Barefoot Networks is on the verge of transforming an industry, and until now no one has heard of them. According to Barefoot, the Tofino series of switches are the fastest and most programmable switches in the world. Their proposed solution would take the advantages of Software Defined Networking (SDN) and turn the dial up to 100! These enhancements would allow their switches to compete with networking hardware companies like Cisco and Juniper.
Switches are used everywhere from a home all the way to companies like Google and Facebook to transport traffic across a network. It isn’t until we look at Google or Facebook do we realize that the current industry standard hardware have some limitations and caused these companies to develop their own hardware and software to meet their unique needs.
What exactly are they doing that is so special? Barefoot’s business is in the manufacturing of switch hardware that can be fully programmed using the P4 open source framework. Their secret sauce is in the chip and the hardware platform responsible for how the switches handle traffic. Before Barefoot came along, programmable hardware operated at 1/10th or 1/100th the speed of their fixed hardware competition.
By allowing the switches to be programmable, it allows those that manage the network to have better control over the data and flow of traffic in their network. One use case that Barefoot provides is about quickly isolating latency.
In large networks, traffic might flow across just a few switches or up to 10 or more. As the number of devices increase, so does the difficulty in isolating a potential bottleneck or latency issue. In this scenario, it would be easy to program the switches to add a timestamp into the traffic as it passes through each switch so that once it arrives at the destination you could easily identify the location of any network slowness by following the timestamps left behind by the switches.
Early results look promising and Barefoot has the backing of major tech companies. I look forward to seeing if Barefoot can deliver on their promises and shake up the tech industry and allow for some much needed innovation.