San Jose, Calif. - Barcelona Design Inc., which emerged in the late 1990s with an unconventional plan for tackling the difficult analog design tool market, has altered its strategy and adopted a more traditional EDA licensing model. The changes recognize the shortcomings of the company's initial approach to analog designers, who are historically resistant to adopting new tools.
Barcelona Design was formed in the dot-com boom era by a group of Stanford University PhDs and Menlo Park venture capitalists. The group promoted a new level of analog design automation with an application service provider model, through which analog designers would access its "analog synthesis" technology via a Web browser on a pay-per-use basis.
Barcelona engineers would design the customer's circuit, using Barcelona's modeling tool to create an equation-based representation of the design. The customer would license Barcelona's intellectual property (IP) along with its synthesis tool, then use the tool to optimize circuits for a specific fab and process.
But that model didn't work as well as expected, so earlier this year the company brought in a new president and CEO, Ariel Sella, who shifted the model over the past few months.
"The more we became successful [under the old system], the less we became successful," Sella said, noting that Barcelona had to add staff as more designers used its services to create customized circuits. The business was growing, but as Barcelona's staff ballooned to around 60-mostly support engineers its bottom line stayed in lockstep with its top line. It remained unprofitable even as demand for its services peaked.
On the positive side, years of offering services helped Barcelona shake out the bugs and improve the usability of its synthesis technology, as well as broaden its portfolio of analog IP components, Sella said.
Now Barcelona offers its technologies under a time-tested licensing model. Products include the Studio tool kit, Sculptor synthesis tool and Galeria model repository technology. Each is offered separately in one-year subscriptions. Barcelona also licenses its fab and process-specific analog elements a la carte.
"Now we are doing the normal thing: We are giving our customers the ability to model their own topologies into equation-based representations and then solve them," Sella said.
He described Barcelona's technology as a direct and much faster alternative to Spice modeling. "Spice has been around for 35 years," he said. "It is a great breadboarding tool and an excellent validation tool, but as a design tool it has severe limitations. . . . In an increasingly consumer world, with faster times-to-market, shorter shelf life and higher performance, designing a PLL using Spice with just three or four process corners would take a couple of weeks for a single simulation run."
A similar run would take hours in Barcelona's environment, Sella said.
Designers can develop designs using Barcelona's Muse equation-modeling and scripting language, which Sella said is similar to Matlab.
Users model design behavior with the Studio circuit-modeling tool. "Once you have done that, you use our Sculptor synthesis tool to retarget or take these equations and solve them for a specific performance, yield and process point," said Sella. "You do it all at the same time." The Barcelona system uses massive parallel solving and linear programming methods to solve for performance, yield and process node simultaneously, he said.
Users store optimized designs and blocks elements in the Galeria. They can also license more than 1,000 elements that Barcelona has developed.
Because of its changed business model, Sella said, Barcelona has trimmed is staff to 35, retaining its best developers. The slimmer work force could make Barcelona a more attractive acquisition target, in keeping with a common strategy of most EDA startups. Barcelona is also moving its headquarters from Newark, Calif., to Sunnyvale, Calif.
Over its history, Barcelona has gathered a total of $44 million in venture capital, with Crosslink Capital leading Series A funding, Sequoia Capital Series B and Foundation Capital Series C. Its chairman is Joseph Costello, former CEO of Cadence Design Systems Inc.
The probability of an analog company's being acquired has apparently increased now that Synopsys Inc., the market's largest EDA company, appears interested in challenging Cadence's dominance in the analog design market. Synopsys has expanded its analog tools over the past few years, notably gaining HSpice analog verification when it acquired Avanti Corp.
At the 41st Design Automation Conference, Synopsys chairman and CEO Aart de Geus told analysts that his company was developing an analog layout tool. That design technology would compete in a market where Cadence has held roughly a 90 percent share for about two decades.
Cadence has shored up its own analog portfolio, most recently acquiring analog synthesis vendor Neolinear Corp.