Broadcom is adding programmability to its chip-based switches designed for data centers, enterprises, and service provider networks. The updated products include support for transport speeds of more than 3 terabits per second (Tb/s).
The market giant said the programmable switch series includes support for protocol parsing, processing, and virtualization services. Those include service function chaining, network virtualization, and software-defined forwarding.
Additional programming features include support for telemetry, including in-band headers and out-of-band network visibility. This can also be used with Broadcom’s native traffic engineering functions such as configurable equal-cost multipath routing, and dynamic state-based load balancing and multipathing.
Rochan Sankar, senior director of product marketing for Broadcom’s core switch group, said software control can be interfaced with northbound APIs and managed by any software level abstraction. The switches are backward compatible with current products from the company, with continued interoperability across vendors.
“This does not require a forklift to gain performance benefits,” Sankar said. “This can be upgraded one part at a time and then gain greater benefits down the road.”
Broadcom’s move was applauded by analysts, who noted that despite the company having near dominant market share, it still moved to meet consumer demand. Bob Wheeler, principal analyst at The Linley Group, said the new switches show the company was “not going after the hyperscale market, but more for the private cloud and enterprise market.”
“This clarifies they are investing in their different architectures,” Wheeler said. “They are sending a clear message that they are investing in their products and not just supporting a legacy product lineup.”
Sankar said programmability is specific to Broadcom, though most are familiar with the process due to the company’s position in the market.
“Programmability at the silicon level is specific to each vendor,” Sankar said. “We have built to an industry standard that the market is familiar with.”
Wheeler said programmability should not be an issue as a “vast majority of the market does not want to move away from traditional switching and routing. Only a minority of customers are going to want to program a switch.”
The programmability move is in direct competition with Barefoot Networks. The company late last year began sampling its programmable Tofino switch, which runs the open source P4 language, and is targeted at programmable forwarding plane technology.
Barefoot earlier this year snared a deal with AT&T, in which AT&T became the first telecom provider to deploy the 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.
More recently, China-based Alibaba Group, Baidu, and Tencent Holding announced plans to deploy Barefoot’s Tofino switches. Alibaba runs one of the country’s largest online and mobile payment services, while Baidu and Tencent are focused on Internet-based search and service.
Wheeler noted Barefoot does provide end users with “somewhat open” programmability and greater flexibility using P4 language. However, some vendors and customers are still concerned that path is not to the “hardened level” of what is offered by Broadcom.
Perhaps sensing the competitive move from Broadcom, Barefoot provided its own view on programmability.
“Not all programmability is created equal,” wrote Ed Doe, VP of product and strategy at Barefoot, in an email. “Customers and end users need control and ownership of the forwarding plane of the network. They need a switch chip that is a compiler target – allowing them to develop their own networking apps and compile them down to the forwarding plane and run them at line rate. If end users and customers do not have access to the programmability via a programming language and a compiler target then what they have is not programmable at all.”
Doe previously told SDxCentral that it’s use of 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.”