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Linux Drives Design Automation -- But At A Price

When it comes to stability for EDA, tool integration, support for mission-critical enterprise applications and binary compatibility, Linux has a long way to go, according to a panel discussion at the Design Automation Conference.

Patrick Mannion

June 15, 2005

4 Min Read

ANAHEIM, Calif. — When it comes to stability for EDA, tool integration, support for mission-critical enterprise applications and binary compatibility, Linux has a long way to go, according to experts at the Design Automation Conference here.

Now cited as the No. 1 operating system for EDA applications, Linux soared based on its promise of speed, freedom from proprietary operating systems, rapid innovation and flexibility. However, the latter three may be coming back to bite it.

"It's still the wild west out there," said Mike Evans, vice president of partner development at Red Hat, a leading Linux and open source provider. Evans described Linux as taking two separate paths. The first is open-source Linux for tweaking and adding improvements to the code. The second is for those "who just want and OS that's 10 to 20 times faster," he said.

"Both segments are growing, but we can take that bare OS and build an ecosystem and support them for five to seven years — and EDA is one of the fastest growing adapters of this [the latter path]."

But it's not a slam dunk for EDA vendors, according to Mark Noneman, vice president of enterprise quality at Cadence Design Systems. "EDA is in the middle between supply and demand, so we have to support both the upgrades in the OS as well as the newer enterprise applications," he said. "People don't [re-]buy the license for each upgrade, but we still have the development costs."

From the end-user's view, there is little sympathy for EDA vendors. "If it was on DOS and had Magma [a Cadence competitor], we wouldn't care, so long as it was faster, lower cost and lowered the time spent on integration," said Tom Fisher, vice president of IT for Qualcomm CDMA Technologies.

"We just want turnkey EDA: Linux plus Cadence in a box — and running. We're frustrated that we feel we're the integrator between the tools and the OS suppliers," said Fisher, adding that he had two staffers just to handle that integration. "We're also constantly pushing on Red Hat to support the latest processors."

From Red Hat's perspective, rapid innovation in Linux was part of the problem. "We used to have a new version every six months, but now were down to every 18 months or so," said Evans.

Confusion remains about what Linux is — and is not, according to Noneman. "We have to be very careful about who [OS providers] we support," he said. "We'd like to see fewer providers, despite the need for more choices and lower cost."

Despite the shortcomings of packaged Linux, it's still better than the open-source alternative, according to Fisher. "From the enterprise applications point of view, if someone finds themselves in a mission-critical situation, with someone in Sweden as backup for support, how the hell you manage that?"

Qualcomm is also concerned about embedding Linux in any form. "You have to be careful to make sure they have all the indemnification clauses built in," Fisher said.

Red Hat's Evans agreed. "We have to educate people in terms of what they can and cannot do."

With all the woes Noneman cited with regard to EDA vendors' need to support both ends of the OS and applications chain, one issue is whether the EDA community needs its own version of Linux. "The last thing we need is an EDA-specific OS, given EDA companies' history of agreeing on anything," he said. "Plus, it's not the core competence of EDA vendors."

Another alternative raised for EDA vendors could be early access to new Linux versions to give them time to develop the support for their EDA customers. But that fails to solve the problem, said Fisher, as customers such as Qualcomm also get early access to Linux — so they're already clamoring for the support.

Evans predicted an open-source fabric all across the applications, storage, desktop and back-end. "They'll all be interfacing with Linux and open source, and that's what has Microsoft scared," he said.

Noneman would like to see more platforms. "I'd like to see the EDA industry put more pressure for binary compatibility for 32- and 64-bit technology," he said.

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