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Managing International Design Collaboration

Managing International Design Collaboration
by Bernard Murphy on 12-09-2016 at 7:00 am

Customer perspectives on a tool are always interesting, as much for why they felt the need for the tool as how it  is working out for them in practice. Active-Semi, an emerging leader in power management and digital motor drive ICs gave a presentation at CDNLive describing why they adopted ClioSoft tools for design collaboration and their experience with those tools, succinctly stated.

You should know first that Active-Semi has design centers in Vietnam, China and the US, and foundry and design partners in multiple countries. Unsurprisingly, they observed that efficient communication between these distributed teams can be a problem; syncing between fast-running design, test and applications teams often uncovers mismatches requiring rework where a more tightly integrated collaboration could avoid such problems. Examples of very familiar problems they cite are teams not aware of latest changes to spec and architecture docs, incorrect versions of files used in handoffs and layout engineers accidentally modifying schematics.

Natural evolution of design data management tends to start with roll-your-own. Active-Semi stated that syncing up data between multiple sites can be challenging, especially since not all countries have IT infrastructure as transparent and as fast as we have in the US. Network disk-space management also becomes a big problem as disk space balloons rapidly in multiple copies, especially (in my view) given the size of layout databases. The company quickly came to the realization that home-brewed ftp-based solutions would not work for them. Of course, they could have built fancier home-brewed solutions but, to their credit, they decided that their core competency is in the chip-building business, not the data management system building business, so they looked for a commercial solution.

Active-Semi chose ClioSoft-SOS as their data/configuration management solution and are now using it in production development. Capabilities they were looking for included:

  • Securing data transfer transparent to the designer with fast & efficient sharing of design data across multiple sites
  • Access control both to ensure teams can only change what they are allowed to change and that they cannot view confidential data
  • Traceability: getting a complete audit of exactly what is happening in the project
  • Accountability: knowing who made what changes and when
  • Recoverability: easily reverting incorrect changes when needed
  • Recording important milestones in a project

It was especially important to Active-Semi that the system be usable across the whole product life cycle (from spec to signoff), be very easy to use and administer, and not require designers to be IT experts.

As a case study, they talk about their experience in building an SSD power manager. This is a fairly sophisticated device with multiple buck regulators and LDOs, NVM and SPI communication and a programmable state machine, all documented in a ~70-page datasheet. The device was built using Cadence Virtuoso with ClioSoft-SOS to manage data/configurations. Active-Semi was able to build the whole device – from spec to packaged samples – in 16 weeks, of which just 6 weeks were consumed by design. The design team on this device was distributed between Dallas, Japan, Vietnam and Shanghai – a significant stress-test of the effectiveness of the collaboration solution.

Key points they note in why the solution works are that that the ClioSoft product is tightly integrated with Cadence Virtuoso, that teams can avoid collisions without needing 24/7 communication especially thanks to tight access controls, revision control allows backup to earlier/safer versions and network disk space is managed much more effectively (through links) than they were previously able to accomplish through manual management.

Active-Semi added what I think is the ultimate accolade for any piece of software: “It just works”. I was always taught that the best software products should be almost invisible. They deliver the behavior you want while intruding as little as possible on the real job you want to do. It sounds like ClioSoft has accomplished exactly that objective for Active-Semi. You can read the detailed presentation HERE.

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