Intel acquires Barefoot
Image: Barefoot Networks

Recently, semiconductor giant Intel announced plans to purchase switch chip firm Barefoot Networks. The Santa Clara, California-based startup has made its name by creating high-speed, low latency programmable Ethernet switch silicon and software. Now, Intel can use its acquisition’s technology to take on market leader Broadcom in the highly lucrative data center market.

Though Intel did not disclose the financial terms of its purchase, the corporation noted that it intends to complete the transaction by the end of the third quarter.

What Makes Barefoot’s Chips Special

Founded in 2014, Barefoot has found success in a highly competitive data center sector thanks to the multifaceted nature of its offerings.

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The company’s flagship product is a line of programmable application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) switch chips called Tofino. First released in 2017, the first generation of 16 nm Tofino components ran at 6.4 Tbps. That high level of performance was enough to win the startup a Cisco supply contract.

In 2018, Barefoot released its 7 nm Tofino 2 ASIC chips, which can run at 12 Tbps. Therefore, the startup’s hardware is comparable to that of Broadcom’s highly regarded Tomahawk 3 components. Barefoot also uses open P4 to encode its chips. As such, its clients can program them to suit their particular networking needs. Accordingly, the firm has been able to outdo some of its larger legacy competitors, which tend to offer fixed-function switches.

In a press release, Intel said that Barefoot’s semiconductors would allow it to “focus on end-to-end cloud networking and infrastructure leadership.”

Just in Time

Intel picked an excellent time to expand its networking chip portfolio. In recent years, Intel has thrived by being a component supplier to cloud service providers like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. However, that segment of the corporation’s business has taken a hit as its customers have amassed excess inventories of Ethernet switches.

With its latest acquisition, Intel will be able to offer its clients new boutique, best-in-class hardware solutions. That’s not to say the corporation won’t have to fight to be the data center market leader. Broadcom has developed a new programming language that will allow its customers to add networking capability to its existing chipsets.

Furthermore, Nvidia spent $6.9 billion to buy networking components company Mellanox in March. The chipmaker purchased the firm to “optimize datacenter-scale workloads across the entire computing, networking, and storage stack.” But with its new acquisition, Intel now has the resources to become a leading full-service networking services provider.

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