Spreadtrum: Design Data Management Workspace Acceleration

Alan Lewis, Spreadtrum (DAC Panel edited transcript)


To give a little background on Spreadtrum – we are an RF transceiver and baseband company. We have an RF design team in San Diego, and the vast majority of the rest of the company is based in Shanghai. Our team in San Diego has about 50 people; originally we were Quorum systems and were acquired a few years back.

There was a gradual integration process to try to merge the development of these sites.

Regarding the design environment, we had standalone RF translators and finally, and about two years ago, we wanted to integrate the analog baseband portion with the rest of the RF transceiver to reduce costs. And we had this need to merge these designs.  Previously we had been able to do our own things, and predictably as soon as we try to combine those things, everything fell apart.

  • The design environment was totally different, the data transfer was a pain, repetitive, and required IT support.
  • There was a lack of certainty about what had been delivered – whether it was everything we wanted and whether it had been incorporated into the design properly, and with the correct version, as sometimes the file names were the same. It was a mess. There was a massive risk of just taping out the wrong design.

We didn’t actually do that, I’m happy to say, even though we did do this process for one or two iterations. But if nothing else it was a waste of a lot of engineering time and resources.

  • In addition, if there were metal revisions, we had to do those in San Diego exclusively to make sure that everything was still the same, even if Shanghai was the one pushing those changes.
  • We had very low performance if we were traveling to Shanghai, and we needed to access our design data in San Diego – it was a VNC session. We didn’t have any of the infrastructure in place, so we were mostly building from the ground up. There was a link. But short of that, there was not much else.
  • That meant lower levels of integration and higher cost. It was causing us to slow down – we couldn’t deliver our designs on time.

We first deployed IC Manage DM in 2012

We had a main server in San Diego, and a super proxy server in Shanghai.

I did some work on the PDK and the environment side to make sure things were unified and common, that that the environmental variables were all uniform.

In conjunction with the IC Manage triggers, the user can just create a workspace, and everything is always the same.   I think this is a relatively typical experience for this sort of transition

For us, this was very beneficial. We can run these tape outs at either site now.

We have very fast remote site performance when we are traveling. Obviously we can just create our own workspace in Shanghai and it’s like we are in San Diego – there’s really not any difference. If you need to VNC to cancel your check outs in San Diego, you can do that and come back and work locally.

The result has been that with the RF transceivers that we’ve designed within IC Manage: we’ve shipped hundreds of millions of those and we have a very small design team. I feel like we’ve done very well with this tool.

Let me transition here to a couple of the problems the kind of cropped up with moving to a design management system. Users were used to all working the same library and concurrently, and it was just chaotic. That was the old way at Quorum.

Now we had workspaces, but people have to get used to waiting for them to populate, the time it took, the disc space it took up, and the churn of having to clean those and figure out how to stay under your quota was time-consuming and frustrating for the end users.

One of the things that was suggested by IC Manage was to look into using their IC Manage Views tool.

IC Manage Views is a way of virtualizing your workspace.

Rather than waiting for however long it takes to populate the workspace, it’s nearly instant. It’s just one or two seconds – you sync the workspace and it’s “virtually” there. It’s located on your local machine, and all the files are displayed virtually. And, in spite of the name, it’s not just for viewing. You can do what you do in any workspace

You can check stuff out, edit and verify it. I have used it quite a bit because I am constantly jumping between projects.

In addition, IC Manage Views helps with the network storage issue.

Every user has a number of workspaces and all of a sudden our storage needs have gone up, by at least a factor 10. It’s probably closer to the number of people we have, so it might be as much as 50. So I’ve heard a lot of people say “If it is not checked in, then it’s not backed up”.

I guess I that’s how some people deal with this problem.  But for us it didn’t work because historically the users were used having all the data is backed up. We didn’t want to ever lose anything.

So I just have people rotate through their disc quota of 30 GB. I’m not going to give a more because people will just fill it with simulation data.

Well with IC Manage Views, you don’t have to do that, because it’s not using up any network storage.

When you open a file it’s cached in your RAM on your workstation, and then new and changed files will actually get stored on the network storage device until it’s time to check them in, in which case they’ll be pushed back to the IC Manage server where they get backed up. And you don’t have to worry about them being stored on the network anymore.

And these workspaces are available on any workstation. You can just remount the workspaces and if you want to hop around to 10 different workstations to kick off a bunch of simulations, you can do that.

I will share the results for the 40 nm workspace we have now.

  1. There are actually about 2 million files because some of the things we do, where we just run a full top-level analog verification flow, we don’t have any import CDL netlist, or any merging, we just click LVS and go.

That makes for a big workspace and that would normally take 20 to 30 minutes. With IC Manage Views, it populates in a couple of seconds.

  1. For me as a project manager, I’ve seen a bunch of benefits. I can do these 15 different projects and different variants of projects, and jump around without any worries about deleting my workspaces to make sure I’m not using 10 times as much as everybody else.

It’s fast too, so I can quickly jump onto a project and see where people are at. And see what’s checked out and who’s working on what. That’s very helpful for me.

  1. The storage is minimal, because it’s only the stuff is changing that’s on the network license.

It is not in widespread use yet in my group, but people have already quickly created workspaces to make minor changes, and in addition, our digital team often likes to view the analog top level, and they will use Views to do that because it’s a very quick, pain-free solution. They do not use IC Manage for their digital design management, but they can do this to access the schematics, see what’s going on, and make sure everything is right.

I think long-term we will be able to replace standard workspaces in many instances, so there is major potential for IC Manage Views here.


Alan Lewis is the Senior Director of RFIC Design at Spreadtrum Communications.