AUSTIN, Texas Synopsys Inc. has quietly purchased a small design firm and is ramping up a design services capability that will be able to take a customer's specification and produce a GDSII layout. With its purchase of The Silicon Group (Austin, Texas), Synopsys is following in the footsteps of rival Cadence Design Systems Inc., which made a controversial move into design services several years ago.
Synopsys' Professional Services Group, which includes some 350 consultants, remains primarily focused on "methodology" consulting, intended to make customers more productive users of EDA tools. But about 100 of those consultants in four different locations including Austin are also doing actual chip designs.
Scott Houghton, senior vice president and general manager of the Professional Services Group, said Synopsys' design services operation is quite different from Cadence's group, which was recently spun-off as Tality. "We have a smaller group, and it's very focused," Houghton said. "Cadence has evolved over several generations, and they have gone very vertical with different types of design services."
Tality, which employs over 1,000 engineers, is far larger than Synopsys' design services group. And prior to the purchase of The Silicon Group, Synopsys' services were focused on front-end design and generally did not include placement and routing.
When Cadence made its initial move into design services, the company was criticized for becoming a potential competition to its customers. But the current design market today is very different from two years ago, Houghton said. Synopsys' design services customers like Nokia and Nortel want to focus on system-level design, he said. Detailed chip design is becoming something that can be farmed out, especially given the chronic shortage of engineers.
"Cadence has gotten a bad rap," said Houghton. "There was always a debate on whether they were trying to overtake and displace the customer's CAD group, but the reality is that it didn't happen. The customers don't see it as competition because of the scarcity of engineering resources out there."
Still, Synopsys is starting small and growing slowly, in contrast to Cadence, which ramped up its design services operation very quickly and at one point laid off several hundred employees. "We're going to have controlled growth as customers ask us to take on turnkey designs," Houghton said.
Turnkey design services are the fastest growing portion of Synopsys' consulting operation, with about 45 percent annual growth, Houghton said.
With 11 employees, The Silicon Group was a small acquisition for Synopsys. What the purchase brought to the table was expertise in the entire chip design process, including placement and routing. "They very much completed our flow and our ability to be able to do place and route," Houghton said.
Synopsys has had a long relationship with the design firm, Houghton noted. Synopsys owned just under 20 percent of it, and had contracted with The Silicon Group on various occasions.
Because Synopsys itself does not offer a complete specification-to-GDSII capability, its design services consultants use tools from competitors. The Austin-based group uses Avanti Corp. placement and routing tools, for example, and other parts of the organization use Cadence tools.
"We use best-in-class tools," Houghton said. "We try to use Synopsys tools when we can, but we do use other vendors' tools. Synopsys does not fill the whole flow."
Other Synopsys design services centers are located in Florida, Taiwan, and Finland.