I’ve just been speaking with Barefoot Networks about their Tofino ASIC for flexible packet processing. During the briefing it became clear that:
- Three years from start to finish to design their ASIC. They claim that volume shipping is expected mid-2017 so four years time-to-market. (I’m a little dubious of this claim)
- Current team size is 80 people. Thats less than the average product management team at a big vendor.
- The Tofino ASIC is equivalent to or better than the Broadcom Tomahawk in almost every way. TOFINO is a 6.5TB/S, 256 x 25G I/O channel (65 X 100GE OR 260 X 25GE or some other combination) user-programmable networking ASIC.
- The pricing is expected to be similar to existing products.
Working with networking vendors over the years, especially Cisco, I’ve been told by product managers and marketing that silicon is hard. Things like “hundreds of people”, “100’s of millions”, “many years to develop”, “you can’t change the silicon”.
Its clear that something has changed. Here are some thoughts on this transition.
Small Teams are Better Than Big
Barefoot has demonstrated that small companies can build networking silicon for moderate level usage. Its can do so in a half the time at one quarter the cost and with a genuine innovation compared to the market.
In my view, Barefoot Networks has a major competitive advantage over big networking companies. It draws in experienced and smart people from them and focussed on a specific thing.
Barefoot has developed an open source community around its product. P4.org has been working quietly to gather input from a wide range of potential customers. Previously, only big companies would have access to customer input.
Customer input is about reducing risk of product development. Investors can measure the value of their spend during development by monitoring open source engagement. Its low cost and also marketing/exposure for the company product.
Its also worth noting that the rise of cloud companies has enabled Barefoot. Facebook, Azure, Google and Amazon are sure to be involved in early testing because it enables a vast new range
The EtherealMind View
- Don’t look to incumbent vendors for genuine change.
- Look for incumbent vendors to buy these companies to bring proven products into their portfolio/strategy.
- The old ways of needed “years, dollars and expertise” do not apply to building new products.
- Access to customers for product development has been replaced with open source communities and well known individuaks to engage them.
- This is why the Cisco “spin in” model isn’t working anymore (if it ever did).