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The Foundation of The Future with Barefoot Networks

Barefoot Networks has really been working hard on the latest generation of network switches. If you haven’t been following along as of late, they’ve been adding some great new features and expanding the capabilities of their Tofino chipset to great new heights.

SONiC Support for Tofino and P4

The first big announcement comes from OCP and the new support for P4 and Tofino in the Software for Open Networking in the Cloud (SONiC). This is a pretty big deal because it allows people that are developing for P4 to support the OCP operating system.

P4 is a huge leap forward for companies that are wanting to build their own forwarding engines that push exactly the packets they want to push and have complete control over their software. Given the throughput of Tofino and the slimmed-down capabilities that are present in P4, you can be assured that your packets will be forwarded as fast as possible to their destination.

The other huge advantage of integrating Tofino is the ability to take advantage of Barefoot’s Deep Insight analytics platform. When your packets are being forwarded across the wire at the speed offered by Tofino traditional analytics are impossible to perform. That’s why you need something that integrates with Tofino to give you the ability to track things like latency and traffic microbursts. The monitoring philosophy of Deep Insight seeks to answer the Four Big Questions of Network Analytics:

  1. How did the packet get here?
  2. Why is the packet here?
  3. How long was the packet delayed?
  4. Why was the packet delayed?

Having answers to those four questions can reveal a huge amount of information about your network and the underlying architecture challenges you might face. Now, with upstream support for Tofino in SONiC, OCP users can enjoy the level of detail offered by Deep Insight.

Infused with Insight

The second big announcement comes from the new partnership that Barefoot has formed with IP Infusion. This means support for Tofino and P4 on one of the largest operating systems for whitebox switches in the world. I’ve had a chance to look at IP Infusion in the past at Tech Field Day and they run on quite a few pieces of network hardware out there.

IP Infusion’s new OcNOS is designed to run on bare-metal switches and provide a reliable OS for hyperscale companies looking to take advantage of economies of scale for their large deployments. By integrating Tofino into OcNOS, IP Infusion can run on very high performance switching hardware and also provide a portal into the realm of packet analytics with Deep Insight support.

Every operating system that Barefoot can add to the list of Tofino support means a bigger footprint for installed devices. And every device that has Tofino support also means more support for P4 and Deep Insight. It’s a huge win for Barefoot in getting the word out about the real capabilities of these two huge software platforms.

Monitoring 5G Speeds

The final announcement from Barefoot came last month during Mobile World Congress. With all the talk about the coming storm of 5G traffic and increased reliance on mobile devices for connectivity, mobile service providers may be looking to the horizon and thinking it looks more like a looming tidal wave of trouble for their networks.

Barefoot is partnering with Xilinx and Kaloom to bring Tofino, P4, and Deep Insight to their switching platforms. That’s a huge leap forward for them because it allows them to figure out how to analyze traffic at scale and provide more granular control for the coming onslaught of video streaming and other services that will dominate the mobile market. Being able to ensure quality of connection for media is an important way to keep customer satisfaction high and ensure that customers stay with your platform in the future.

Bringing It All Together

Barefoot is really leaping ahead with technology. Rather than trying to create a demand for their products in areas where it doesn’t make sense they are instead placing Tofino and the associated services they help create in prime positions. Technologies like 5G and SONiC are the future of networking. In five years we won’t be arguing about who had the best port density for closet switches. The network will slowly begin to become a utility designed to support development and consumption of content. And the badge on the switch won’t matter as much as the engine powering the packet forwarding and the analytics. And that’s the play that will keep Barefoot walking in the green grass of success.

About the author

Tom Hollingsworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a networking professional, blogger, and speaker on advanced technology topics. He is also an organizer for networking and wireless for Tech Field Day.  His blog can be found at https://networkingnerd.net/

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