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NetApp Threatens Sellers of Appliances Running ZFS 231

eldavojohn writes "ZFS is licensed under the CDDL and is considered to be open source, but NetApp is sending threatening legal letters to startups who look to offer ZFS on NAS appliances. This assault on Coraid has a few people worried about the future of ZFS as NetApp rears its ugly head yet again. The CEO of Coraid replied to NetApp's demands, saying, 'We made the decision to suspend shipment after receiving a legal threat letter from NetApp Inc., suggesting that the open-source ZFS file system planned for inclusion with our EtherDrive Z-Series infringes NetApp patents.' Will NetApp effectively destroy any future ZFS might have enjoyed?"
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NetApp Threatens Sellers of Appliances Running ZFS

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  • Re:why? (Score:4, Informative)

    by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:02PM (#32853574) Journal

    What you say is true for LOCAL storage, but EtherDrives are NAS (Network Attached Storage) as mentioned in the summary.

    This means they come preformatted, but the machines that access the storage are using Samba or Windows File Sharing or whatever to access it, so the client PCs do not see the filesystem on the NAS box.

  • by hilather ( 1079603 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:03PM (#32853580)

    They should go after Oracle/Sun and stop threatening people using the file system. Shenanigans!

    After actually reading the article (I know what was I thinking right?), it does mention that NetApp Filed a lawsuit against Sun back in 2007..

  • by brion ( 1316 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:11PM (#32853686) Homepage
  • by KonoWatakushi ( 910213 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:12PM (#32853704)

    See the second post in the recent thread on zfs-discuss: Legality and the future of zfs... [opensolaris.org]

    It doesn't sound as if Netapp has a leg to stand on, so they are trying to shake down the companies while they can. Where have we seen this before?

  • The story so far. (Score:5, Informative)

    by AliasMarlowe ( 1042386 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:17PM (#32853786) Journal

    The Wikipedia article on NetApp talks about them bringing a suit against Sun/ZFS and that Sun countersued, but doesn't mention the verdict.

    Read all about it (the story so far, as presented by Sun/Oracle): http://www.sun.com/lawsuit/zfs [sun.com], which provides links to a number of legal documents and patents and rulings from the PTO.
    Basically, the patent which was central to NetApp's claim of infringement was found not to apply to ZFS. A second patent asserted to be infringed was rejected on reexamination by the PTO, but NetApp is still squirming through the appeals process. The current round of threats could be NetApp's last gasp/whimper on the topic.

  • by Junta ( 36770 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:19PM (#32853804)

    NetApp invented WAFL before ZFS. They claim ZFS itself infringes on WAFL technology.

  • by Lunix Nutcase ( 1092239 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:23PM (#32853874)

    Except that the courts and the patent office are saying otherwise in NetApp's case against Sun.

  • Re:Indemnification (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lunix Nutcase ( 1092239 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:25PM (#32853898)

    Sun already does indemnify it's customers. Schwartz pointed this out [sun.com] when NetApp's rumblings against Sun first happened.

    First, the basics. Sun indemnifies all its customers against IP claims like this. That is, we've always protected our markets from trolls, so customers can continue to use ZFS without concern for spurious patent and copyright issues. We stand behind our innovation, and our customers.

  • by poetmatt ( 793785 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:35PM (#32854026) Journal

    using WAFL on a nas is not any more inventive than using ZFS on a NAS. Again, the parent is correct.
    Using any filesystem for a NAS is not inventive. It's been around for quite some time. They're also going after distributors rather than attack the ZFS patents they purportedly precede.

    It's also quite impossible to prove any sort of patent violation for using ZFS on a NAS simply due to the competing software being patented.

    If I use a product X, of which is infringing upon product y, I am not liable for uses of product X. The patent system doesn't support 3rd party liability. it's just distributors buckling under legal threats.

  • Re:why? (Score:5, Informative)

    by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:44PM (#32854176) Journal

    I know you've already replied that you misunderstood, but just in case anyone else is confused by this...

    This is a NAS, which is itself a server. Support for the filesystem is built into the NAS box. The NAS box then exposes the data it stores on that filesystem to the network using network-appropriate protocols.

    Anyone wanting to access it would use a networking standard like Samba, Windows File Sharing, FTP, or whatever services the NAS box allows.

    Of course, they'd also access the management tools (nowadays generally a small web server also built into the NAS box).

    None of the clients would need to support the underlying filesystem that the NAS box uses. In fact, they wouldn't even be allowed to know what that filesystem is.

