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Thread: Should EDA Follow a Foundry Model?

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    Should EDA Follow a Foundry Model?

    Just like a semi foundry takes knowledge in executing making chips for a variety of customers and shares it, yet keeps each customers information separate and private, should not an EDA firm be set up in its own cloud to share the expertise that they develop from monitoring a large number of separate process for different be used to improve the processes for all their customers? TSM has done an excellent job of keeping individual customers IP separate and private, but uses the improvement in process information to the benefit of all. Would not this process if applied to EDA speed up the evolution of the design process to the benefit of all through the use of big data. If TSM can keep proprietary information separate and confidential while spreading process improvements, couldn't EDA firms use the same structure to benefit their customers as well. Auditing the process on a real time basis could assure security while giving the customer the best practices on a real time basis. This could also be done on a virtual machine bases with most of the process done at the customers site, although this would be unwieldy and cumbersome compared to a private cloud. Any thoughts, comments or observations on this appreciated and solicited.

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    Arthur,

    TSMC manufactures physical devices, chips, packages and provides testing services. EDA is obviously a software business model, not really comparable to selling silicon like TSMC does. EDA companies try quite hard to get their users to share information in order to improve the tools, however even supplying a test case to reproduce a software bug is an issue because IC designers don't want any piece of their IP to leave the facility. For DFM and DFT tools, yes, there is a symbiotic relationship between IC designer, EDA vendor and foundry to help pinpoint IC layout areas that are susceptible to yield issues. Some of the largest EDA customers will have AEs on site at the customer to help reproduce the bugs in the software while not letting the actual IP out of the facility. In general though, the IC designers don't want the EDA vendors to know too much about what they are designing, how they are designing, or even how they are actually using the EDA tools because of concerns about privacy and keeping a competitive advantage over others.

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    Admin Daniel Nenni's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arthur Hanson View Post
    Just like a semi foundry takes knowledge in executing making chips for a variety of customers and shares it, yet keeps each customers information separate and private, should not an EDA firm be set up in its own cloud to share the expertise that they develop from monitoring a large number of separate process for different be used to improve the processes for all their customers? TSM has done an excellent job of keeping individual customers IP separate and private, but uses the improvement in process information to the benefit of all. Would not this process if applied to EDA speed up the evolution of the design process to the benefit of all through the use of big data. If TSM can keep proprietary information separate and confidential while spreading process improvements, couldn't EDA firms use the same structure to benefit their customers as well. Auditing the process on a real time basis could assure security while giving the customer the best practices on a real time basis. This could also be done on a virtual machine bases with most of the process done at the customers site, although this would be unwieldy and cumbersome compared to a private cloud. Any thoughts, comments or observations on this appreciated and solicited.
    The semiconductor business is very competitive and secrecy is a big part of that. Sit in a vendor meeting with Apple and you will see it first hand. It's like a classified briefing with redacted documents etc... a need to know basis and as it turns out EDA vendors do not need to know much at all. EDA vendors just need to work closely with the foundries and customers are good to go. TSMC is the security buffer and they are quite good at it. TSMC is the "trusted" foundry, right?

    Apple would definitely be better suited if they were more open about their EDA tool and IP usage but at what cost on the competitive side? A double edged sword for sure.

    EDA in the cloud is another example. Cloud EDA would save companies billions of dollars in IT cost and tool licensing efficiency yet here we are, using the inhouse EDA tool usage model of the 1990s. Again, security is the prevailing reason we are not cloud based.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Daniel Nenni View Post
    The semiconductor business is very competitive and secrecy is a big part of that. Sit in a vendor meeting with Apple and you will see it first hand. It's like a classified briefing with redacted documents etc... a need to know basis and as it turns out EDA vendors do not need to know much at all. EDA vendors just need to work closely with the foundries and customers are good to go. TSMC is the security buffer and they are quite good at it. TSMC is the "trusted" foundry, right?

    Apple would definitely be better suited if they were more open about their EDA tool and IP usage but at what cost on the competitive side? A double edged sword for sure.

