From Punched Cards to SmartNICs – a Personal Journey Part 5

From Punched Cards to SmartNICs – a Personal Journey Part 5


Did you read Part 4? If not go check it out here

Part 5: The 1990s

In 1994, I founded Ipsilon Networks, where we invented IP Switching.  At that time, all IP routing  still relied on software based forwarding.  But the Telco world had invented Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) – and was building incredibly fast all-hardware switching systems that implemented it. My idea at Ipsilon was to keep the semantics and routing protocols of IP networks, but to accelerate the forwarding by using ATM switches. So there’s that accelerator / host concept again. We built a full IP routing software stack to go with partners’ ATM switch hardware, and created some open protocols.  One of them, General Switch Management Protocol, helped to inspire the Software Defined Networking industry, started at Stanford by folks familiar with Ipsilon.

Unfortunately, ATM proved to be the kind of ATM where you can only put money “in”.  Nokia acquired Ipsilon and used the IP stack in 3G wireless networks.  And the Ethernet world figured out how to build L2/L3 switches.

In the 1998-2000 time frame, I was on the board of directors of Terraspring, a very early cloud computing company founded by friends from Sun.  This was the same time of “Dot Com” bubble craziness when Mark Andreessen’s LoudCloud was also operating – they were the competition.  Terraspring exactly met the definition of Infrastructure-as-a-Service – but before virtual machines! The architecture depended on using front-end processors – one for networking, and one for storage (SCSI based) – to “virtualize” all of the I/O that the servers saw. Those front-end processors were entirely separate FreeBSD based boxes (sometimes called “pugs” boxes), but the function was mostly the same as what today’s SmartNICs can do.

Head over to Part 6 to keep reading.

About the Author:

Tom Lyon is a computing systems architect, a serial entrepreneur and a kernel hacker. Prior to founding DriveScale, Tom was founder and Chief Scientist of Nuova Systems, a start-up that led a new architectural approach to systems and networking. Nuova was acquired in 2008 by Cisco, whose highly successful UCS servers and Nexus switches are based on Nuova’s technology. He was also founder and CTO of two other technology companies. Netillion, Inc. was an early promoter of memory-over-network technology. At Ipsilon Networks, Tom invented IP Switching. Ipsilon was acquired by Nokia and provided the IP routing technology for many mobile network backbones. As employee #8 at Sun Microsystems, Tom was there from the beginning, where he contributed to the UNIX kernel, created the SunLink product family, and was one of the NFS and SPARC architects. He started his Silicon Valley career at Amdahl Corp., where he was a software architect responsible for creating Amdahl’s UNIX for mainframes technology. Tom holds numerous U.S. patents in system interconnects, memory systems, and storage. He received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Princeton University.

Leave A Comment