Barefoot Networks believes there’s a role for programmable switching in 5G networks. The company, which makes the Tofino programmable switches, said the technology could help operators reduce latency and be more adept at monitoring their network performance.
As operators migrate from a packet core to a mobile core, it makes it possible for network operators to incorporate programmable switching, said Barefoot Networks VP of Product and Strategy Ed Doe. “Our switch will reduce latency to nanoseconds instead of milliseconds,” he said. “You can get better performance with less jitter and your resources can be used for other things.”
AT&T is already using programmable switches from Barefoot Networks in its MPLS network. The company installed Tofino-based white boxes running SnapRoute’s FlexSwitch Network Operating System (NOS) and is using Barefoot’s in-band telemetry.
According to Doe, an operator could create a similar scenario in a 5G network by incorporating Barefoot’s technology into the core and create programmable data planes. By managing the control plane and the data plane, an operator could scale up bandwidth, which is currently not possible.
In another scenario, Barefoot coupled Tofino switches with P4 programming language and SmartNICs (network interface cards). At the recent Mobile World Congress 2018 conference in Barcelona, Spain, the company demonstrated this scenario using Xilinx SmartNICs and Netronome SmartNICs. Doe said that, for example, in the AT&T network, Barefoot could feed the data into AT&T’s Indigo collaborative analytics platform. For operators without an analytics engine, they could use Barefoot Networks’ Deep Insight network monitoring platform.
Another scenario where programmable switching may be helpful is at the mobile network edge. Using P4-programmable fabric in the serving gateway and the packet gateway of the network, an operator can run Tofino switches and control the programmable fabric using the P4 programming language together with an Open Network Operating System (ONOS) controller, which is a software-defined networking (SDN) operating system. “This provides a flexible infrastructure that can adapt to the needs of the network,” Doe said.
This type of deployment could have different business models, Doe said. For example, it could be used by a network operator or even a neutral host, such as a tower company or an in-building operator. You need a high-performance programmable switch at the edge so you can virtualize it and share the infrastructure,” Doe said. “You need the flexibility to adapt those resources.”