The trend of EDA suppliers offering tools through the cloud was readily apparent at this year's Design Automation Conference (DAC), with the likes of Cadence, Mentor and others unveiling cloud-based offerings.

But don't expect the cloud to become as prevelanent in EDA as it is in many other corners of the software world. That's because — no surprise — EDA is dramatically different than other types of enterprise software.

"I think we as an industry need to recognize that EDA is different in many ways from a lot of software industries," said Laurie Balch, president and research director at Pedestal Research. Balch pointed out that maintaining tight control of their design flow is critical to many if not most EDA customers, including the ability to maintain and deal with security issues on their own. Most EDA customers, Blach added, buy only a handful of seats for each tool they use, as opposed to many types of enterprise software where the same applications are being used by a large number of people throughout the organization.

"I don't mean to be down on the concept of cloud for EDA. I think it definitely has applications," Blach said, calling out applications such as simulation and emulation, when users need a large amount of computing power for a relatively short time.  

In fact, according to Balch, vendors EDA vendors understand that cloud-based EDA solutions have their place, but none claim that EDA will be moving in a significant way to a cloud sales model anytime soon.

But she added that cloud offerings aren't the first time that EDA vendors have wanted to provide customers with more computational resources during times of peak demand. Most recently, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, EDA vendors were shopping the concept of virtual private networks that would enable customers to boost horsepower during operations such as emulation and simulation.

At DAC, both Cadence and Mentor launched offerings geared toward letting customers leverage the power of the cloud for the extremely computationally heavy process of emulation. Cadence's Palladium Cloud — just one sliver of its Cadence Cloud portfolio — enables customers to buy gate capacity that can be used when needed for emulation.

Mentor's Veloce Strato platform is a very similar concept, allowing customers to directly access emulation on demand through Amazon Web Services.

Emulation seems a natural for a cloud-based solution, since the high cost of the hardware continues to be a barrier for many customers to adopt emulation in their design flows. However, both the Mentor and Cadence offerings allow customers to choose between using their own hardware on premises or using and off-premise model, accessing hardware located elsewhere to perform emulation.

Jean-Marie Brunet, director of marketing for Mentor's emulation division, emphasized that the cloud solution is just another option for customers, part of the company's strategy to offer choices and convenience. In order for EDA on the cloud to succeed, he added, vendors need to be able to offer performance in compute, memory, network and storage, and — of course — security.

According to David Pellerin, a veteran of the semiconductor and EDA industries who now serves as head of worldwide business development for semiconductor at AWS, questions about the security of the cloud have largely been addressed over the course of the past year as front-line companies have migrated more of their products and IT infrastructure to the cloud. Industries such as financial services and pharmaceutical have proven the concept by adopting AWS and other cloud services vendors.  

"We are at a new phase of EDA and computer aided engineering, and the platform is shifting," Pellerin said. "And that platform is the cloud."

— Dylan McGrath is the editor-in-chief of EE Times.