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The unfulfilled dream of a grand, unifying EDA database

Posted: 01 Apr 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:design automation? tool interoperability? EDA? OA? database?

All of the attempts at creating electronic design automation (EDA) tools that are interoperable through the mechanism of a grand-unifying open source database have failed and are likely to continue to fail. Why?

First, a story: I have a good friend whose first full-time job out of school in the early 1980s was with RCA in the layout artwork portion of the design automation group. When he joined, the team was still recovering from an attempt to move all layout data to a common database. Even in the '80s, IC implementation was replete with formatsAPPL from Applicon, GDS from Calma, etc. The landscape was complicated with numerous proprietary internal layout formats devised to allow for the digitization of rubylith. Other than the layout stations, most EDA tools came from an in-house design automation group, if only because there were no alternatives.

These in-house teams built all the layout manipulation and analysis tools. They wrote and supported everything from place and route, to design rule checks, extraction, plotting, and all of the low-level logical operators necessary to support those functions. The concept of a unifying database was an obvious solution to the problem of tool interoperability. The RCA unified database idea was to write all known formats to one central repository. The team would then be out of the situation where each tool had its own data format. RCA could eliminate the time spent in the onerous task of conversions.

A wonderful idea, but one that failed. I remember my friend commenting that, by the time he joined in 1981, the idea of a central database was ridiculed as failed mythology of the past. The actual experience of the "central repository" was that file sizessome two years after the project was conceived and specifiedwere much larger than the designers had expected. The database became unreasonably convoluted as each individual application attempted to cram more information into the already stretched schema. The capacity limits of what was then the IT infrastructure were strained. Read/write accesses became even slower. A common database for all IC layout design had proven to be impractical.

RCA was certainly not the only organization with the idea to unify EDA data. Across the intervening decades, many righteous attempts have been made both within large integrated device manufacturers and by EDA vendors themselves. Still, well into the 1990s there remained no commercially viable successes in delivering a grandly unifying EDA database.

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