Barefoot Networks says that programmability and telemetry will help networks to deliver on two main promises of 5G: lower latency and delivering more bandwidth.
The company makes the Tofino programmable Ethernet switches, which are programmable through the use of its P4 programming language, and also has an analytics software called Deep Insight.
Barefoot considers itself a pioneer, or “inventor,” in telemetry.
According to Ed Doe, Barefoot’s chief business officer, it published one of the first standards and papers on in-band network telemetry (INT) after it was proposed by the P4 Working Group as a way to instrument packets. This paper was co-authored by VMware, Intel, Arista, and Dell.
But as companies prepare for future networks, more enterprises, including data center and NIC companies, are becoming invested in telemetry, namely INT. “I think in a few years you’ll see it as pretty much standard across the industry to be able to support this concept of data plane telemetry at the data plane, per-packet level,” said Doe. “Telemetry is becoming important for all networks.”
“We have this programmable technology that can do a lot of different techniques. And a lot of the things we can do as well is [with] telemetry,” said Roberto Mari, the director of product management at Barefoot. “We’ve been exploring a lot of things around 5G and efforts especially around how you can accelerate 5G on a high to potent scale and how you can support new protocols in 5G.”
There are three areas that Barefoot believes its product suite can help in the advent of 5G: segment routing over the IPv6 data plane (SRv6); INT; and protocols like GPRS tunneling protocol (GTP).
In-band Network Telemetry
INT “fundamentally helps monitoring the application as it travels through this 5G network,” Mari explained. “It’s called in-band network telemetry because as this traffic traverses the 5G network we can instrument it with metadata so you can track what this packet is doing or how much latency was experienced. And now you can really meter and measure the SLA [service level agreements] and performance of these applications through the 5G network.”
Barefoot can deliver INT through the ASIC and through SmartNICs. Mari said that Tofino fits into network switches and routers, whereas the SmartNIC fits closer to the application.
“So now if you extend that telemetry functionality from the network into the server you can monitor how the applications are behaving, and how some of these virtualized network functions that are off-loaded on the SmartNICs are behaving,” he said. “If you insert a network function for security or for load balancing, thanks to the INT function, now you can see and monitor how things are being delivered in terms of throughput and latency.”
This use case leverages Barefoot’s Deep Insight platform to analyze and visualize the data from the SmartNICs, switches, and routers.
Barefoot has a number of partnerships with both ODMs and SmartNIC vendors to bring the telemetry and visibility use case to 5G. This includes Netronome and Xilinix for SmartNIC, and EdgeCore Networks, Inventec, and WNC as ODMs.
According to Doe, this helps deliver on the 5G promise of higher bandwidth and lower latency. “With technologies like INT you can not only measure instantaneous bandwidth but also instantaneous latency on a per-packet level in order to be able to support these two directional things that 5G is really trying to offer.”
According to Mari, Barefoot Tofino is the only merchant silicon that can deliver SRv6, “thanks to the Tofino programmability as [a] data plane program that runs on top of Tofino.”
However, segment routing as a technology has the 5G market buzzing, Mari said, mainly because 5G networks will have to run on an IPv6 backbone.
At MWC Barcelona in February, Cisco announced that it, alongside SoftBank, had completed the first deployment of SRv6. And Barefoot demonstrated the Tofino switch running this new SRv6 standards-based protocol to insert ad-hoc services to select flows and applications.
“A number of people are talking about how to migrate their infrastructure over to take advantage of [5G] and this is a new protocol people are looking at,” Doe added.
SRv6 would enable building a 5G network architecture that is more scalable, reliable, flexible, and agile — and would reduce both capex and opex. Segment routing is a new technology in the 5G space, Mari said, “because [of] how simplifying the design of the 5G network makes these designs a little bit more efficient.”
The Tofino programmability is an essential component for new data protocols, including both SRv6 and INT. Programmability enables companies to implement these protocols “in hardware at the same speeds and feeds that you can do existing things, or even faster,” said Doe.
GPRS Tunneling Protocol
Working with the GTP protocol, Barefoot is able to help deliver on the bandwidth capabilities of 5G networks.
“We’ve shown being able to convert seamlessly at wire rates or at line rates with our switches to offload and be able to accelerate and offer significant orders more bandwidth to the 5G packet core,” said Doe.
To this end, Barefoot and its existing partner Kaloom — which has previously used Tofino to deliver a software-defined data center (SDDC) fabric — jointly demoed an edge gateway at MWC that can handle GTP termination for 5G networks.
“This is a function that typically in the past, it was delivered on x86, but x86 doesn’t have great performance and latency characteristics, and now can be terminated thanks to our programmable data plane on a high-performing networking ASIC such as Tofino,” said Mari.
Kaloom’s fabric, dubbed CEF, alongside Tofino can run wire speed GTP and full 5G user plane function with ultra-low latency and high performance.