looking forward to having formal meetings with Cadence to understand all the rules of engagement, and we will be pushing toward openness and neutrality," he said.
But backers of the DAC-launched low-power initiative generally say Power Forward isn't inclusive or fast enough. The original Power Forward timetable calls for a 2.0 release for early adopters in mid-2007, with plans to go before a standards body in 2008. The new initiative, by contrast, aims for a proposal by the end of this year and hopes to choose a standards body this month, said Mike Fazeli, EDA strategies manager at Texas Instruments Inc.
Fazeli said TI helped organize the DAC meeting because "we want to have an open standard, and we want it to happen quickly and we want it to be inclusive." While there were concerns about Power Forward's openness, Fazeli said, Cadence has indicated it will open Power Forward.
"We want Cadence to be part of this [new] effort," Fazeli said.
Willis insisted Power Forward is in fact open to other EDA vendors, and she said Cadence does not hold veto power. But could those vendors actually see anything before Jan. 31?
"That's what we're working through," Willis said. "I think we can find a way they can see it without having the risk of splintering before we even have a common base."
Some Cadence EDA competitors aren't buying the claim that Power Forward is open. "If they portray it as an industry standard, I think they missed the mark on that, and they've established something that's totally a nonstarter for Mentor Graphics," said Dennis Brophy, director of strategic business development at Mentor.
At the outset, Brophy said, other EDA vendors weren't invited to join Power Forward. "Now a select few are invited, but they're unable to hear, listen, see, participate in or contribute" to the group's activities, he said.
Power Forward functions like a "monarchy," said Yatin Trivedi, director of partnership programs at Magma. "We provide advice, we are kept at arm's length, and if they like it they accept it."
Despite the addition of the Power Forward advisory group, "there is no acceleration for when an EDA vendor can see the spec, and there is no change in the ability to influence that first spec," said Rich Goldman, vice president for strategic market development at Synopsys.
Willis said Power Forward is considering an "accelerated transfer" of the specification to a standards body in 2007. Asked if the original timetable will change, she responded, "Stay tuned."
Power isn't the only area where Cadence and archrival Synopsys are butting heads over standards. Cadence has declined to join the Synopsys-backed Liberty library format technical advisory board (TAB) in the Silicon Integration Initiative (Si2), and Synopsys won't join Cadence and other vendors in a separate Si2 effort to come up with a standard library format for statistical timing analysis.
"There may be less cooperation in the EDA industry [now] than we've seen in the past 10 years," said Gary Smith, chief EDA analyst at Gartner Dataquest."I don't think it's primarily a competition issue. It's more of an arrogance factor."
Si2 president Steve Schulz has cast his group in the role of peacemaker, offering its services to both power initiatives. "I'm hoping that things are early enough in the process that we can pull the parties together," he said. "Only through convergence can we really achieve adoption success."
Standard power format
A power specification is needed, observers say, because there currently is no standard way to express power specifications throughout the design flow.
But Power Forward isn't just about standard file formats, said Chi-Ping Hsu, corporate vice president for synthesis and power at Cadence. It's about a description of low-power design intent, and it's intended to work across the design, implementation and verification flow.
Willis, meanwhile, said that while Cadence has a "clear path" forward, the effort launched at DAC has "very unrealistic expectations" about the timetable it's outlined. "There isn't an entity managing this, no standards body has been selected, and no legal agreements are in place," she said.
Nevertheless, Willis said, his company hopes the two power initiatives will converge into one, and toward that end Cadence is "actively engaged in discussions with other interested parties. It is very much our hope and intent to get the industry to one standard."
Backers of the new effort have clear ideas about what they want. "Inclusive means that everyone is able to participate and contribute, and there's equal vendor influence," TI's Fazeli said. "Quick basically means we need to have something available this year. We cannot wait for a lengthy process where results are going to be known a year or two from now."
While there is currently no structure or even an official name for the new effort, participants are beginning to hold weekly meetings and hope to select a standards organization this month, Fazeli said. Current choices include Si2 and Accellera. Then it's a matter of setting up a technical subcommittee and getting to work.
Fazeli acknowledged that the timetable is "aggressive" but said it's doable, since participants will leverage existing "best practices" rather than reinvent the wheel. One approach, he suggested, would be to extend the Liberty library format--a task that Synopsys' Goldman said is already under way for power management.
Asked whether he and other participants hope the new effort will merge with Power Forward to create one standard, Fazeli replied, "Absolutely, without a doubt."
Accellera chairman Shrenik Mehta said his organization may be able to help with the new effort, providing the necessary legal structure for the organization.
Likewise, said Schulz, Si2 is offering its services. "I think someone needs to step up to the plate with leadership to try and bring this convergence as quickly as possible, and I think Si2 is pretty well-positioned to do this," he said.
Synopsys' Goldman is confident things will work out in the end.
"We've seen this movie before," he said, "and we know how it plays out. The bulk of the industry eventually gets behind one effort, and everybody supports it."