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What is Intel®Tofino™? Main Benefits & Use Cases

As time progresses, more and more innovative products are needed. The best example of the innovation at hand these days is the Intel®Tofino™ ASIC. With massive bandwidth and an increase in data availability, Intel®Tofino™ is just the thing you need.
After all, who doesn't want flexibility and reliability in the DC Infrastructure?

Why don't you take a deeper dive into the Intel®Tofino™ technology? Here's everything you need to know!

Whitebox Switches: Fixed vs Programmable ASICS

ASICs are specifically designed for the special transmission of any kind of network traffic. Nowadays, two variants of ASICs are available; fixed and programmable, providing you with a number of options and possibilities.

The main difference between the two ASIC options is flexibility and adaptation. The fixed ASIC switch is the traditional approach which comes with a pre-defined data plane function structure and has a limited ability to manipulate the packet processing.

But what about the programmable ASIC switch? Are they the ones who can adapt to your needs by providing the flexibility required to establish your own or application-specific parameters? Definitely.

Programmable ASICs are the ones that offer methods to define the data plane functionality in a flexible way, using open source programming languages such as P4. This customizable pipeline or packet processing engine can be programmed according to your requirements. You can program the processing in innovative ways to make it compatible with any standard or non-standard Ethernet type. Furthermore, you benefit in getting the ability to build protocol specific extensions without the need to replace the switch ASIC by a new generation, as you would need to do it with a fixed function ASIC approach.

What is Intel®Tofino™ ASIC? Is it programmable?

What do programmable switches have to do with Intel®Tofino™ ? You will find that out in just a minute or two!

If you talk about Intel®Tofino™, it is a programmable switch ASIC that is based on a model called PISA (protocol-independent switch architecture) and allows you various opportunities that are otherwise not possible with fixed pipeline-based switches. At the same time, they provide you with full-fledged performance with your device so that it can reach its full potential.

Intel®Tofino™ provides you with bandwidth up to 400GbE speed per port today with a roadmap exceeding the current level by multiple factors. Diving into it deeper, it's important to understand that Intel®Tofino™ is programmable via the Open Source Programming Language called P4. This language was designed to program any kind of network device (switches, NICs, routers, etc.) and gives you the ability to control how packets are processed through your device.

Last but surely not least, to give you an interesting example, you are capable of defining your own process to identify bottlenecks within your network and tune it in an automatic AI fashion. You can also export flow-specific metadata information to external apps to in-depth analyze specific things.

Intel®Tofino™ – How It Started?

When you have a breakthrough technology such as Intel®Tofino™, you often wonder who were the genius people creating such an innovation. This revolutionary fabric processor was created and proposed by Barefoot Networks in 2013 under the co-founder's Nick McKeown, Martin Izzard, Pat Bosshart, and Stefanos Sidiropoulos. At that time, the ASIC was already running at up to 6.5 Tbit/s. After its massive success, it was purchased by none other than Intel® in 2019, where it got even more recognition, and this is what that technology deserves.

Data Center of the Future with Intel®Tofino™

Different organizations and different people propose a variety of structures for the data centers of the future. It is surely a topic worthy of debate, and each brings forward the framework that suits best for him.

However, according to Intel®, the data center of the future will be derived from Intel®Tofino™ and P4. They believe that the data center of the future will be many times more efficient and beneficial than they are now.

It can be explained by measuring the needs for the future. Present-day data centers are complicated, mixed up, have security issues, and have no way of creating an application-optimized forwarding with AI methods. All these complications will be solved by Intel®Tofino™'s ability to be programmed. Let's discuss a scenario in which you are using a fixed switch. You used it for VXLAN, but now you want IPL routing or MPLS. You cannot use a fixed switch as it does not come with much flexibility. But on the other hand, if you deploy a programmable switch, you can program each stage in different ways.

Intel®Tofino™ Generations

If you believe that Intel®Tofino™ has only one generation, you need to think again! Does innovation stop updating if it's successful? A big no!

Before Intel®Tofino™ was handed over to the Intel® group, it had already proposed the other generations of Intel, namely Intel®Tofino™ 1, Intel®Tofino™ 2 and Intel®Tofino™ 3. The third generation is soon to be published and launched in 2022.

Intel®Tofino™ 1 vs. Intel®Tofino™ 2 vs. Intel®Tofino™ 3

As for the three generations of Intel®Tofino™, it is understandable that they will have different strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, they have different purposes and usability. The speed of the Intel®Tofino™ Generations is 25 Gbps, 56 Gbps, and 112 Gbps, respectively.

Intel®Tofino™ 1
supported only up to 100 Gb of port speed. But as for the other two generations, they can offer up to 400 Gb and level 2 schedulers. The only significant differences between the second and third-generation Intel®Tofino™ is the increase of resources, improved number of pipelines and a throughput bandwidth of 25.6 Tb.

Advantages of Intel®Tofino™

The advantages and uses of Intel®Tofino™ are immaculate. It´s hard to list all benefits the product can provide. However, some of the main benefits are worth highlighting. Real time in-band telemetry becomes a lot easier with the help of Intel®Tofino™. Adding metadata information to the packet processing creates a lot of options to monitor the network in-depth. Thus, opening many gates for more research.

