A couple of years ago, three engineers from Apple saw the need for more flexible networks, and they left the company to create their own startup — SnapRoute — to materialize their vision. SnapRoute now counts AT&T as a customer. It’s helping the service provider to decouple hardware from software in its networks.
Glenn Sullivan, a SnapRoute co-founder, said he and his two colleagues Jason Forrester and Adam Casella were running some of the largest networks at Apple: networks that run applications such as iTunes, Siri, and Maps. In order to scale, it “became clear we needed a similar approach to Facebook and Google to take ownership of the stack,” said Sullivan.
They worked to transition the networks by installing more white box hardware. “But we realized that there were some gaps in what we thought the software should do,” said Sullivan. “We took it upon ourselves to figure out what that stack would look like.”
However, they got frustrated with the increasing demands on the networks in conflict with the internal policies of Apple. “We know how open-source Apple can be,” quipped Sullivan.
Around this time they met Nick McKeown, chief scientist at Barefoot Networks, who helped them “meet the right people” and also coached them from a financial perspective, said Sullivan. And SnapRoute was born.
The company has raised nearly $30 million in total from seed funding and a Series A in February 2017. Participants in the Series A were AT&T, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Microsoft Ventures, and Norwest Venture Partners.
SnapRoute’s main product is its FlexSwitch operating system, which runs on open hardware for network switches, said Josh Goldstein, SnapRoute’s SVP of product marketing. It completely decouples network software from vendor hardware. “FlexSwitch is very modular; it’s able to supply what is needed on the switch in the exact spot in the network without a lot of extra things needed,” said Goldstein.
AT&T Uses SnapRoute
AT&T’s Chris Rice and John Medamana recently mentioned SnapRoute a couple of times in a blog posting in which they described AT&T’s white box disaggregation. They called out SnapRoute as a company that has technology that interfaces with merchant silicon — the place where the silicon features at the lowest level of the network stack are abstracted and exposed to the higher layers of the stack.
“It’s rather simple,” said Sullivan. “It’s how to make chips do what you want. What is difficult is to keep enough staff to rev that version of silicon. Add to that the complexity of supporting multiple vendors, you start to spend more time writing SDKs [software development kits] than focusing on your control and management layer.”
SnapRoute’s FlexSwitch isn’t the only option for abstracting the silicon chip’s data plane functionality. Other options include the Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK), the Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI), and P4.
In its blog AT&T also singled out SnapRoute’s control and management plane software at the top of the stack. For AT&T, control functions must be integrated with the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP). “They spec out what your control plane has to ingest in order to operate inside this greater whole,” said Sullivan.
“I think there’s enough room for people there,” he said. “I don’t look at those as first line competitors. We’re usually getting baked off against incumbents like Arista and Cisco. Probably more Arista, which has really made merchant silicon work for their use cases.”
SnapRoute has other customers besides AT&T, but it won’t name them, yet.
The company also works with Facebook’s Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP). It’s participated on the Voyager Project within TIP, helping to create a white box optical transponder and routing solution. SnapRoute delivered a complete disaggregated hardware and software optical networking platform for Voyager.