    EDA in the cloud is another example. Cloud EDA would save companies billions of dollars in IT cost and tool licensing efficiency yet here we are, using the inhouse EDA tool usage model of the 1990s. Again, security is the prevailing reason we are not cloud based.
    Maybe it's time for a change. TSM can maintain a very trusted level of secrecy to the point everyone uses them, why not an EDA firm. I'm sure TSM has a security structure that isn't unique and security structures have been set up for sensitive IP and just plain secrets in a way information is compartmentalized. It's just the difference between a physical construct and a virtual one. I know Samsung abused this with Apple, but they were are bad actor in this case. Is there not the talent out there to design a comparable compartmentalized system where just the formulas and not the actual proprietary IP is visible. Throughout history many systems that handle sensitive IP have been designed so there can be a degree of collaboration without revealing key information. It would be like living software and with the right system could advance tremendously, benefiting everyone. Customers would soon learn who to respect and not respect, just like many other businesses. An ideal everyday example is a lawyer who perfects his techniques working for several clients in the same area, but not sharing their cases, but learning IP that benefits all the clients. It could even be done by a black box system so no one would know what was actually done, but improve the process by a set of formulas. Any system will require some degree of trust otherwise the foundry system would not exist. Is there not someone with the standing and respect of Morris Chang in the EDA industry? If not, that's a very sad commentary on the industry and the people in it. No system is perfect, but I have no doubt one could be built within acceptable tolerances. IP is IP whether physical or virtual.

    There are systems out there that handle life and death on a massive scale information and they have been able to maintain security, it should be possible in the case of EDA. I have personally been exposed to such structures that handled information far more critical than EDA, so I know it is possible and they can be built.

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    Last edited by Arthur Hanson; 4 Weeks Ago at 02:15 PM.
     

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    Arthur,
    To some degree that is happening today, though not always in the context of the EDA vendors. Chip builders that are content with near-optimal results using standard IP at a specific node can avail themselves of pre-built and tested flows for their combination of silicon IP / node. Or they can work with fabless ASIC companies who have evolved tuned flows for specific end-architectures. The two challenges I see:
    * Most aggressive design customers view their verification and implementation flow plus some of their specialized IP as their largest value-adds. They do things differently to achieve differentiated end product.
    * There have been many attempts at EDA in the cloud / EDA as a service but financial and IP protection forces always deter. There has to be sufficient new and relatively immediate benefit for one or more of the parties (EDA vendors, IP vendors, foundries, customer) involved to pull it all together.

    I'll also point out that EDA vendors, IP vendors, and foundries have evolved a level of engagement together and with end customers to give the customer the ability to do even leading edge designs in the comfort and privacy of their "own home".

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    Last edited by KevinK; 4 Weeks Ago at 05:56 PM.
     

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    The power of a platform over a stand alone system has been proven over and over again. Two that are known for security and privacy are Apple and TSMC. Apple is expanding into medical where confidentiality is not only demanded by customers, but mandated by law. There are currently international interagency intelligence platforms that share and handle information with the utmost security and secrecy. There are also large criminal empires that do the same thing. I want the good platforms to win. Platforms can also be abused as has been proven in the case of Samsung and Facebook when they don't take privacy and compartmentalization seriously. A good platform can benefit everyone as TSMC has done to advance literally the technology of the whole world.

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    Great discussion, thank you guys.

    Just a little history, the first wave of commercial EDA companies spun out of semiconductor IDMs who were trying to cut costs. This and the fabless business model pioneered by TSMC created the massive fabless semiconductor ecosystem we have today. A similar thing happened in IP a few years later.

    These first waves of EDA companies brought both tool and design expertise to customers and took a leadership role through tape-out. Today EDA companies are in a supporting role since customers now have much more design experience and again secrecy is a competitive necessity. Additionally, as fabless system companies (Apple, Amazon, Google, etc...) come into play they want to have even more control and secrecy so EDA and IP companies are definitely in a detached supporting role.

    Today the foundries act as a buffer between customers and EDA and IP companies making sure the tools and IP work well with the process. TSMC for example uses customer test chips for process development so they know what is coming and can better prepare the EDA and IP companies without spilling the secret sauce.

