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ONF and P4 - A (packet) match made in heaven

P4, the P4, the open source programming language (which sits at the heart of APS technology) has found itself a new home within the Open Networking Foundation (ONF).

We all know, any choice of home is about ‘location, location, location’ – and we think the ONF offers the most exciting new neighbourhood for this project.

Vendor independence, sound management and, above all a diverse, healthy community, are going to be vital for P4 to sustain its growing position as the lingua franca of the intelligent, programmable network. And the ONF is the right place to guarantee all this and more.

User-lead, in the interests of carriers and network operators, and with a host of successful infrastructure projects under its wing, the ONF should guarantee the vendor independence and end user focus needed to ensure P4 language can deliver as a truly open, community driven project.

P4 is now the common language of programmable networking, the programmable data plane, and networking data processing. It provides a single syntax, used to define powerful new intelligent functions for everything from switches, to routers, network interface cards and more. Here at APS Networks, we see P4 as the real medium for the next decade or more of network innovation, and we are building our range of programmable switches to give P4 developers an unparalleled canvas to create cutting-edge network applications.

The relatively simple syntax of P4 belies the breadth and scope of the sophisticated solutions that it can be used to build. Increasingly, P4 is used to solve complex network requirements. These requirements are only going to increase as intelligent networks become the hub for the IoT, smart cities, Industry 4.0, autonomous vehicles and innovative new consumer devices that leverage technology such as augmented reality.

Using P4, an SDN switch can be turned into anything from a router; to a content-aware load balancer; to a sophisticated, wire speed layer 7 security appliances. However, it can do much more. By utilizing its powerful ability to match and process network data, it becomes hard to find any limits to the potential uses for P4 across industries from telecoms, datacenter and cloud providers, through fintech and security to media and broadcast.

And for us, this is where open source comes in. The real strength and potential of P4 is not only going to be unlocked by the end-user, it is the end-user. Free, open, user-lead innovation and collaboration is what makes well-run open source projects unbeatable in their field.

For decades, the networking industry has lumbered forward awkwardly, labouring under the chains of a small cartel of monopolistic vendors. This group offered the end-user any colour box they wanted as long as it was black: a thirty-year-long stream of vastly overpriced switching hardware and proprietary appliances, which delivered the bare minimum in the way of technological advancement.

P4 finally gives network users and operators the freedom to innovate and collaborate, with the support of a much broader, more diverse, and more competitive community of vendors, engineers and developers.

P4’s new stewardship under the ONF is great news for the future strength and independence of this community.

If you want to know more about P4, or how our innovative programmable switches make use of it, then drop us a line at