Barefoot Networks unveils high-speed, programmable network switch

The company aims to change the way networking systems are built and operated with its groundbreaking chip.

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The company Barefoot Networks on Tuesday emerged from stealth mode to unveil the Tofino chip -- the world's fastest, first-ever fully programmable network switch.

The company is effectively aiming to change the way networking systems are built and operated, allowing operators to change network behavior at the speed at which one can change software.

The Tofino chip runs at 6.5 terabits per second, which is twice as fast as any other chip. Because the chip is fully programmable, network owners can specify the behavior of the packet processing devices in their network, down to the packets flowing on the wire. The chips are programmed with the open-source P4 language, and Barefoot says its customers have written programs for entirely new features, such as ones that replace load balancers or replace firewalls.

By empowering network owners to create the features they need in their own networks, Broadfoot said in a release that it's "taking power away from the tightly held cabal of switch chip vendors."

Nick McKeown, co-founder and chief scientist at Barefoot Networks, noted in a statement that fixed-function switch archicture hasn't changed since it was set in 1996, even as everything else in the data center changed.

"How could a 1996 switching architecture be the right foundation for 2016's applications?" he said. "In all other parts of the data center we have moved to programmability. Tofino enables this move for networking. It empowers network owners and their infrastructure partners to design, optimize and innovate to their specific requirements."

Barefoot has raised more than $130 million to date, with Goldman Sachs Principal Strategic Investments and Google leading its most recent round of $57 million.

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