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-sp

Howard Marks

September 10, 2010

3 Min Read
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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.The big winner in all this is little Coraid. They've been pushing ATA over Ethernet (AoE) disk arrays for years with some success in the propeller-head end of the market and were about to sell filer heads using Nexenta's NextentaStor, which is of course based on OpenSolaris and ZFS. NetApp, for reasons I can't fathom, decided to make an example of Coraid, not Nexenta or any of their other OEMs, like Compellent.  

Being sued by NetApp brought more attention to Coraid than they've had in years even though they've been building a pretty solid reputation for storage systems that are fast and cheap. Threatening the littlest guy they could find also made NetApp look a bit like a bully.

The real question is what does this mean for ZFS startups like Nextenta and Greenbytes? Did Oracle protect them or can NetApp swat them down like flies? Marc Farley, soon to be acquired himself as part of 3Par posted a cartoon that sums it up pretty well at http://www.storagerap.com/saga-zfs_the-prequel.html

About the Author(s)

Howard Marks

Network Computing Blogger

Howard Marks</strong>&nbsp;is founder and chief scientist at Deepstorage LLC, a storage consultancy and independent test lab based in Santa Fe, N.M. and concentrating on storage and data center networking. In more than 25 years of consulting, Marks has designed and implemented storage systems, networks, management systems and Internet strategies at organizations including American Express, J.P. Morgan, Borden Foods, U.S. Tobacco, BBDO Worldwide, Foxwoods Resort Casino and the State University of New York at Purchase. The testing at DeepStorage Labs is informed by that real world experience.</p><p>He has been a frequent contributor to <em>Network Computing</em>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<em>InformationWeek</em>&nbsp;since 1999 and a speaker at industry conferences including Comnet, PC Expo, Interop and Microsoft's TechEd since 1990. He is the author of&nbsp;<em>Networking Windows</em>&nbsp;and co-author of&nbsp;<em>Windows NT Unleashed</em>&nbsp;(Sams).</p><p>He is co-host, with Ray Lucchesi of the monthly Greybeards on Storage podcast where the voices of experience discuss the latest issues in the storage world with industry leaders.&nbsp; You can find the podcast at: http://www.deepstorage.net/NEW/GBoS

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