September 27, 2018

Since its founding in 2013 Barefoot Networks has created quite a stir in the networking world. The Silicon Valley-based startup raised over $155 million, launched a programmable Ethernet switch called Tofino, and debuted an analytics software called Deep Insight. It also uses a new programming language, called P4, to redefine the network data plane.

Barefoot was founded by Nick McKeown, now chief scientist, Pat Bosshart, now CTO, and Dan Lenoski, now chief development officer. What these three founders saw was a missing element in networking — programmability at the silicon level.

“The field of networking has evolved probably the slowest of all the fields in the technology industry,” said Prem Jonnalagadda, Barefoot’s director of product. “Networking is held hostage by the need for interoperability … so evolution and trying out new things has become hard.” He said that fixed function chips that have been around “for ages” don’t allow organizations to adapt to new standards and protocols.

Thus, Barefoot built its programmable chip Tofino as a networking processor. And to help define what the network data plane can do it helped create the P4 programming language.

According to Jonnalagadda, what Barefoot has created is “the freedom to design what the chip can do using a P4 program.”

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