One of the crucial parts of data centers is the load balancers. They are used in almost every data center, and they regulate the traffic that comes into data centers. However, Intel®Tofino™ can exclude the need for load balancers from the data centers altogether by acting as load balancers themselves.

The greatest benefit of Intel®Tofino™ ASIC switches is that they open the gates for many other opportunities. It acts as a platform for many other options and applications. Moreover, they are designed in a way that they require less power and space, making them the perfect switches to deploy. It can be safely said that Intel®Tofino™ has great potential to evolve in the future and provide endless possibilities with a little more effort and time.

If you have any more questions, don't hesitate to drop us a message. We'll be sure to contact you as soon as we can! After all, your contentment is our greatest responsibility.

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The P4 Programming Language: Connecting, Configuring, and Running the First Test Application


The P4 programming language is gaining popularity in the networking industry. It is considered the next step in the evolution of SDN networking.

Programming Protocol-independent Packet Processors (P4) is an open-source, high-level programming language for network devices. It defines how data plane devices (switches, routers, network cards, etc.) process packets.

Before the P4 version, vendors had total control over the functionality supported on the network. Silicon vendors controlled the rollout of new features, and it took a long time (sometimes even years) to bring them to market… This is because a chip redesign is usually required.

What happened after the implementation of P4? You'll learn about that later in this article.

Why Are More And More People Turning To P4?

P4 proved to be a complete game-changer and turned the traditional model around 180 degrees. Changes made by application developers and network engineers, instead of taking years, can be made in just minutes!

P4 allows you to have a real impact on what the network does and how it does it. Properly used, P4 will increase the efficiency of network resources to better handle service workloads.

Getting Started with P4 Capable Network Switch

If you're thinking about switching to P4 but have no idea how to connect and configure it, you're in the perfect place!

We have designed 3 programs to help you take your first steps with a P4 capable network switch, which are appropriately suited to your skill level and current needs. Each has a separate goal and targets different audiences. All this to save a lot of your time and nerves.

SwitchON P4 Service

If you are a Systems or Application Engineer who has received your switch, and you need help or want to make sure someone is watching over your shoulder as you get your new system is up and running with the first "Hello World" scenario, then this is the solution for you.

The SwitchON P4 service will help you get started with a P4 capable network switch. The aim of this training session is to guide you through the initial set-up and operation of your switch.

We will guide you from unpacking the switch to running your first test application, while demonstrating the major features of their first exposure to a P4 development platform.

The entire course takes about 3 hours, which, in our experience, is a comfortable pace at which to achieve the course goals.

The session content is designed to cover all the steps from unboxing to running a first viable test application. Of course, depending on how experienced the Engineer is, we can skip the early stages and move straight to the connection and set-up phase.

For more information click here.

SwitchON+ P4 Service

Similar to the case above - if you are a Systems or Application Engineer who has received your switch, and you want to be guided or assisted whilst you get your new system up and running with your first real-world P4 application, then this SwitchON+ P4 Service is for you.

Hands-on is always the best learning scenario, but this is not always possible. When a system is not available to the Engineer, then we can use one of our test systems to run through the same processes.

SwitchON+ adds more in-depth coverage of some important development and production topics. Such as:

  • building the SDE with different P4 selection profiles,
  • interfacing with your application (gRPC),
  • Network Operating System options
  • P4 application exposure.

You do not need to have any experience with this environment. We will guide you through the entire process, all the way to running the real-world P4 application! In this case, the course takes about 6 hours.

For more information click here.

Switch WorkShop P4 Service

Switch WorkShop P4 Service is ideally suited to the Systems or Applications Engineer (individual or teams not greater than six participants) who are about to embark on the development of a P4-based system or application.

While participants should ideally have some P4 exposure, it is not strictly necessary as the focus of the workshop will be on design.

The goal of the workshop session is to fast-track your design strategy and explore the critical aspects of your development together.

Remember: P4 is just a language for implementing a design. One of our several value-adds is to bridge the real-world gap between what is theoretically possible in P4 and what is actually possible on Tofino-based platforms.

In this case, we will agree with the participants on the structure of the workshop. In the absence of specific requests, the 3-day workshop will be divided into several focused sessions. According to the table below:

Session Plan


  • Introduction and planning for the workshop.
  • Deep dive into system/application concept and high-level requirements.
  • Presentation and analysis of first-glance strategies and mechanisms of the P4 platform that may address high-level requirements.
  • Arbitrated discussion focusing on the suitability of the platform for design and on any circumvention or alternate strategies where relevant.
  • Planning for the next two days includes design aspects that require special focus and the deliverables that should come out of the workshop.


  • Develop design of primary strategies and mechanisms carefully allotting time segments to a high-priority set and avoid getting sucked into implementation.


  • Develop design of primary strategies and mechanisms carefully allotting time segments to a high-priority set and avoid getting sucked into implementation.
  • Drill down on unfinished top priority requirements.
  • Consolidate the work done and the design decisions – plan next steps.

Want to Learn More About it?

Get in touch with us and we will answer all of your questions.

Contact Us