    Back when I had Windows boxes at home, they had absolutely no problems reading shares I made on my Linux box. The Linux box could be formatted ext, Reiser, or anything I wanted that Linux supported.

    As long as I never tried to take a hard drive out of the Linux box and put it in the Windows box, of course. Then it becomes local storage, and Windows would have to support the filesystem in order to read it.

  • by Lunix Nutcase ( 1092239 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:54PM (#32854284)

    Sorry buddy but the courts have ruled that ZFS doesn't infringe NetApp's patents. Read here [sun.com] and here [sun.com]. Cry more.

  • Re:NetApp (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lunix Nutcase ( 1092239 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:58PM (#32854326)

    The case doesn't have merit because the courts have already ruled that ZFS doesn't infringe NetApp's patent No. 6,892,211 which is at the heart of their infringement claims. This is just a shakedown.

  • Re:why? (Score:4, Informative)

    by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:16PM (#32854544)

    ZFS is not encumbered by asshattery any more than Linux is.

    It's encumbered by a patent dispute [netapp.com]

    While Linux is encumbered by the SCO mess, which is basically the same thing, except related to copyrights and ownership of codes, rather than ownership of the whole concept of copy on write.

  • by macs4all ( 973270 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:33PM (#32854786)

    Will your 5000 dollar box call home, have a staff of engineers at the ready, replace it's own drives and be constantly updated with firmware?

    Um, NONE of those feature have ONE SINGLE THING to do with the underlying filesystem. You could make a NAS out of NTFS or HFS+ or (I'm guessing) EXT3 drives, that used something like the hard drives' SMART statuses to place orders over the intarwebs for a new HD (billed to your credit card) that would appear automagically at your doorstep. Big fucking deal.

    As for the "auto-updating" firmware: Who in the FUCK wants ANYTHING as CRITICAL as a NAS to "auto update" its FIRMWARE?!?!? It can ASK; but I SURE as FUCK don't want my NAS to suddenly be HOSED (or simply inaccessible) just because some crackhead droid at NetApp posted the wrong binary (or even the right one!) to the "updates" directory on their server.

    And as for a "staff of engineers at the ready", if your product is STABLE, you don't need "a staff of engineers at the ready", you simply need a few TECHNICIANS that can competently answer users' questions and address their problems. All those "engineers" do is ARTIFICIALLY increase the "reliability" of the product. Afterall, unless the "engineer" uses a matter-energy transporter to instantly appear at your NAS' side, it is HIGHLY unlikely that they will be able to help you regain accesss to, let alone RECOVER, your data ANY faster than a tech-support droid that you reach on the phone.

    And, as I said before, NONE of those "features" have ANYTHING to do with "WAFL vs. ZFS". It is all about APPLICATION CODE that someone added to the "NAS Controller" (read: Embedded Linux Computer) running the NAS APPLICATION.

    Jeezus! For a supposed "geek" site, some people on here are pretty fucking IGNORANT of how these SYSTEMS are designed, and just how many interlocking pieces-parts make up a NAS product. The particular filesystem used by the NAS Controller is but a small (and easily-changed by the manufactuer) part of the overall SYSTEM. Calling home to order a hard drive is only one small (and quite obvious) step from "emailing the owner" when an error is detected in the NAS, which is a feature many NAS' have (I just saw it this week on a Buffalo LinkStation NAS I was working on). Same thing with all the other "proprietary" features that NetApp sells to their oh-so-gullible customers.

    WAFL may in fact be a wonderful FS; but the "features" you mention are simply not germane to the debate. Or to WAFL.

  • Re:NetApp (Score:3, Informative)

    by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:33PM (#32854790)

    Much as I hate these patent cases, perhaps this one has merit. NetApp built it's bussiness being a vendor of NAS systems that had extensible file systems that spanned clever raid structures, and automatic snapshoting and they did this long before ZFS. Those are the key features of ZFS. And when you pair that with NAS, well that's a NetApp in a box. I dont know what NetApps patents claim but what they did was not obvious at the time and they are actively a seller of that, not a patent troll.

    Sorry, either ZFS violates their patents in all of its uses, or they have no claim. If I build a machine that makes widgets and patent it, then you build a machine that builds widgets using a completely different technique, my patent does not apply to your machine. This sums up a large part of the problem with software patents, it is very hard to see whether a piece of software reaches the same results as another piece of software using different methods or not.

