EDA Cafe: Sage to the DRC rescue

Posted on: May 9th, 2013

by Peggy Aycinena from EDA Cafe

Declaring itself open for business this week, Sage Design Automation wants to make the world a better place: a) by providing automated design rule closure for advanced process nodes, and b) by lowering the barrier for and broadening the use of design-rule based checking, beyond foundry-provided rules, with a user-friendly GUI.

Speaking by phone with company CEO Coby Zelnik, previously CEO of Sagantec, I found he’s very jazzed about the new company and what it portends for the future. To explain Sage, he offered a brief history of things up to this point:

“Historically, there have been a lot of challenges in physical verification. In the last 20 years, it’s always been about speed of the tool and what size of chip it can process, and so on. All of these vendors were competing on how fast they could run DRC on the biggest chips. But nowadays, these tools can utilize, tens, hundreds, or even thousands of CPUs to get things done well, so there’s no more bottleneck there.

“Instead, the bottleneck has shifted up to the deck development phase. The issue is not the DRC tool anymore but the rule content as implemented in the DRC deck. This is problematic, because of the complexity of those rules and because the DRC deck is programmed manually. It’s a very lengthy process and can take years. The problem is really severe, because it slows down the ability of the whole process-to-product chain to start working. Designers need to start designs, but they can’t until they have the design rules and the right design rule checks.”

Zelnik says this is where Sage comes in: “We are introducing a design rule compiler product called iDRM. Once a design rule is captured in iDRM, it serves four purposes. First, it quickly auto-correlates and verifies design rule accuracy and alignment with the actual process limitations it represents. Second, it provides clear, complete, unambiguous and concise design rule definitions for documentation and communicating design rules.

“Third, it produces an immediately available DRC check for internal development, IP development and use by early technology adopters. And finally, it allows for the accelerated, accurate development of commercial sign-off DRC decks, and automatically verifies their correctness.”

I asked Zelnik who are the customers for the company, and who’s the competition?

He said, “There are potential customers both on the foundry side and on the design side. As for the competition – if you target the differences between process descriptions, design rule manuals, and DRC decks, there’s actually nobody else out there that addresses [these challenges].

“The reason may be that in terms of business, intuitively it doesn’t seem like a big market even though it’s a huge problem. There aren’t a lot of people who do this, even inside of the foundries, and with the move to advanced processes, there are fewer and fewer people with the money needed to build the new fabs.”

How is Sage attracting investors if there’s so little by way of business opportunity in the technology?

Zelnik corrected me, “I didn’t say there isn’t any opportunity, I said the business model is not obvious. Our view is that this is actually a big opportunity, and we will find the right model [to capitalize on that].”

He added, “Remember this is EDA, and in EDA people don’t expect to make a lot of money from startups. We’re not something like YouTube or Instagram, but this is a real problem that for us is a great challenge to try to solve. And because of the implications for the industry as a whole, I think the right model and compensation will be found.

“We started Sage by focusing on the foundry design rules, but as a by-product we see that the easy-to-use user interface opens up new opportunities for designers, as well, that just want to code new rules – their own rules. That represents an even bigger market opportunity that was not obvious at the beginning.

“Now we see that the problems are very severe, because they slow down the ability of the whole design chain to begin working. For us, this is a very exciting opportunity and a beautiful technology challenge!”

I asked if Sage will be exhibiting next month at the Design Automation Conference in Austin.

Zelnik was adamant: “Yes, definitely!”

From the May 7th Press Release

“Sage-DA is introducing its iDRM: (integrated design rule management) product, which is based on a new and revolutionary technology that enables quick graphical capture of complex design rules with instantaneous check capability that allows verification of the rule definition against test layout. iDRM provides a clear visual and unambiguous rule description for designers and at the same time enables closure between original rule intent and its DRC implementation.”

“Process engineers at the foundry can use it to define rules and verify that their definition is complete and accurate against their test data. DRC deck programmers use the same iDRM description to generate test structures and validate their DRC deck implementation against a correct-by-construction reference. The use of iDRM accelerates the development of the design enablement infrastructure for new process technologies and improves the quality of the physical design kit.”

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