The P4 Runtime project tackles communications between the control plane and forwarding plane. It’s designed for use on local or remote control plane software and is independent of the underlying forwarding plane type.
The project furthers the ongoing move of adding more software control over the network.
“Big picture networking was defined by hardware,” explained Nick McKeown, co-founder and chief scientist at Barefoot Networks. “Now we are lifting the features and protocol up out of hardware and putting them into software. As soon as you put it in software you hand it to an army of developers to create new features and capabilities.”
“SDN sold us short on this,” McKeown said. “You need to be able to change the forwarding plane, otherwise you are not changing the behavior of the packets. This is all part of the second chapter or phase-two of SDN.”
Google and Barefoot are also working with the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) to integrate the P4 Runtime with ONF’s ONOS controller. This is expected to allow for an ONOS controller deploying and managing Google’s tor.p4 program on Barefoot’s 6.5 Tb/s and 3.2 Tb/s programmable Tofino Ethernet switches.
“Someone can now download ONOS with the P4 Runtime plugin on the control plane, and the P4 agent on the switch side,” McKeown said.
Barefoot began sampling the Tofino switch late last year. The company said it’s working with a number of network equipment OEMs, including H3C, Rujie, and ZTE to build products using the Tofino Ethernet switch ASICS and Capilano SDE.
McKeown said P4 Runtime can be combined with Barefoot’s programmable Tofino switch, the P4 language, and an ONOS controller to provide a fully programmable networking stack.
The first public demonstration of the P4 Runtime is scheduled for next week’s SDN and NFV World Congress event in The Hague, Netherlands.
“AT&T applauds efforts that disaggregate hardware from software using open, standard, and extensible APIs,” said Andre Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs and CTO at AT&T, in a statement. “We’re excited to see P4 Runtime gaining traction. When integrated with the open and globally-adopted ONAP platform, it will pay huge dividends to network operators.”
DT expressed similar comments tied to the ability of having greater software control over network programming.
McKeown described a bigger picture where larger operators could run Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter (CORD) racks on top of ONOS, with P4 below to program operations.
“When you can program the control plane of the network, it makes sense for these operators to want to change the forwarding plane as well,” McKeown said. “It’s an easy way to change behavior on the network.”
While still very early in the process, McKeown said the P4 initiative was starting to see a “ramp up with service providers.”
“We have seen Google with a public commitment, and are seeing interest from AT&T and DT,” McKeown said.