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P4 Workshop Showcases Expansion of Programmable Infrastructure

Jun 8, 2022
Bruce Davie
Bruce Davie About the author

Recently I was honored to serve as General Chair for the Annual P4 Workshop, an entirely on-line event hosted by the Open Networking Foundation. I’ve been following P4 (Programming Protocol-independent Packet Processors) for many years and view it as the next stage in the evolution of software-defined networking. I recall Nick McKeown laying out his vision for P4 at the Future:net workshop in 2016, the same year that the first and second editions of the P4 workshop took place. 

While P4 can accurately be described as a programming language, the P4 workshop is really much more than that: it is about the future of programmable infrastructure. And while early P4 efforts focussed on programmable switching chips that would form the basis of a new generation of switches and routers, I think we might look back at 2022 as the year that P4 made the jump to a much broader array of infrastructure. IPUs (infrastructure processing units), DPUs (data processing units), and SmartNICs have all appeared with P4-programmable data paths, signifying an expansion of the scope of P4 to become a critical part of the infrastructure in modern data centers, not limited to the switches.

The program this year reflected this expanded scope. We had a lively panel discussion among many of the key players in the IPU/DPU space, with Pensando, Intel, NVIDIA and Xilinx/AMD all represented. We also had Hari Thantry of Google giving us a cloud provider perspective on how P4 can help in the IPU/DPU space. It’s worth noting that there is work still to be done: P4 does not yet have all the capabilities and ecosystem support required for this expansion into the end-system environment. 

There was also a valuable reality check from Ken Duda, CTO of Arista, on where programmability does and does not play well in the commercial switch vendor landscape. 

The P4 ecosystem includes an extensive range of products, projects and services, and the breadth of talks reflected this. There were a total of 8 live moderated keynote sessions, and 46 on-demand talks, a substantial uptick over last year. These have all been recorded and are available for future viewing (registration required). Topics covered included the P4 language, compile targets, the P4 tool chain, P4 use cases & applications, and network operating systems. With over 1400 registrants for the workshop we can see that community interest in P4 and programmable infrastructure is continuing to grow. 

Thanks to the generosity of sponsors for the P4 Workshop that helped to support this event - Intel, Alibaba Cloud and Google.

Vote for Novel Applications of P4 Awards! 

Two awards will be awarded to encourage creative and disruptive use cases for P4:

  • Most novel application of P4 in a networking use case
  • Most novel non-networking use of P4, e.g. in-network compute or P4 for NVMe

All presentations are eligible and considered for awards. Winners will be determined by a combination of community vote and by P4 Workshop Program Committee members. Please participate in the voting - the deadline for votes is June 15th, 2022.  See all the details here and vote! 

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Bruce DavieP4 Workshop General Chair