EDA – the early days: Has decision-making become harder over the years?

by Steve Chidester, Zuken

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The recent passing of Gene Marsh (founder of PADS Software and involved in the early days of Redac) got me to thinking about the early days of EDA. Before the ’80s many of the larger electronics companies, like Hewlett Packard, were developing their own CAD systems for electronic design. These were generally pretty clunky and expensive to maintain. It didn’t take them long to realize that this would become an industry in and of itself. As a result, some managers and developers broke free to found the industry that we know today.

EDA software was expensive and really only affordable by large companies. When I was designing boards at National Semiconductor in the early ‘80s, our V.P.’s value proposition for buying one of these expensive systems was, “I want one in my organization.”

Not only was the software expensive, but so was the hardware required to support it. Unlike the convenience and portability of today’s laptops, back then you had a separate temperature-controlled room with dedicated IT people to just keep the system running. It was not only a software procurement process, there was a whole gambit of hardware considerations to budget for and manage. It was a time when electronics design had really begun to take off, some 20 years after CAD had been invented. The big boys in electronic design software were starting out: Zuken in 1976, Mentor in 1981 and Cadence’s predecessor in 1982. The term EDA (electronic design automation) had only just been coined, Silicon Valley was on a roll, and electronics was the new wave.

Those days are gone…

That was then, this is now

Today, CAD systems are mission critical and the decision process often involves committees and consultants and ROI’s and benchmarks and you name it. But back then, the stakes were so high that the decision would often go right to the top, to the realms of the CEO. With tough economies and tight budgets, it seems those days are returning.

With the importance and implications of selecting a CAD system, it’s not about simple price comparison, you need a partner (not just a vendor) who will work with you by listening to your needs and delivering on their promises. No doubt technology matters, but it is getting harder and harder to distinguish the different solutions by comparing feature lists in an RFI. Dig in to what the vendors can really do to help you and you will find that it’s as much about picking the right partner as it is picking the right technology.