EDA Start-up story from the trenches

Hendrik Eeckhaut (Sigasi )

Embedded · Short
Thursday, 11:20, 20 minutes | Silchersaal

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How can a small, self-funded start-up ever build a commercial quality EDA (Electronic Design Automation) tool that has chance of survival in a multi-billion dollar market? The only way this is feasible, is through aggressive reuse, automation and agility.

At Sigasi, we built a modern IDE for hardware description languages (VHDL) out of frustration with our old editors. We want to bring hardware designers all the power of Eclipse-based IDEs like the JDT: refactoring, navigation, intelligent auto-completion, etc.

By building on top to the Eclipse platform we had a working GUI from day one. It is incredible what we can reuse out of the box. Our compiler is developed with ANTLR. Although VHDL is a very complex language, thanks to ANTLR we have written a recovering parser in about four man months. By leveraging ANTLR and Eclipse we could focus on our core competence, hardware design, without spending too much time on supporting technologies.

Although the long term vision of our start-up is clear, the short term goals and circumstances change very rapidly. Since the only constant is change, we have to be extremely agile in order to respond to critical bugs, killer feature requests and sales opportunities. Business-wise, this implies releasing very early and very often. Technically this requires a strong testing framework.

For a two-man team, it is just not possible to do a lot of manual testing on each bi-weekly release. A Hudson-based regression test server continuously builds and tests the entire application. For every commit we test our parser for every line of VHDL code we could find on the Internet. If a test or a build script fails, an array of lava lamps immediately brings a healthy doses of panic to our office. This usually results in immediate bug fixing and even more automated tests.

In this short talk we will demonstrate how a two-man engineering team can build a refactoring IDE for a hardware language in less than twenty man-months. We will report on our experiences with Eclipse, the technologies and methodologies we use and the problems we encountered. We hope our story will stimulate new start-ups to use the power of Eclipse in their venture.

Hendrik Eeckhaut, born 1978 in Ghent, Belgium, holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science. During his Ph.D. he implemented a complete, real-time, wavelet-based, scalable video decoder on an FPGA while performing research on the feasibility and benefits of scalable hardware for scalable multimedia environments
In 2008 he co-founded Sigasi to build Sigasi HDT, the compelling next-generation IDE for hardware designers. Hendrik is also one of the founders of the Belgian Eclipse Community.

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