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eBPF

Cisco’s Strategic Move in the Isovalent Acquisition: Cilium and eBPF

The acquisition of Isolvalent by Cisco is indicative of a broader trend in the tech industry where major players are recognizing the potential of eBPF.
Feb 7th, 2024 10:00am by
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In a move that underscores the growing importance of eBPF (extended Berkeley Packet Filter) technology, Cisco, a global technology giant, recently acquired Isovalent, which manages a leading eBPF-based project called Cilium.

This strategic acquisition has sparked discussions within the tech community about the evolving landscape of networking and the increasing interest of big companies in harnessing the potential of eBPF.

The Rise of eBPF Technology

eBPF, or extended Berkeley Packet Filter, is an innovative and versatile technology that allows for the efficient programmability of the Linux kernel. Originally conceived as an in-kernel virtual machine for packet filtering, eBPF has evolved into a powerful framework that enables a wide range of use cases, including networking, security and observability.

One of the key advantages of eBPF is its ability to execute custom code within the kernel in a safe and secure manner, without requiring modifications to the kernel itself. This flexibility has led to the development of a vibrant ecosystem of tools and applications built on top of eBPF, addressing various challenges in networking, security and performance monitoring.

When I worked in the office of the Prime Minister of Israel, I had the opportunity to work with the most cutting-edge technologies in the world when it comes to cyber security. A couple of years later, one of the technologies that caught my eye and my attention was eBPF. Its abilities in the security realm suddenly made sense in other fields as well, such as observability.

Cisco’s Strategic Vision

Cisco’s acquisition of Cilium aligns with the company’s broader strategy to stay at the forefront of innovation. As the demand for more dynamic, scalable and secure networks continues to grow, eBPF technology provides a compelling solution for addressing these challenges, along with other challenges this technology is suitable for.

Like all the other massive IT players in the market, Cisco is a multifaceted machine. Cisco already dominates networking and security in more legacy infrastructures, and its eyes are set on the cloud. Cilium, with its expertise in eBPF-based solutions, may be that “secret sauce” addition to Cisco’s portfolio. For those catering to the needs of modern cloud native enterprises, or even offering a managed cloud layer of their own, eBPF could be that engine.

eBPF and the Industry Landscape

The acquisition of Cilium by Cisco is indicative of a broader trend in the tech industry: Major players are recognizing the potential of eBPF. As more organizations embrace cloud native architectures and microservices, the need for dynamic and programmable networking solutions becomes paramount.

eBPF’s ability to provide fine-grained visibility and control at the kernel level makes it an attractive technology for addressing the challenges of modern network architectures. Big companies like Cisco, Redhat and other legacy IT players acknowledge the transformative potential of eBPF in areas such as container networking, service mesh, observability and cloud native security.

eBPF is far from static. It moves and breathes, and is still far from being an off-the-shelf solution. Its envelope is being pushed by open-source projects, emerging tech startups and the community itself. As big companies continue to want to leverage eBPF, they will have to make more acquisition plays to progress in this high-velocity environment.

Will Cisco be the silent death of Cillum as a project, or will we see these closed-source giants strike the right balance between the eBPF community and their enterprise offerings? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure: eBPF is not a buzzword, but a real trend that is here to stay.

(Editor’s note: The headline has been updated to more accurately describe the Cisco acquisition of Isovalent). 

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