NFV Applications NEWS

Barefoot's New Programmable Chip Means Big Things for Networking

By Steve Anderson June 16, 2016

Networking has never been an easy thing to deal with, requiring a lot of complex operations and careful maintenance to keep up and running to its fullest. That may soon get easier thanks to a new release from Barefoot Networks: a programmable chip known as the Tofino which will deliver several useful functions from a comparatively simple chip.

Tofino's capability is already impressive by most standard metrics; it can process packets at the rate of 6.5 terabits per second, a rate fully twice as fast as any other processor around. Plus, the chips are completely user-programmable using Barefoot's own open-source programming language known as the P4 language. This makes Tofino particularly attractive for users that may not have a lot of bandwidth to play with but still want a  powerful network.

With P4, users can set up Tofino to establish behavior settings for packet processing down to packets flowing directly on the wire itself. That makes the network, essentially, just as programmable as the computer itself is, and opens up some new options for users. Barefoot's vice president of product management and marketing Ed Doe noted that, since only about 15 percent of a chip is logic, it allowed for some flexibility in development. Those who make the right choices in architecture, Doe noted, can see much faster operations.

Those interested in putting these chips to work will have a bit of a wait, however, as the first samples won't be available until later this year. However, many companies are getting a head start with P4 programming, a development that should serve them well once the chip is on hand. Web-scale companies are said to be particular beneficiaries of such a technology, especially as most networking equipment comes pre-programmed. With Tofino chips, that should change, opening up a new market option.

It's said that companies like Cisco would be competitors here, but some see such companies as potential customers as well. After all, why wouldn't Cisco want to buy up a load of Tofinos for the sake of offering network hardware that can be customized to a customer's needs, within certain limits? That would make Cisco's product line more flexible, and for companies that wanted that level of flexibility, a Tofino-powered lineup would be just the ticket. That means more potential sales for Cisco, and more potential profitability down the line.

Tofino represents a lot of opportunity in the networking space, and there will likely be no shortage of interested users getting on board when the samples finally start rolling out. It could be a huge shakeup in networking, and given how reliant we are on the network these days, it could also mean big opportunity to come. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

Contributing Writer

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