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October 4, 2021

Homegrown EDA Tools, Open Source, Starting an EDA Company: Verific on Chip Design Trends

Alameda, Calif.-based Verific Design Automation, a member of the ESD Alliance, made its name in the electronic system design and semiconductor industry supporting companies ranging from startups to billion-dollar industry leaders such as Synopsys, Cadence, Siemens EDA, Xilinx, Microchip, NVidia, Infineon, Qualcomm, Renesas and Samsung. Its software is used as the front end to design automation tools such as synthesis, simulation, debug, and formal verification.

I spoke with Verific president and COO Michiel Ligthart about homegrown and open-source EDA tools and other recent trends in chip design.

Smith: What trends are you seeing in chip design?

Ligthart: Semiconductor companies are starting to build a portfolio of intellectual property, including homegrown electronic design automation (EDA) tools, that they want to keep secure and differentiated from their competitors. The increased interest in internally developed and supported EDA tools is a trend we started to see about two years ago. It’s not simulation, synthesis or place and route (P&R). Instead, it’s pieces of a chip design flow optimized for a company’s specific needs.

Verific logoIn the past, a semiconductor company would either standardize on one EDA company’s chip design flow or mix and match best-in-class tools from different vendors. The common denominator was that they used off-the-shelf products. If they had a specific requirement, they went to the EDA provider for assistance. In today’s competitive landscape, semiconductor companies are figuring out ways to diversify themselves and their design flow became a way to do so. They may not build their own P&R tool, but they will look at building their own power domain approach, for example.

Is this a widespread trend? It could be. We hear about it within end-user applications ranging from 5G and AI to data center processors and there are probably others we don’t hear about. Power optimization is an example of the kind of specific internal need being addressed.

Smith: What are your thoughts about open-source EDA tools?

Ligthart: Our industry supports open source already with language reference manuals (LRMs) for VHDL, SystemVerilog, Unified Power Format (UPF) and the RISC-V Instruction Set. The LRMs and the instruction set are free.

Verific Pull QuoteMoving to the development of actual tools becomes a question of who will implement, support and maintain the tools. Implementation is expensive. The Big Three (Cadence, Siemens EDA and Synopsys) invest about 35 to 40% of top-line revenue into R&D. For smaller EDA companies, this number is even higher.

The industry may come up with a business model that will have open-source components as well as a way to fairly reimburse companies that make these tools freely available. I have not seen it yet.

Smith: Business Insider reports that Verilog HDL is among the top 10 tech skills that companies are desperate for their employees to learn right. Does Verific get asked about Verilog training?

Ligthart: No. Our customers are experienced users. Nonetheless, it was great to read that article and it suggests the semiconductor industry is healthy, growing and hiring talented engineers.

Smith: If an entrepreneur asked you for advice about starting an EDA or IP company, what advice would you provide?

Ligthart: I would tell the entrepreneur to focus on the problem the startup is solving. Stick to the company’s core competency and try not to build in-house what can be purchased from a reputable supplier. In the end, it will save time and jump-start the development effort, and the engineering budget can be allocated to the startup’s core competency. The external supplier presumably has years of product validation, which brings a major QA gain.

About Michiel Ligthart

Verific headshotMichiel Ligthart, president and COO of Verific Design Automation, has an extensive background in engineering, product marketing and general management. Prior to joining Verific, Ligthart was vice president and general manager of West Coast operations for Theseus Logic, a startup in asynchronous logic. Before that, he spent eight years with Exemplar Logic in engineering and marketing roles. Ligthart started his career with Philips Research Labs in California and was a visiting scholar at the Center for Integrated Systems at Stanford University. He has a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands.

Robert (Bob) Smith is executive director of the ESD Alliance, a SEMI Technology Community.