China-based Alibaba Group, Baidu, and Tencent Holding last week announced plans to deploy Barefoot’s Tofino switches running the open source P4 language, targeted at programmable forwarding plane technology.
Those deals followed up on a domestic win with AT&T, which last month signed on to become the first telecommunications provider to deploy the Barefoot switches. AT&T said it planned to install Tofino-based white boxes running SnapRoute’s FlexSwitch Network Operating System (NOS) in parts of its existing MPLS-based networks.
While the deals themselves were not anything out of the ordinary for equipment vendors, Barefoot VP Ed Doe said the latest string of agreements were unique in that the company was able to name names.
“It’s important to have customers willing to identify and talk about their plans,” said Doe, on the heels of the latest announcement. “We were lucky to have AT&T talk about their plans as it’s not always easy to get companies to talk about their underlying technologies.”
More specific to the AT&T deal, Doe said the agreement was significant because it showed a bold move by a traditional telecommunications provider making an aggressive play in an arena typically led by webscale companies.
Open Source Opportunities
Doe noted that Barefoot’s use of open source as the basis of its platform is likely one reason it’s been able to score deals. The company knows that going with open source can provide a boost to rivals as they can gain access to at least some of the code base, but that’s overcome by a growing urgency from operators in moving away from closed environments whenever possible.
“That’s part of the pros and cons of using open source,” Doe said. “You need to stay ahead of the game in order to remain competitive. It’s a double-edged sword, but has a great impact on generating adoption.”
For a company founded by Nick McKeown, who is considered an instrumental player in the foundation of software-defined networking (SDN); having raised hundreds of millions of dollars in funding due to excitement over its programmable switch platform; and having recently added former Google executive Craig Barratt to lead the company, Doe said Barefoot attempts to keep a start-up mentality.
“These deals are really more validation for those that have been here and working on these projects,” Doe said. “This was a bold play and a lot of people are really happy to see their hard work used.”