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