Witness the power of the press: In the time since we posted today’s story about Barefoot Networks, the switch-chip startup has raised another round of $57 million, led by Goldman Sachs Private Strategic Investments and Google.
OK, that’s not quite how it happened. Barefoot did raise that funding, but the information was a last-minute add-on to today’s press release and wasn’t available to us at deadline.
Barefoot Networks is the latest startup founded by Nick McKeown, who’s also a founder of Nicira Networks (the source of VMware’s NSX product for network virtualization) and of the Open Networking Foundation.
The new company aims to add a degree of freedom to software-defined networking (SDN) by making switches fully programmable. Developers or network operators can use the P4 language to describe the networking behavior they want, and Barefoot Networks’ chip, a high-end design called Tofino, executes the code to make it happen.
Programmability is part of a larger trend in chips, McKeown points out. Making a chip programmable used to mean accepting extra costs, in terms of power consumption and the amount of space that the circuitry takes up. But thanks to Moore’s Law, the logic — the “thinking” circuitry that makes a chip special — has shrunk. The programmability tax has shrunk along with it. (A lot of the real estate on bigger chips is now filled by memory and I/O, McKeown says.)
So, one by one, certain types of chips have stopped being fixed-function and have become programmable. Graphics chips and digital signal processors (DSPs) are two examples dating back to the 90s. Maybe it’s networking’s turn.
That line of thinking was partly how Barefoot came to be.
“It’s time for packet processing to become a specific type of compiler target. That term really resonated with all of us,” McKeown told SDxCentral.