Clouds Roll Through Electronic Design Ecosystem

Design tool vendors, especially in the verification space, are starting to roll out cloud-based solutions. Cloud computing offers faster results, unlimited capacity during peak demand, elasticity to scale with that demand, and reduced capital expenditures.

As recently as five years ago, engineers did their personal banking and purchased almost everything online but wouldn’t consider loading their chip designs into the cloud.

Clouds are forming over the electronic product design ecosystem and finally rolling through, offering viable choices for on-demand, high-performance computing without the investment of capital and human resources traditionally needed to manage a captive server farm. The change in mindset of chip design and verification engineers is nothing short of remarkable and well worth exploring why.

While complexity has been an overused word associated with chip design for years now, it’s swirling hardware design into the cloud because semiconductor companies don’t necessarily have the hardware resources available to manage new, complex designs. One often-noted example is memory specifications that make manageable compile times impossible on a typical company-owned and -managed server farm. Security concerns that prevented the earlier adoption of cloud-based design are rapidly dissipating. Two other objections — adequate bandwidth and latency — have been addressed as well.

Advantages of cloud computing services for chip design and verification are clear, and design tool vendors, especially in the verification space, are starting to roll out cloud-based solutions. Cloud computing offers faster results, unlimited capacity during peak demand, elasticity to scale with that demand, and reduced capital expenditures. In many cases, the cloud offers more security than a company’s massive data center.

Reduced capital expenditure is a huge value derived from moving to the cloud. The ROI metric is easily applied to cloud computing and proves that it’s much less efficient to invest in new hardware than it is to leverage cloud resources, especially when they can be brought online rapidly.

Along with the various advantages of the cloud, however, comes a set of new challenges that upend traditional license management. That includes a pay-by-minute software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, a different business model for our industry, to improve resource utilization and engineering productivity. And even though cloud security is excellent, chip design and verification groups need to address changing data security practices.

Sorting through the cloud cover are IT managers responsible for maintaining the chip design environment and infrastructure that must be optimized for fast turnaround and efficient and secure operation 24/7. They are focused on the unique computing, license management, and storage needs of the electronic design community as use of cloud computing increases.

The move to the cloud does not go unnoticed by cloud providers Alibaba Cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, or Azure/Microsoft. They were at this year’s Design Automation Conference (DAC) as first-time exhibitors offering a host of cloud-based demonstrations down one long aisle called Design Infrastructure Alley. Their booths were teeming with interested attendees.

While clouds are taking shape over the electronic product design ecosystem, rain is not in the forecast. Instead, IT and CAD managers are predicting sunny weather. Chip design and verification groups are relying on them to handle the increasing use of cloud and get access to more on-demand, rapidly scalable, and secure resources without breaking their capital expenditure budgets.

— Bob Smith is Executive Director of the Electronic System Design Alliance (ESD Alliance). Smith began his career in high tech as an analog design engineer working at HP. Since then, he has spent more than 30 years in various roles, primarily working with startup and early-stage companies. These companies include IKOS Systems, Synopsys, LogicVision, and Magma Design Automation.

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