One of the hottest trends in the Telecommunications industry is Software Defined Networking (SDN), the idea that you can control the logic of the data flow dynamically using central programmable logic, instead of having it hard-coded into every individual networking “box”.
Stanford Prof. Nick McKeown, one of the guys who invented SDN, and a serial entrepreneur in networking technology startups, now brings the next transformation: programmable switching chips. While in today’s networks special-purpose chips are used which are hard-wired to run specific protocols, the new switch chips can be programmed so that they could perform different functions such as firewall and load balancing, which currently require specialized networking equipment.
McKeown’s new startup Barefoot Network just completed its series C funding round with $57 million from Google (Alphabet) and Goldman Sachs. Google’s interest isn’t surprising as Google has been exploring next-generation networking for a while, and even earlier this year joined the Open Compute Project (in which Goldman Sachs is also a member).
The chips will be programmed by P4, a language for protocol-independent data packet forwarding. P4 is backed by a large open consortium of industry leaders, including tier-1 Telcos AT&T and Huawei, leading manufacturers such as Intel, Cisco and Juniper, and even software giant Microsoft. Reportedly the new chip can reach up to up to 6.5Tbps (terabits per second)—double the speed of the fastest comparable technology on the market, which is critical in making the new chips realistic for the high-performance standards of Telecom.
The vision of Software Defined Networking and that of programmable switching chips is basically one. As Barefoot puts it:
We envision a world where programmable networks outperform fixed-function networks. We believe that programming the network should be as easy to program as a server.
That’s a vision worth pursuing. And it may just about to come true.
You can read more on the latest announcement on this comprehensive coverage by the Wall Street Journal.
For a more technical deep-dive, download Barefoot’s whitepaper here.
Follow Horovits on Twitter!