Last week myself and a senior member of my staff were invited to a hands-on look of Analog Rails. Analog Rails is company whose focus is to "create the best analog and RF environment for the IC circuit designer". The system is built upon Open Access and gives an analog design engineer the complete ability to do both schematic capture, simulation and layout. It nicely automates the more tedious aspects of analog layout while giving the design engineer the complete flexibilty. For example the process of both matching (common-centroid anyone) and wire-widening (based on via size) is done in very automated push button method.
In the last several months Analog Rails have really stepped up the development by starting to integrate with outside tools. For example they now integrated in Veritools into the design framework. This is a big step because it implies that they designed a flexible subsystem which is critical - there is no single solution in IC Design. I would like to see spectre ( -turbo of course ) and calibre integrated but it's not there yet.
Throughout the discussion / demo I began to understand the impact of this. Of course it's built on OA and will nicely integrate with Cadence and many many others, but something more interesting is afoot. This tool represents a clear methodology shift.. ..The demise of the block level analog layout engineer. Why? First as I said earlier, the layout automation piece is very intuitive and friendly. Plus the smaller technology geometries that analog design is pushing into (<90nm) is forcing simulation earlier (using Cadence) to account for device parasitics (LOD). So the analog engineer is already doing a fair amount of the placement and letting the layout guy clean up the work. But this tool is correct by construction and so the layout is clean from the get-go. So involving a layout person to "clean it up" isn't necessary. There will still need to be layout for macro / chip level integration but block level layout could (will) be going the way of hand-LVS.
There are areas which need to be better defined. From a cad managers perspective - I look at flexibility and integration. The flexibility to align the tool to corporate goals and strategy, and the hooks necessary to integrate it into my existing flow, and (perhaps) migration to this tool.
The flexibility of the tool is fundamentally there but needs better definition. For example: If the company has it's own fab, and the strategy is to use its own fab, how will this tool which claims to not need a PDK get the design constraints from my foundry into their system? The converse is also true - I am a fabless company with a strategy to tape-out to the lowest cost foundry - how do I ensure that the constraints from Dongbu will work with my design. The point is while Analog Rails clearly has the framework so support this, they need to have a clear methodology for how to implement design constraints which the customer may use or opt to use the defaults from Analog Rails.
[UPDATE]: I did receive a bunch of documentation on the methodology for creating these techfiles. It is pretty straight forward and not as difficult as I had imagined.
From the integration side it was better defined but still lacks the clarity for migration. Because the tool can work on OA it should "just work". But how does this system work when an existing layout done in Virtuoso or Laker which doesn't or isn't correct by construction adapt itself? We spoke of the "dummy mode" but I think a bit more clarity on this would be helpful. I not sure this is show stopper - because it would depend on the use model. If you define your flow/methodology such that this is the sole block level tool for a project it could work. If you want to do a mix - well that would have to be tested.
Overall I was very impressed. The tool has certainly matured over the last year. It's flexible sub-system and the ability to tie into other tools gives me reason to want to look further at the tool. It will be a real test to see this tool integrate with the work horses of the IC Design tools, and how easy it is to define a methodology around the tool. Again this tool has some really cool technology under the hood and should make for a fun evaluation. My concern (as any cad manager has) is that our designers are going to eat this up and really want it. That's a good problem to have.