Barefoot Networks, the startup designing high-end Ethernet chips to rival Broadcom, says its chips will appear in white box switches from Edgecore and Wistron NeWeb Corp. (WNC) soon, possibly later this quarter.
The switches will give Barefoot its first footing in this increasingly competitive market.
Barefoot began sampling its switch chip, Tofino, in the fourth quarter of 2016. The startup, founded by software-defined networking (SDN) pioneer Nick McKeown, wants to usher in a new era of networking where the data plane can be programmed. To that end, he’s helped champion the open source P4 language, which Tofino uses.
The other goal with Tofino was to outdo Broadcom by supporting a theoretical throughput of 6.5 Tb/s, compared with Broadcom’s 3.2 Tb/s.
White box manufacturers are taking advantage of that.
Edgecore, a subsidiary of well-known ODM Accton, is taking advantage of the “high-end” nature of Barefoot’s Tofino chips, developing a switch with 65 ports of 100-Gb/s Ethernet in a 2-rack-unit size. Edgecore also plans to offer a 1-rack-unit box with 32 100-Gb/s ports.
WNC, a unit of contract manufacturer Wistron, is similarly developing a switch with 64 100-Gb/s ports, although it’s not expected to be available until next quarter. This quarter, WNC expects to ship a box with 48 25-Gb/s ports and six 100-Gb/s uplinks.
Barefoot is also planning to get a spotlight at next week’s Disaggregate, an invitation-only event hosted by Facebook. The plan is to show a Tofino-based switch that’s compliant with the specifications of the Open Compute Project (OCP), the open source hardware project.
Having hardware is a significant step, of course, but what might be more promising for Barefoot is the growth of the P4 community. It’s possible to use P4 on other chips — Netronome, in particular, has worked hard to educate developers about P4 — but the bigger the P4 user base grows, the stronger Tofino’s potential market will look.
“What you see is more and more end users joining the P4 group,” says Ed Doe, Barefoot’s vice president of product strategy. “You have people like Box Networks writing programs — they did some things around broadcast distribution — and contributing them back to the P4 organization.”
Broadcom dominated the market for merchant Ethernet chips in recent years, but competition is emerging from Cavium, whose programmable XPliant chips are being used in switches from Arista and Brocade.
Mellanox competes here as well, placing its chips in white box switches that it makes. The company recently scored Chinese giant Baidu as a customer. And Innovium, a relatively new entrant, hopes to break into this market as well.
Barefoot and Cavium, specifically, are betting that programmability will become popular among network owners that want to create new features. “We’re seeing a lot more people interested in trying to optimize the network around applications instead of having to adapt to what the network is able to do,” Doe says.