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NetApp And Oracle Make Nice Over ZFS

NetApp has let slip an announcement that they and Oracle have settled the patent lawsuits over Zettabyte File System (ZFS), which Oracle acquired with Sun. NetApp sued Sun back in 2007, alleging that ZFS violated several of NetApp's Write Anywhere File Layout (WAFL) patents. Sun of course counter-sued, and it looked like a whole lot of lawyers were going to be able to make their boat payments for a while. The terms are confidential, so we really don't know what happened, and the twit-o-blog-o-sphere is full of rumors and comments.

First let me say that I think the patent system is broken.  Any system that allows company A  to get a patent on anti-lock brakes, company B to get a patent on adjustable pedals and then company C to get a patent on the combination of anti-lock brakes and adjustable brake pedals isn't working correctly. After all, the fact that Albert Einstein was a patent examiner doesn't mean all patent examiners are Einstein.

I'm also old enough to remember when you couldn't patent software. Software patents didn't exist when Dan Briklin and Bob Frankston created Visicalc, which allowed Mitch Kapor to develop a better spreadsheet 1-2-3.  Despite the lack of patent protection, Mitch's company, Lotus Software, successfully defended their copyright on the look and feel of 1-2-3 against Borland and others.

Note the whole kerfuffle here isn't about stolen code, or even stolen ideas, just that Zettabyte File System (ZFS) and Write Anywhere File Layout (WAFL) might use the same ideas.  NetApp's formet CEO even told eWEEK "We're not saying they stole code from us."

On the other hand I think ZFS is way cool. Its feature set reads like a file system wish list for the 21st century: software RAID (including triple parity if you want it), CRC-based block integrity checking, background disk scrubbing and built-in compression and deduplication are just the start. Add in capacity of Zettabytes (a million petabytes or about all the disk drives in the world), the ability to use fast flash for its write journal and slower MLC flash as a huge read cache, and pretty much all the bases are covered.

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