The CEO Panel on the "Future of EDA" was a full-house tonight, featuring CEOs from the three leading EDA companies - Synopsys, Cadence and Mentor Graphics. As a disclaimer, I have to confess that, being an academic, I attended the panel hoping to hear more technical details than economics, and though there was more of the latter, there was enough of the former to whet my appetite.
The "Future of EDA" would have been a perfectly relevant topic for a panel discussion even without the looming elephant in the room, but of course, the Recession ended up being the focus of a lot of questions today. One of the key themes that emerged from the discussion, and one that was repeated multiple times, was that economic recessions also happen to be times when groundbreaking innovation tends to happen; apparently the iPhone (or the iPod?) was developed during the 2001 dotcom bust!
The other important theme, also relating to the R word, was that in tough economic conditions, EDA customers are looking to reduce design efforts and time-to-market and that this provides an opportunity for EDA vendors, particularly start-ups, to offer new solutions that help meet these needs.
For me, the two most interesting questions of the evening were the ones that more directly addressed the CEOs vision on how they see EDA evolving in the future.
The first and the more technical of the two was about the feasibility of 3D integration technology and what it means for the EDA industry. While all three panelists sounded cautiously optimistic about the prospects of vertical integration, Walden Rhines from Mentor Graphics suggested that even though upgrading EDA tools to support 3D integration is inevitable, EDA companies are unlikely to see additional profits from this upgrade since customers might be unwilling to pay extra for this additional feature. Now I don't know if I completely agree with this - it seems to me that there are a number of opportunities offered by 3D integration that are unique to this technology. EDA solution that address these issues can't really be thought of as "upgrades", though I presume that at some point this becomes more of a marketing issue than a technical issue!
The other interesting question was about the possibility of EDA vendors venturing outside the semi-conductor industry and offering solutions for a more diverse range of customers. This is something that has been a fairly popular theme of discussion in academia as well, and a number of EDA researchers have branched out into allied areas (check out this guest editorial from DAC last year: http://www.dac.com/newsletter/shownewsletter.aspx?newsid=10). Again, I think that all three panelists agreed that there were opportunities outside of the semiconductor business, though there seemed to be some disagreement about how far out EDA should venture - the suggestions ranged from providing solutions for the biomedical industry to the electric power industry (which is arguably slightly closer to home). I really do think that there is tremendous potential here, but then again, I wonder how many other communities (applied mathematics, operation research,...) are equally convinced that their bread-and-butter techniques would solve the world's problems?