Accelerating the Open Networking Stack

Harpinder Singh
Apr 21 · 4 min read

Announcing our investment in InsidePacket

By: Harpinder Singh and Davis Treybig

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Over the last decade, the nature of networking infrastructure has fundamentally changed. Switches — the building blocks of networks which ingest, analyze, modify, and route the packets that contain all the information we send and receive on the internet — have transitioned from being monolithic, vertically integrated solutions built by a single vendor to open, disaggregated devices composed of multiple vendors’ software and hardware.

Often referred to as “white boxes”, these open switches first gained prominence alongside the shift from on-premise to cloud infrastructure. Companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon were tired of being locked-in to expensive, inflexible devices not specialized for their workloads and needs. Furthermore, these major cloud providers had the talent to build their own software on top of open architectures. As a result, they started buying white boxes from ODMs like Celestica, UfiSpace, and Accton, implementing their own software on top of these boxes to allow for a modularity and specificity that was not before feasible. This shift ushered a significant decline in the market share of traditional “black box” switch vendors.

The rise of white boxes has necessitated the rise of a correspondingly new “open networking” stack; there is now both the opportunity and need for an ecosystem of products designed for white-box based architectures. A first wave of open initiatives serving the cloud data center customer, such as the Open Compute Project (OCP), have already emerged, and a second wave targeting the emerging, edge-cloud market such as the Telco Infrastructure Project is beginning to reach prominence. Correspondingly, a number of startups designed around enabling and serving this new market have been built over the same timeframe.

In the context of these shifts, Eli Karpilovski was leading Broadcom’s efforts in switch programmability — an emerging area of networking that allows a switch ASIC’s pipeline to be dynamically modified in order to optimize it for the applications any given customer needs to run. Eli observed that the combination of these trends, openness and programmability, created an opportunity for a fundamental rethinking of the way that packet processing is done, and that’s precisely what Eli’s company, InsidePacket, is working towards.

Telcos, service providers, and cloud infrastructure players have traditionally needed to offload all complex network processing, such as firewalls, load balancing, and network address translation, to secondary systems, such as x86 servers, smart NICs, or virtualized software. However, with an open architecture powered by a dynamically programmable chip, they could now essentially treat their switches like an app-store, mixing and matching the embedded software needed for their specific business. Pushing such applications directly into the chip would lead to profound benefits from a cost and throughput perspective, allowing in many instances for hundreds of servers to be replaced by a switch that still supports all required network routing functionality.

The exponential increase in data sent over networks makes such a solution relevant to virtually all network infrastructure providers, from cloud hyperscale data centers to edge colocation centers; everyone is struggling to meet ever-increasing processing demands without ballooning their costs. However, as more network processing moves towards the edge, InsidePacket’s technology only becomes more significant. A hyperscale data center run by a major cloud player has the physical space to use hundreds of x86 servers for load balancing and the talent to manage that. An edge micro data center run by a major telco has neither, yet with the rise of trends like software-defined wide area networking, secure access service edge, and 5G, pushing more compute to the edge will be a necessity. Only an open networking stack coupled with rich packet processing capabilities embedded inside the networking switch will enable this.

Beyond being world-class domain experts in this space, the team at InsidePacket has blown us away by the progress they’ve demonstrated in just a year. From being the first company to get Microsoft’s SONiC running on Broadcom’s Jericho2 chipset, to demonstrating non-trivial commercial progress in an industry notoriously difficult to sell into, they’ve continued to impress us with their execution, their knowledge of the industry, and their unrelenting dedication to this vision. At Innovation Endeavors, we love to partner with deeply technical teams fundamentally transforming industries, and we couldn’t be more excited to lead this round and partner with Eli, alongside our friends at Eclipse Ventures, to help them lay the groundwork for a new, open networking stack.

Innovation Endeavors

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