    One of the possible EDA disruptions would be if Intel or Samsung bought an EDA company and made those tools "free" for customers by taking an EDA royalty fee on the wafers. They could also put the tools in a private cloud. Do you remember when Artisan introduced a free royalty based model backed by the foundries? Disruption is for the greater good, absolutely!

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    Arthur,
    This is partially a "chicken and egg" problem. Today there's not enough economic benefit in the platform to overcome some of the legal and business forces that prevail at successful companies. More specifically, most big or innovative companies (EDA, IP, foundries, end-customers) require a range of near-unlimited legal liability and indemnification from parties taking on their most confidential and proprietary information / IP. In spite of excellent security and sharing solutions available today, these companies are wont to back off on these liability and indemnification requirements. Conversely, companies interested in bringing that protected IP in-house are only willing to take on the legal liability if there is an overwhelming economic win for them (i.e. an Apple deal). Your premised EDA cloud platform is dependent on an EDA vendor being willing to take on that kind of liability from potentially several leading edge foundries, several IP suppliers and end customers. Where's the deal that would make that a big enough economic win for the EDA supplier ?

    Having seen many of these NDA and IP licensing agreements over time, I can assure you that most of the major sticking points were things that required CEO/COO level approval to satisfy the legal team it was worth proceeding. Typical examples:
    - unlimited liability / indemnification
    - unbounded risks - ambiguity in what might trigger liability or breach. Typically happens when the IP owning companies are unwilling to translate legalese into more specifics. For example, corporate lawyers prefer to keep breach criteria in legal terms that would have to be sorted out in court, rather than specifying allowed and disallowed uses up front.
    - unenforceable operational restrictions - things like "anybody who touches this IP can't work in other parts of the company for 5 years". Even if that is operationally possible, it may not even be legal from an HR perspective.
    - cost prohibitive enforcement - In some agreements, the IP entitlements can get incredibly complex - this needed list of people can do thing A with the IP, this list can do thing B, other groups in the company can do thing C with just one part of the IP, but this other group can't even be aware that this IP exists (true example).

    As IP from all parties age and move from leading edge to mainstream, the legal requirements become less onerous. But the monetary motivations also drop in the mainstream since the end-customer becomes more price sensitive.

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    I think this is what you are seeing with MIPS-V which is not just the cores but a growing ecosystem of open source IP. And you do not even need it to be open source for the model of a common EDA and quality control/refinement loop to make sense, there are IP blocks widely used like SERDES where the whole community could benefit and the IP owners could license only on condition of getting certain kinds of feedback into their quality control and future designs.

    The ecosystems are more powerful than secrecy, in the long run. A web of shared infrastructure hat even frenemies can share is based on mutual benefit. The typical ASIC or SOC is 20% secret sauce, 80% shared ecosystem. At the process level this has been a strength for TSMC. At the system level, it is why Open Compute has multiple cloud companies supporting it. Those who figure out how to share will in the long run have an advantage. You can see how this has worked by looking at open source software. There are many subtle lessons there about how it really works, and the license was just the starting point.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tanj View Post
    I think this is what you are seeing with MIPS-V which is not just the cores but a growing ecosystem of open source IP. And you do not even need it to be open source for the model of a common EDA and quality control/refinement loop to make sense, there are IP blocks widely used like SERDES where the whole community could benefit and the IP owners could license only on condition of getting certain kinds of feedback into their quality control and future designs.

    The ecosystems are more powerful than secrecy, in the long run. A web of shared infrastructure hat even frenemies can share is based on mutual benefit. The typical ASIC or SOC is 20% secret sauce, 80% shared ecosystem. At the process level this has been a strength for TSMC. At the system level, it is why Open Compute has multiple cloud companies supporting it. Those who figure out how to share will in the long run have an advantage. You can see how this has worked by looking at open source software. There are many subtle lessons there about how it really works, and the license was just the starting point.
    80/20% secret sauce is probably right, except when it comes to Apple. They license the ARM architecture versus using cores, do quite a bit of their own IP, and get a custom process from TSMC, I would say it is 80% SoC secret sauce and 20% shared ecosystem.

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