Intel to Acquire Barefoot Networks for Ethernet Switch Silicon

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Edge Core Wedge 100BG 65X Barefoot Tofino Switch
Edge Core Wedge 100BG 65X Barefoot Tofino Switch

In a bit of news today, Intel says it has reached an agreement to acquire Barefoot Networks. This is a big deal. Intel has been steadily falling further behind in the Ethernet switch and NIC segments. Acquiring Barefoot Networks’ Tofino 2, P4 suite, and future designs, combined with Intel’s silicon photonics may give it an edge in the future switch designs.

Intel to Acquire Barefoot Networks

Intel announced the acquisition of Barefoot Networks. Barefoot makes high-speed switch chips and the software used to make those chips flexible and fast.

Barefoot Tofino 2 Series
Barefoot Tofino 2 Series

The current Barefoot Tofino 2 series has switch chips that range up to 12.8Tbps, or fast enough to do full duplex 64-port 100GbE switch designs.

Barefoot Tofino 2 Families
Barefoot Tofino 2 Families

As we have seen, the future for switches will require higher-silicon integration. At OCP Summit 2018, the discussion was on co-packaging optics with the switch chip instead of using today’s popular QSFP28 modules.

Co Packaged Optics Switch For 400GbE Generation
Co Packaged Optics Switch For 400GbE Generation

It just so happens that Intel has been pursuing silicon photonics. STH covered the Intel Silicon Photonics Update at Interconnect Day 2019. One thing is supremely interesting to even the casual observer. Edge-Core makes a Facebook wedge switch based on Barefoot Networks’ Tofino 2 chip. Intel also talks about supplying Facebook data centers with silicon photonics in the QSFP28 form factor and future QSFP56/ QSFP56-DD form factors. One can wonder if these two events are related.

Final Words

The bigger question here is: what Ethernet adapter silicon will Intel buy? With NVIDIA to acquiring and Xilinx acquiring SolarFlare Intel needs something beyond the Intel Ethernet 800 Series. It is now sorely behind in that area.

Also, the Intel Fulcrum acquisition was supposed to be the company’s Ethernet switch path going forward. We saw an example of an Intel switch in our Supermicro MicroBlade Review Part 3: 10Gb Networking with MBM-XEM-001. When it came to the 25/50/100GbE era, it seems that Fulcrum switches were not up to par. Instead, Broadcom has shipped several generations of switch chips, and Intel is behind. Intel also needs an OPA100 progression, perhaps that is now Ethernet.

This is good to see as Broadcom needs some competition. Broadcom switch chip silicon prices are high enough that Intel could play a disruptor.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Minor typo in third-to-last paragraph.

    Tangentially related to this news, it will be interesting to see who will be the first to offer a passively-cooled 4+1 port or greater copper switch for under $300 to the home and smb market. With 10gb on devices like the imac pro, high-end x570 motherboards, and $80 pcie nics becoming common.

  2. Yep, copper pricing is a bitch.

    If you can stick to SFP+ (which actually has a quite good second-hand market) for your NIC’s then you can get a brand new MikroTik CRS305-1G-4S+IN with 1x1Gb Ethernet and 4x10Gb SFP+ ports for less than $150.

  3. I’d love to small 100g switch – e.g. 4 port. Everything I see is way too large and expensive for a small video editing office.

  4. Small typo “Facebook wedge switch”, made me think of a wedge salad, lol.

    Intel seem to have strung themselves very thin.

    And the switching/network market has turned into a wild west with all the acquisitions going on. Thanks for the good read and quick update! Articles like these help us little guys try and stay in the know.

  5. Micah it’s a wedge switch not edge switch. I don’t think it’s a typo. That’s just what it’s called.

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