Thought Leadership

EDA and embedded software

By Colin Walls

Mentor Graphics is an EDA [Electronic Design Automation] company, which means that the core of the business is supplying [software] tools to facilitate the development [design, implementation and deployment] of electronic systems. Traditionally, this meant hardware design. But, over the last 20 years, there has been an enormous escalation in the use of microprocessors and microcontrollers and embedded software is now a key part of the design process.

Mentor was far sighted and invested early in this technology, acquiring Microtec Research in 1996, which established the core of the Embedded Software Division, now known as Mentor Embedded. Numerous other acquisitions followed: Accelerated Technology, EPI, Next Device and, most recently, Embedded Alley. I am sure there will be more. The key question is: how is this working out? …

For many years, the potential synergy between the software and hardware disciplines really did not come together. Although there were many initiatives and exciting product developments, I still found myself surrounded by hardware design specialists, who understood little about software and many who cared even less.

This was not Mentor management’s fault; it was much more a reflection on the market. Although the mainstream EDA products were sold to the same companies as embedded software products, most of those companies had quite separate hardware and software design teams. There are stories of meetings where our people would endeavor to bring together clients’ teams. They would witness the exchange of business cards, as these guys from the two teams did not know one another, even though they worked for the same company.

I began to wonder whether it would ever be different. But, over the last couple of years, change has begun to occur. Throughout Mentor Graphics, from the top down, I perceive a growing understanding in the value of embedded software. Recently announced relationships with semiconductor companies, like Freescale, only make really sense when looking at the bigger picture.

Last week, I observed this New World at first hand. Mentor runs a program of events, in various locations around the world, called EDA Tech Forums. These are multi-stream events where Mentor shows off technology and products to customers and prospects. Over the years, we have experimented with including embedded software sessions, with little success. This year, we added a stream and it really worked. I was presenting at the UK event and had a very respectable size audience, with plenty of interest and questions. One guy mentioned that he was not sure whether to attend one of my presentations or a couple of the EDA sessions. This is not a dilemma that I have heard expressed before. He made the right choice.

It seems odd, in the light of such clear trends, that the other key EDA companies have not followed Mentor’s lead. That might well be set to change. By a useful coincidence, while writing this blog, my attention was drawn to this article, which seems to indicate that my views are far from isolated.

Leave a Reply

This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at