Making ASICs is a tough task. We learned this last year at Cisco Live Berlin from this conversation with Dave Zacks:
Cisco spent 6 years building the UADP ASIC that powers their next generation switches. They solved a lot of the issues with ASIC design and re-spins by creating some programmability in the development process.
Now, watch this video from Nick McKeown at Barefoot Networks:
Nick says many of the same things that Dave said in his video. But Nick and Barefoot took a totally different approach from Cisco. Instead of creating programmable elements in the ASIC design, then abstracted the entire language of function definition from the ASIC. By using P4 as the high level language and making the system compile the instruction sets down to run in the ASIC, they reduced the complexity, increased the speed, and managed to make the system flexible and capable of implementing new technologies even after the ASIC design is set in stone.
Oh, and they managed to do it in 3 years.
Sometimes, you have to think outside the box in order to come up with some new ideas. Even if that means you have to pull everything out of the box. By abstracting the language from the ASIC, Barefoot not only managed to find a way to increase performance but also to add feature sets to the switch quickly without huge engineering costs.
Some food for thought.
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Tofino and UADP are fundamentally similar — programmable ASIC’s. E.g., long after shipping UADP, Cisco was able to add data plane features like VXLAN and MPLS to it. That’s pretty cool!
Rumor is that Cisco has a proof-of-concept demo showing P4 code running on the UADP.