EDA bashing is a sport that requires an enlarged ego, little initial investment, a small amount of skill, and a considerable lack of creativity.
It seems that lately if you want to be considered an authority on the EDA industry you must be negative about it, in fact you must say the most pessimistic thing you can muster about its technology, its finances, and its prospects. I agree that there is plenty of reasons to be depressed, yet no one ever constructed a recovery on negativism. Are we doing the best we can? Of course not, otherwise all would have been accomplished and we should go find something else to do. Are there future opportunities? of course there are. I will give you one hint: redefine "system level".
And yet, examples of what not to do, or what symptoms of inpending death one can diagnose, abound. Here are three examples of negativism that have people talking.
Traditional advertising is brain dead
It started of course almost two years ago, when advertising sales figures met the reality of costs in the publishing industry. Cost of supplies, manpower and distributions continued to increase, while advertising revenue began to decline.
The self annointed pundits began a campaign to find and chastise the culprit. The first fellon to be shamed were the EDA companies themselves, accused of not advertising enough. I certainly do not want to indiscriminately defend the marketing organizations of EDA vendors. I agree they can, and should, do better and be more efficient in communicating their message, including using advertising.
But to say that EDA vendors are the only one curtailing advertising is false. Gannett, the largest U.S. newspaper publisher, just reported a fourth quarter 2008 profit drop of 36% as advertising sales declined. To my knowledge they do not handle any advertising for EDA vendors.
Then the culprit became the established media, especially after the layoffs that inevitably followed the significant decrease of profit margins. It is not possible to defend all of the layoffs, just as it is not possible to condemn all of them. None were done in malice, that is a fact. None were justified by the impending death of EDA. In fact, the decline in advertising spending by EDA companies was a very small percentage of the loss of revenue. Semiconductor companies and systems companies cut their advertising much more significantly. Traditional communication channels have been damned as ineffective and untrustworthy, and we are now told that "social media" is the answer. So far those who advocate such solution have still to show how they can make a living socializing with their peers. For myself, only a small portion of my social network cares about EDA, so I propose that we can begin to shed some light on the issue by correctly labeling the communication network: it is a "professional" network we want to construct, not a "social" one. The fact that proponents advocate the use of tools like Utube and Facebook, built for the enjoyment of teenagers with under developed social skills, should not be allowed to degenerate professional electronic communications to the "social" level.
It turns out that even a superficial look at the established media shows that it is changing with the time and it is using electronic communication mechanisms to modernize the way it serves its audience. I find it amusing when the loudest detractors cheer when a certain publication stops printing on paper and goes electronic: they see the event as another proof of their newly found wisdom. The "I told you so" crowd should realize that the established publication is becoming one of their most difficult competitor in the market they hope to create for themselves.
The EDA vendors are brain dead
In my Inbox today was the January issue of the eSilicon Newsletter. In it Jack Harding, the CEO of this fabless company, writes a periodic column, I guess someone would want to call it a blog, and this month's title is: "Save me from EDA". I will spare you the full text of the piece, which actually is a promotional message for eSilicon, but I want to quote one sentence from it.
" The answer is the business model. EDA is a tax in the supply chain. EDA companies are the only members of the semiconductor community that require payment regardless of success."
This is a fact, although I would like to know if a semiconductor company gets its money back when yields go significantly down because some fabrication machine fails. Yes I know there are warranties but they are just another form of the EDA maintenance agreement. And the warranty only covers repairs, not lost production or revenue.
But this is not the point. The writer is the same Jack Harding that was the CEO at Cadence when that company was the undisputed leader in the EDA industry. And in case you think that Jack Harding's experience in EDA was short lived, before Cadence he was CEO of Cooper & Chyan Technology and before that executive vice-president at Zycad.
Didn't he know then that the business model was flawed? He certainly did not try to change it when he had the opportunity. Now he calls the business model flawed to warn electronic system companies not to purchase EDA tools and instead subcontract the development work to eSilicon, who, like the good Samaritan it is, will gladly pay the EDA tax in order to save the semiconductor industry from certain financial ruin.
EDA is (brain) dead
It is a fact the DVCon is one of the very few EDA conferences that has seen growth in the last couple of years. Its importance is growing, the quality of its technical program is excellent, and it has even found a way to retire the John Cooley panel. This panel started out as a very informative, controversial, and entertaining event in EDA, but it aged as all human things do, and lately it had lost most of its positive attributes.
But what does the organizing committee do instead? Propose a panel with a very negative title: "EDA: dead or alive?"
The description on the panel, as distributed in the press release, is less than inspiring, as you can judge for yourself.
"The EDA industry is suffering from a severe case of schizophrenia. One half of the EDA Brain Trust says the industry is Brain Dead, the other half says there's nothing but Good Times ahead. Can we actually have it both ways? Is the industry stuck in the past with legacy tools, customers, and mindsets ? Or is there really an exhilarating future ahead? Ten years from now, will a re-energized EDA industry be generating billions and billions of dollars with third-party tools for cutting-edge technologies and expanded markets?
Or, will there even be an EDA industry ten long years from now?"
Since the seven panelists are all either CEO's, Presidents, or GMs, of EDA companies, of which two are publicly traded, it would certainly be newsworthy if they reached consensus on the death of EDA. Then at least we would know with certainty who is brain dead. I am afraid that Peggy Aycinena, the panel moderator, will have her hands full in generating any controversy from the group, made up of people who either cannot say anything controversial due to SEC rules, or have a vested financial interest in cashing in before the "death" happens.
It is a given that EDA ten years from now will be different: change is a fundamental requisite of life. But then again, the semiconductor industry today is not the same it was ten years ago either. Did anyone in the DVCon executive committee notice that there is a world wide recession? Did any of them figure out that the same question can be asked of the automotive industry (and not only in the U.S.), or of the banking industry? Agility just closed its doors not because its products were of poor quality, or because it had a flawed pricing model, but because it could not obtain additional financing from the normal sources of capital.
One thing the DVCon program got right: The EDA industry is suffering. But it is not schizophrenia; it is the fact that the world economy is based on consumerism; and consumers have run out of both appetite and money. What the panel makeup confirms is the tendency of EDA to look only inside for solutions. We are afraid of what we do not know and, with very few exceptions, unwilling to invest in learning about non-silicon based markets. To paraphrase Star Trek: there are other forms of life that are symbiotic to the silicon based one."
Let's go where no EDA has gone before!