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Tool Company Becomes Cloud Company

Continuing with our ongoing coverage of EDA in the public cloud, there’s another company that isn’t just starting to make use of the cloud: it’s completely tied its identity to the cloud in a way that entirely masks the original value proposition of the tools it makes.

The company is Nimbic.

Never heard of them?

How about PhysWare? Well, you might not have heard of them unless you’ve been involved in the world of field solvers. Which is what they do.  In fact, they claim to do it well – 10-100 times faster than their competition.

One of the things they’ve done well with this compute-intensive problem is to parallelize the algorithms, since the problem lends itself very nicely to concurrent programming. They can get a roughly 6x return by using 8 cores; not bad, given that Amdahl has limited how much benefit one can get.

Having done that, they took the next step: putting it into the cloud. Now users can marshall over a hundred Amazon machines to make quicker work of a thorny problem.

Of course, they’ve got their own way of doing things. While Synposys uses a command-line approach and Vector Fabrics uses a FLASH-based browser GUI, Nimbic has built their interface into their tool, which run on the local client (an approach Synopsys has indicated they will use at some point too). Bringing the cloud resources in to help accelerate a solution is a matter of a few menu clicks. They are considering a browser-based GUI, but using HTML5 instead of FLASH.

What happens behind the scenes is relatively straightforward. Subscribers have a small virtual machine that’s always running. When invoked, it will assemble a cluster of machines for the duration of an assignment. Actually, that’s not quite accurate: because machine billing happens on hour boundaries, if you end a job right after crossing an hour boundary, the cluster will stay alive for the rest of that hour – you’re paying for it anyway. That way if you need to do some more work, you don’t have to wait for the cluster to come up again.

And, as we’ve seen before, the cluster can take some time to be available – as much as 20 minutes for 100 machines (around 5 minutes for 5 machines).

With respect to security, all data is encrypted both in transmission and when stored. Neither Nimbic nor Amazon can read the data. While that data can remain in the machine for the duration of the account if desired, it’s not guaranteed – that is, it’s not intended as your repository. If the machine goes down for any reason, that data can be lost. So the expectation is that you have a client-side copy of everything, and the cloud storage is for convenience.

As to hacking protections, their VM has login disabled. They run a specific daemon, and only certain commands will be recognized. The “master” node communicates with the worker nodes securely by a locally-generated key, so not even Nimbic can snoop that. Even if someone managed to locate a machine and get something from it, this is a data-parallel problem: any machine only has a small portion of the overall design, making it even more difficult to piece together anything of value.

As with any cloud provider, they can provide regional containment in areas where Amazon has a center. So if a Japanese company can’t let their design leave Japanese soil, no problem: Amazon has a center in Japan. France? That’s tougher…

As to their value to their customers, they view it as either being peak resource alleviation (like Synopsys) for big companies, or an easier way for small and medium size companies to access the tools (like Vector Fabrics).

Looking forward, they see much more of this, although details are sketchy. After all, they’ve tied their entire company identity to the cloud. They see the possibility of offering more tools of their own through the cloud (not clear what those would be yet) or even hosting other companies’ tools (should they then call themselves CumuloNimbic?)

If they do the latter, they really stop being an EDA company (not a simple decision if they really do have a 10-100x advantage over their competition) and start being a tool cloud hosting company. So they clearly have some soul-searching to do as they decide what they want to be as they grow up.

You can find more info at their website.

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