Transforming PIC Design: How Synopsys OptoCompiler SaaS Platform Empowers PIC Start-ups

Mitch Heins

Mar 11, 2024 / 4 min read

Integrated photonics is an area of great interest for datacom, high performance computing (HPC), LiDAR, biological sensing, ML/AI compute, and quantum computing.  As a result, there are many start-ups in these spaces all working to create the next killer photonic IC (PIC) application. 

Running a start-up is hard.  There are a seemingly endless number of tasks to be done while never having enough people or time to do them all. One of the most difficult things to manage is balancing the necessary infrastructure tasks that need to be done but that are not part of core function of the product. A good example of this is the need to manage the compute infrastructure and design automation tools used to design next-generation PICs.  

Leveraging the SaaS Model for Photonic Start-Ups

Synopsys is working to make this trade-off easier for photonic start-ups by offering its Synopsys OptoCompiler electronic / photonic co-design platform through a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model. The SaaS model is especially interesting to start-ups as it provides both a short-term solution for cost-effective access to compute hardware and design automation tools while also providing a longer-term solution that enables start-ups to cost effectively expand their capabilities as they grow the company. OptoCompiler provides a unique set of capabilities needed by photonic designers while at the same time providing a complete set of custom/analog-mixed-signal design tools all in one platform. 

The SaaS Advantage for IC Companies

Traditionally, SaaS models have been used by larger IC companies to augment their hardware and software resources when they had a need for peak usage. Examples of this could be many corner analyses and Monte Carlo simulations that needed to be run or a final push on full-chip DRC before a tape-out. The larger IC companies would use the cloud to add the necessary hardware and design tool licenses needed to complete the task in a timely manner and then release those resources once the tasks were completed. Before the cloud, companies would have large on-premises compute farms with teams of IT engineers that managed them, and designers would submit their design tasks to run as batch jobs on the server farms. 

Larger IC companies have the critical mass that enables them to work on many projects that keep their resources utilized a high percentage of the time. Start-ups are typically resource limited both in terms of people and money and find themselves multiplexing their resources over a myriad of tasks. This means that many times the hardware and design automation licenses they purchase can be sitting idle.

The Transformation of Photonic IC Start-Ups

Photonic IC start-ups are turning this paradigm on its head by first starting with a SaaS environment to quickly bring up base hardware infrastructure, and then adding design automation tools for short periods as they work through various phases of the design before tape-out. As the design team shifts from task to task, they release the tools they were using for one phase and pull other tools needed for the next. Once the design has been sent to the foundry for fabrication, these teams release some of the hardware and design tool resources until the ICs can be manufactured and tested. The teams can then restore the resources when they are ready to do a next spin of the design. By doing this, the start-up is only paying for the resources while they are being used. This is much more cost effective than purchasing long term resources that sit idle for periods of time while the company is doing other tasks.  

SaaS: Photonic Instance: On-Demand, Scalable Co-design of Electronics and Photonics

In addition to the obvious benefits of only paying for what you use, almost every photonic design has accompanying analog or mixed signal IC designs that communicate with them. Because the Synopsys OptoCompiler platform is a superset of the Synopsys Custom Compiler platform, it can also be used to design these chips, effectively letting the startup use the same platform licenses for the electronic and photonic design.

The SaaS model lowers the start-up company’s cost of maintaining the hardware and CAD tool infrastructure by removing the IT maintenance burden of managing the network (resolving hardware problems, installing, or removing hardware, installing CAD tools as new versions are released, managing CAD tool licenses etc.). This is all done for the IC company as a service. The customer is still in charge, making decisions about what tools and hardware are needed and what trade-offs they want to make with respect to money being spent. However, the work to implement those decisions is all automated through an easy-to-use graphical user interface that lets the customer manage the resources without needing a full-time IT engineering team to do the work.

Connect, Design and Simulate, Layout and Verify, Manufacturing | Synopsys

Successful start-ups tend to grow at an almost exponential rate. If they manage to cross the chasm with their product, the next major task is managing the company’s growth and the seemingly inexhaustible demand for more resources to keep the momentum going. The SaaS model makes it easy for additional hardware and software resources to be added as additional staff are brought on board.  

At this point, it should be noted that there is “no free lunch.” SaaS services do cost money and at some point, when the company reaches critical mass, they may decide it is more cost effective to move some of their resources back to on-premise servers. Even in this case, the SaaS model keeps on giving. Because the SaaS infrastructure is already operating well, it allows the company to plan their migration back to their on-premise infrastructure in a controlled fashion while also giving the company the option to optimize their overall infrastructure for those resources they want to own versus the ones that they want to remain in the cloud. 

To Learn More

Synopsys provides very cost-effective solutions for photonic IC start-ups by providing:

  • A full-flow electro/optical co-design platform that lets them use the same software design licenses for both custom/analog-mixed-signal and photonic ICs
  • A flexible SaaS model that enables short-term adding and removing of hardware and software resources as dictated by the business
  • A way to scale and fine tune their company resources as they grow their business.

To learn more about the Synopsys OptoCompiler platform and SaaS offerings, you can reach out to your local Synopsys salesperson or visit

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