Barefoot Networks, a start-up based in Palo Alto, California emerged from stealth to unveil its "Tofino" switching chip and announce that it has raised $130 million, including a strategic investment from Google.
Dubbed "the fast switch every built", Barefoot’s programmable Tofino switch chip processes packets at 6.5 terabits per second, twice as fast as the previous record holder. While conventional programmable network devices such as NPUs have orders of magnitude slower than their fixed-function brethren, Barefoot said its Tofino silicon provides the first programmable forwarding plane while setting a new performance benchmark for performance, power, and price.
The silicon is designed for user programmability via the open-source P4 programming language, enabling precise control over packets and bringing entirely new features into the switch—for example, features that replace load balancers, features that replace firewalls, features that add packet-by-packet telemetry enabling rapid debug of distributed application behavior.
Barefoot said the open-source P4 language provides software developers with the compilers, tools, and applications they need to successfully program the fastest networking gear. This could eliminate "middle boxes" that add latency, complexity and cost to a data center network. Barefoot’s new compiler technology has taken P4 programs – written by customers – and converted them into blazing-fast running code executed on Tofino. Barefoot will open an ecosystem of compilers, tools and P4 code to make P4 accessible.
Barefoot Networks also disclosed that it has recently closed a $57 million funding round led by Goldman Sachs Principal Strategic Investments and Google Inc. This brings total funding to more than $130 million to date.
“The basic fixed-function switch architecture was set in 1996 and has remained unchanged for twenty years,” noted Nick McKeown, co-founder and chief scientist at Barefoot Networks. “Yet everything else in the data center changed. We went from monolithic software to VM’s and then to containers and fully distributed applications. With the rise of the cloud, data center traffic patterns changed as did the role of the data center. How could a 1996 switching architecture be the right foundation for 2016’s applications? In all other parts of the data center we have moved to programmability. Tofino enables this move for networking. It empowers network owners and their infrastructure partners to design, optimize and innovate to their specific requirements.”
"Mega-scale data center operators greatly benefit from building their own networking equipment and writing the software that runs on it. The forwarding plane, though, has been off-limits to programmers because of the rigid nature of high-performance switching solutions,” noted Martin Izzard, co-founder and CEO, Barefoot Networks. “With P4 and Barefoot, the landscape is changing; users can develop the P4 programs to define the innovative forwarding plane behavior, introducing new ways to monitor and analyze network traffic, making networks more reliable, scalable, efficient and secure."
- Barefoot Networks was co-founded by Nick McKeown, a Stanford professor and co-founder of Nicira (acquired by VMware), Martin Izzard, Pat Bosshart, and Dan Lenoski VP Engineering.