  • Re:NetApp (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:22PM (#32855400)

    NetApp realizes their product (which is closed-source, patented, and if NetApp disappeared tomorrow you'd be in hell, unlike ZFS-based stuff) has a rapidly diminishing list of features or functionality that it can claim is better (or even on par) with ZFS-based appliances. They're taking the SCO route of litigation over innovation, and it's hardly the first time. Ask anyone who has used NetApp products for awhile how much has changed in the product over the last 5-10 years; now ask anyone who has used NetApp products AND Oracle/Sun's 7000 series which is more feature rich, slicker, and cheaper. NetApp still wins slightly on reliability and HA and hardware options (and the hardware options is a by-product of who they OEM their hardware from), but has already gotten trumped on performance-per-GB, features (all included in base price on Oracle/Sun platform, no less), and interface (including the most important part - analytics).

    Also bear in mind, NetApp doesn't even MAKE their hardware.. they OEM it from Dothill and Xyratex (and maybe others); they're solely a software house - and yet they haven't made any really innovative changes to it in nearly a decade. It STILL won't let you have more than 16 usable TB in one aggregate, for example, unless you use a separate technology/OS they PURCHASED YEARS AGO, and still haven't integrated properly. You're paying atrocious prices to NetApp for what is basically a product they only wrote the software for, and they haven't really done much to bring that software into this millennium. Would you pay outrageous prices for new computers running Windows 98 if it couldn't be reinstalled with a newer OS? Of course not. So why are you buying NetApp?

  • Apple, Sun, ZFS (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:26PM (#32855426)

    I guess this explains OSX Server walking away from ZFS because of "license issues". Since Apple walked away in the 11th hour, I wonder if there is some real validity to NetApp's argument (at least legally).

    Apple walked away from ZFS because they and Sun couldn't come to a licensing/support agreement:

    > Apple can currently just take the ZFS CDDL code and incorporate it
    > (like they did with DTrace), but it may be that they wanted a "private
    > license" from Sun (with appropriate technical support and
    > indemnification), and the two entities couldn't come to mutually
    > agreeable terms.

    I cannot disclose details, but that is the essence of it.


  • Re:NetApp (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:38PM (#32855556)

    ZFS -alone- doesn't infringe, but put it on an NAS and you're duplicating features they made for an NAS before ZFS came out.

  • by kindbud ( 90044 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:46PM (#32855648) Homepage

    While people are buying $250,000 NetApp installations, the exact same hardware, performance and connectivity will go for $5000 of high-end hardware and a couple of hours work with ZFS.

    Having evaluated ZFS on a Sun server at that price point, I can state with a good degree of certainty that this is not even close to true. ZFS suffers from several show-stopping performance problems that made it unsuitable as replacement for NetApp filers even on our small applications. Last I checked, the issue we opened with Sun are still outstanding.

    ZFS is probably OK for hosting a file archive, or staging backups. It is far from OK for hosting a Oracle or Mysql database.

  • Re:NetApp (Score:2, Informative)

    by moggie_xev ( 695282 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @06:15PM (#32855916)
    There is lots of things I agree with in this post however.... They do just work and they keep on working

    uptime 10:07pm up 634 days, 2:48 15108652057 NFS ops, 2183855307 CIFS ops, 3315 HTTP ops, 0 FCP ops, 0 iSCSI ops

    Ontap 8.0 in 7 mode does support up to 90TB in a single aggregate. However given that I am evaluating systems that scale to petabytes in a single filesystem....
  • by chef_raekwon ( 411401 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @02:58AM (#32858516) Homepage

    While people are buying $250,000 NetApp installations, the exact same hardware, performance and connectivity will go for $5000 of high-end hardware and a couple of hours work with ZFS

    lies. having worked in this industry for far too long, when I see bullshit claims like this, I have to call it. There is no way in hell you will get multiple trays of 15k rpm FCAL storage and redudant FAS controllers for 5k, I dont care if you're Samuel Jackson in the negotiator.

    I run multiple datacenters with emc, hp and netapp filers -- if you pay 250k for a netapp installation, you're pretty much getting what you pay for. what you're paying for is IOPS, disk caching, and throughput. You can turn to just about any storage provider, you will pay the same price for similar enterprise grade hardware. All I ask is that when you're stringing your two cans together, you leave out the reference to how alike it is to a 'real enterprise grade' product -- because talking about petabytes of SATA isn't even in the same continent, let alone the same country.

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982