Moving deeper into enterprise cloud, Intel picks up Barefoot Networks

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When it launched out of stealth just three years ago, Barefoot Networks was hailed as a company that would transform the way a generation of computing giants like Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon and Microsoft would function while making chip manufacturers like Intel and networking companies like Cisco take notice

Now, Intel has not only taken notice, it’s acquired Barefoot Networks for an undisclosed amount.

It’s a sign of just how important cloud computing has become, and an opportunity for Intel to stake more of a claim in the networking space after losing ground to the GPU manufacturers whose chipsets have been in demand since the rise of gaming, graphics, and artificial intelligence made them ascendant.

Essentially, Barefoot Networks chips allow its customers to program whatever functionality they need on to the networking chips that Barefoot sells them. 

Previously, companies could customize network architecture down to everything BUT the chipset. The lack of programmable chips meant that network architectures couldn’t be quite as responsive as a company like Facebook, Microsoft, or Google would want, because they were always working around chipsets that had been designed for specific functions.

Based in Santa Clara, Calif., Barefoot Networks was launched from stealth in late 2016 by Dr. Craig Barratt, a former Stanford University professor whose work was critical to the development of the networking architectures that allowed Alphabet, Facebook and others to operate at the massive scale they now have.

As these companies demanded more customized hardware ranging from chipsets to enable their various machine learning algorithms to manage and monitor content (and win Go games), to the servers and routers that they’ve put up in their own internal networks Barratt realized they’d need chipsets that they could modify.

With the acquisition, Intel adds a core knowledge set around p4-programmable high speed data paths, switch silicon development, P4 compilers, drivers oftware, network telemetry and computational networking.

It also provides another bulwark against rival chip manufacturer, Broadcom .

No word from some of Barefoot Networks investors on the result for them in this acquisition. The company raised $155.4 million from investors including Tencent Holdings, DHVC, Alibaba Group, Dell Technologies Capital, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Lightspeed Ventures.