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Dan Proch Talks About Netronome

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TEQ: So Dan, tell us about Netronome and what is your role in the company?

Proch: I am the Sr. Director of Product Management for Netronome. We are a fabless semiconductor company based in Cranberry Twp. building high-speed computer processors, accelerated network interface cards for commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers, and reference hardware platforms based on our flow processors. Very interesting to have a computer processor company in Pittsburgh!

TEQ: We’d say it’s cool! So how did Netronome get its start?

Proch: TEQ readers might remember the Pittsburgh technology success story that was FORE Systems, a pioneer in high-speed computer networking products. After FORE Systems was acquired in 1999, some of the company visionaries moved on and founded other technology companies in the area.  Netronome was one of these startups, founded by several key members of the senior management and engineering teams at FORE Systems. One of Netronome’s founders, Niel Viljoen, was the Chief Technology Officer at FORE, and our other founders were key members of the company in the technology strategy and software engineering. Netronome was started in Pittsburgh in 2005 with funding from two of the founders of FORE Systems, one of whom remains our Chairman of the Board, venture capital, and with help from the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

TEQ: What was the vision of the founders at the time?

Proch: Netronome was founded on the promise of flow-based processing of traffic, open networks and virtualized networking functions in accelerated commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers, all of which are fundamental to new technology areas that are catching on today, including software-defined networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). These new technology areas and the more overarching move of computing and storage resources from private enterprises into the “cloud” is causing a tectonic shift in network architectures and networking devices. As happened in the generalized computer market, Netronome’s vision is that networking and security devices are transitioning away from incredibly complex and expensive customized hardware and software—as was the norm for networking devices—toward more general, commoditized platforms and open operating systems. Netronome realized, though,  that standardized COTS server platforms were not powerful enough to keep up the incredible growth in bandwidth and numbers of flows that we are experiencing in networks today, and that specialized processors are required to deal with these networking and security computing workloads.

TEQ: Tell us a little bit more about what’s happening in computer networks and how that affects your company vision?

Proch: The increasingly “networked” nature of everything in our daily lives has created a situation where it is no longer sufficient for devices in computing infrastructure to simply forward packets blindly. Rather, our communications network needs to be capable of intelligently and securely processing every piece of data to ascertain its nature rather than just its destination. At the same time as we need the ability to process traffic more intelligently, the bandwidth in our networks is growing like mad. Estimates say that in 2015, we will have a zetabyte of data traversing our networks… that’s a 1 with 21 zeroes. This incredible growth is fueled by your PCs, streaming movie downloads, tablets, gaming, and mobile computing as examples.

Just like there are computer processors that power our everyday tools like laptops and mobile phones, there are also very powerful processors that power and secure the networks that run our large data centers, the cloud networks, and even the Internet. To realize our vision, at Netronome, we build high-speed computing processors specifically designed for networking and security workloads. These processors are used to make networks faster and more secure at a time when more users and devices are coming on-line, causing networking speeds and overall throughput to explode.

TEQ: Where are these processors used?

Proch: While the processors that we use every day in our personal computers have one to two brains, or “cores” as they are called, Netronome’s processors are very different. Netronome’s processors pack up to 216 processing cores on a single chip. That means that Netronome’s processors can process more than 200 billion bits of data per second while offering the capability to not only forward traffic based on its destination, but also look at all of the traffic intelligently and securely to understand its content, rather than only its destination.

These processors are used primarily in extremely high-speed networks like the hyperscale cloud data centers, carrier infrastructure, and enterprise Fortune 500 companies. Netronome’s solutions include flow processors, accelerated network interface cards (NICs) for COTS server platforms, and reference hardware platforms that scale to 400 Gbps. Along with these hardware offerings, Netronome has a variety of flow processing software that makes integrating Netronome’s processors into any solution a seamless process.

Target applications for Netronome’s technology are in cyber security, network analytics, test and measurement equipment, and intelligent switching applications: any type of high-speed networking and security applications where data need to be deeply analyzed at very high throughputs.

TEQ: How big is Netronome and do you have other locations?

Proch: In total the company is 210 employees with 90 in Pittsburgh, and we are growing like crazy. We also have locations in the heart of Silicon Valley in Santa Clara, Calif., as well as Boxborough, Mass.

TEQ: Are you guys hiring in the area?

Proch: We sure are! Netronome is truly a Pittsburgh success story. The company has recently opened a state-of-the-art site in the Cranberry Twp. area and currently has 15 openings in Pittsburgh, mainly in hardware engineering, software engineering, and manufacturing. SEND US RESUMES!

TEQ: What else is going on in this market in the Pittsburgh area?

Proch: Two of Netronome’s major customers are opening
sites in the area so that they can be in close proximity to our technology.  It’s a guarantee, that without Netronome’s presence in the area, that these top-tier, global, cyber security vendors would not have a presence here—and that’s good for Pittsburgh. But now, Netronome needs to fight these companies for recruits.

Read the entire issue of TEQ online.


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