Barefoot Networks Unveils Breakthrough Switching Technology: the World's First Fully Programmable Switches That Also Happen to Be the Fastest Switches Ever Built

Barefoot Networks First to Make Networks Fully Programmable All the Way Down to the Wire

PALO ALTO, CA -  Barefoot Networks launched today from stealth, revealing pioneering technology and setting multiple networking records. Not only is the company announcing the fastest switch ever built, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the first switches ever to be fully user-programmable. This combination of record-breaking performance and full programmability enables customers to build the world's only fully-programmable networks and to run those networks at record-breaking speeds. With a renowned executive team that has built the fastest and biggest networking systems in the world, Barefoot Networks is backed by world-class investors who have invested more than $130 million to date. Goldman Sachs Principal Strategic Investments and Google Inc. led the most recent round of $57 million, with new strategic investors joining the round.

Barefoot's Tofino™ switch chip processes packets at 6.5 terabits per second, twice as fast as the previous record holder. While maintaining record-breaking speeds, the Tofino switch chip is also fully programmable. This allows network owners to specify the behavior of the packet processing devices in their network -- down to the packets flowing on the wire. For the first time, network owners and their system vendors can determine precisely how packets are processed. By eliminating the tyranny of fixed-function switch chips, Barefoot's Tofino empowers software developers to program their network in much the same way they program a computer.

With Barefoot, customers write programs in the open-source  P4 programming language, then compile and run them on Barefoot's Tofino switch. The open-source P4 language arms software developers with the compilers, tools, and applications they need to successfully program the fastest networking gear, at no cost. P4 and Barefoot's Tofino switches, amplified by the collective power of industry-leading software engineers, will bring new innovation to an ossified networking ecosystem.

Building the fastest network switches is hard; until Barefoot's Tofino, making them user-programmable was considered impossible. With today's news, Barefoot has overcome a decades-long challenge to enabling network owners to precisely control how packets are processed in their networks. Conventional wisdom was that programmability came at a 10x to 100x reduction in performance. This was not wrong; programmable network devices such as NPUs were orders of magnitude slower than their fixed-function brethren. Barefoot's Tofino changes everything. Tofino provides the first programmable forwarding plane, and does so while setting a new performance benchmark -- besting fixed-function switching silicon on performance, power, and price.

"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 VMs 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."

By enabling the network industry to define the data plane in software, Barefoot Networks takes power away from the tightly held cabal of switch chip vendors and gives it back to network owners and equipment vendors. Allowing network designers and architects to create the features they need in their own networks, and making those features transportable across different switching systems, breaks the chains of vendor lock-in, democratizing the infrastructure. For the first time, insights gleaned from years of traffic analysis can be converted into custom features. And these features can be delivered in a few hours, and can then be applied to different switches from different vendors. By contrast, legacy network providers typically aggregate features in staged, often annual, upgrades, forcing customers to pay steep upgrade fees for features they may not require.

To date, Barefoot has seen customers write programs to create entirely new features -- 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. The replacement of middle boxes -- load balancers and firewalls -- has been an area of particular attention for P4 programmers as large network operators frequently deploy vast arrays of punishingly expensive middle boxes, or thousands of servers. Datacenter owners who adopt Barefoot will be able to eliminate these middle boxes by folding the functionality into their existing network for free.

Barefoot's innovations, driven by its co-founder and chief scientist, Nick McKeown -- the former Nicira co-founder, Stanford professor and longtime networking industry luminary -- encompass the democratizing benefits of combining an open-source programming language, P4, with a programmable switch chip. Over the past two years, Barefoot's new compiler technology has taken P4 programs -- written by customers -- and converted them into blazing-fast running code executed on Tofino. Barefoot has also created an ecosystem of compilers, tools and P4 code to make P4 accessible to anybody, enlisting an expansive and growing community of developers to revolutionize how networks can be built.

At Barefoot, McKeown is joined by co-founders Martin Izzard, CEO, Pat Bosshart, CTO, and Dan Lenoski VP Engineering, as well as executives Ed Doe, VP Products and Marketing, and Dailene Bray, VP Finance. These industry veterans bring more than 125 years of experience in building the fastest and biggest networking systems in the world. Investors -- including Goldman Sachs Principal Strategic Investments and Google Inc., who led the most recent round, with participation from four other industry-leading strategic investors, as well as premier venture capital firms Sequoia Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Andreessen Horowitz -- have provided in excess of $130 million in funding to speed Barefoot's market entry.

"Software running on programmable hardware is displacing fixed-function hardware all across IT and the data center, as software eats the world. Sadly, network engineers and operators have been left behind. Barefoot Networks will change all that and bring the network into the future," said Ben Horowitz, partner, Andreessen Horowitz. "Just as Nicira proved that private and public cloud networks can be controlled by software, Barefoot will prove that the entire network, all the way down to how packets are processed, can be written in software. If you have a vision for how your network can be improved, with Barefoot and Tofino you now have the power to implement your vision."

Serving Mega-scale Data Centers, Enterprises, and Service Providers

In today's public clouds, the network is the business; the public cloud with the fastest, most secure and most reliable network wins the most customers. The ability for cloud providers to differentiate -- to make their network better than their competitors -- is paramount.

Barefoot's platform empowers owners of mega-scale data centers to differentiate their offerings, enabling them to decide, and quickly implement, the features they wish to run in their networks. For example, with Barefoot the network can be optimized for specific use cases (e.g., big data, security, storage, multi-tenancy), and it can help resolve outages quickly by providing packet-level telemetry information.

"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 will also bring the benefits of programmability to enterprises and service providers, who share a goal of differentiating their service offerings for their own constituents. For example, a consequence of "opening" the data plane is that any network owner can add proprietary fields, new protocols, and new measurement formats, as well as support new service guarantees and SLAs. P4, together with the Tofino programmable switch, gives customers the freedom and flexibility to add features to the data plane themselves, or to commission a vendor or supplier to add those features on their behalf.

Networking system vendors have for decades had their wings of innovation clipped by the limitations of fixed-function merchant silicon. They have been at the mercy of long and slow cycles of feature upgrades at these merchant silicon vendors, making them unable to innovate fast and offer products that fit needs of the distinct markets they serve. With Barefoot's Tofino and the P4 ecosystem, the networking system vendors now have the freedom and power to create solutions that make their customers truly happy.

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