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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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  • why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pak9rabid ( 1011935 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @02:57PM (#32853498)
    Wait...doesn't the filesystem get created by the user of the storage device? I.E., the storage system gets hooked up to your system(s), the OS sees them as raw block devices, then the user generally puts the filesystem on top of the block this not the way the EtherDrives work?
  • by bigredradio ( 631970 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:15PM (#32853742) Homepage Journal
    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).
  • Re:why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pak9rabid ( 1011935 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:17PM (#32853776)
    Ugh..nevermind..I misread = stupid.
  • by Junta ( 36770 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:18PM (#32853796)

    NetApp uses WAFL on their NAS. A filesystem they invented before ZFS. They claim ZFS violates patents of WAFL.

  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:20PM (#32853816) Homepage

    ZFS isn't *essential* to Apple so why would they fight a patent battle in court? There's plenty of other file systems in the sea.

  • Indemnification (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rayvd ( 155635 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:20PM (#32853818) Homepage Journal

    Oracle should offer to provide indemnification to vendors. They've got a large patent portfolio of their own and obviously large assets to make them a much more formidable foe to NetApp.

  • by eddy ( 18759 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:24PM (#32853884) Homepage Journal

    We should all have learned by now that how people and companies react to legal threats doesn't have ANYTHING to do with so-called merits. 'The' SCOX case went on for about seven years and they had NOTHING. People paid them "linux tax" while they had NOTHING, could show NOTHING, made increasingly bizarre and outrageous claims and could in fact never WIN ANYTHING. People still paid.

    The lesson from that of course is that being a tick on the ass of the system it's a perfectly valid way to lift a nice salary and appear important, so really, why not?

  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi&evcircuits,com> on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:27PM (#32853912) Homepage

    ZFS is a game changer in the storage industry. 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. $250,000 will easily buy you a Petabyte worth of redundant ZFS storage. Even the reasons you would otherwise buy NetApp or another proprietary storage solution (compression, de-duplication, checksums) is all implemented by ZFS.

    NetApp recently lost their patents based on prior art (they basically ripped off somebody's paper and put in a patent for it), appealed it of course and now they are trying to squeeze the last money out of small shops before they get the smack down from the patent office. This is a very similar case to the Caldera/SCO cases.

  • Re:NetApp (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:36PM (#32854066) Homepage Journal

    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.

    VMS did it earlier. Screw NetApp and their overpriced, underfeatured, patented crap. Really. I mean that.

  • Re:btrfs successor (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Luke has no name ( 1423139 ) <fox AT cyberfoxfire DOT com> on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:54PM (#32854282)

    BTRFS already does multi-disk filesystems including RAID 0 and 1 by itself, bypassing LVM/mdadm AFAIK. RAID 5/6 is a planned feature.

    I don't know about the rest of the stuff you mentioned; I'm not a filesystem guy. Recommend any good books?

  • Here, here... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by multimediavt ( 965608 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:09PM (#32854474)

    Screw NetApp and their overpriced, underfeatured, patented crap. Really. I mean that.

    I totally and completely agree with that summary of NetApp

    With that out of the way, how does NetApp have any authority to enforce a license/patent on a piece of software they did not invent, nor hold the licensing for? ZFS was created by Sun and released under the CDDL. I am confused as to where NetApp fits into this equation other than being a troll of something that isn't even theirs to begin to troll with. I will do some digging online, but this is just effed up.

  • Re:btrfs successor (Score:3, Insightful)

    by eln ( 21727 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:14PM (#32854538)

    but a good filesystem would stick heavily duplicated blocks on fast media (flash or inner cylinders).

    Why? Just because a block of data is duplicated all over your filesystem that doesn't mean it's accessed all that frequently. If I have a disk with 8,000 slightly different ghosted Linux disk images on it, I'm bound to have plenty of blocks that are identical in all of them, so deduplication would save me lots of space. However, since they're probably all just there for archival or testing purposes, and I only occasionally need to access any of them, putting those deduplicated blocks on fast storage would be a waste of my most expensive disks.

    Fast storage is for frequently accessed data, not heavily duplicated data. Most halfway decent network storage devices already have caching algorithms that will put frequently accessed data on fast storage, whether that's SSD or NVRAM (or both).

  • Re:Boycott (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:26PM (#32854688) Journal

    We need a site to organise boycotts of companies that abuse the patent, trademark, or copyright system. Not everyone would need to sign on to all of them, but anyone should be able to post a call and explain their reasoning.

    It's called Slashdot.

    If we got enough techies onto it who would use it at work, it could have some muscle.

    Practice has shown that you won't get enough techies that are actually in charge of software/hardware purchase decisions on any scale sufficient for it to have some muscle.

  • Again... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Junta ( 36770 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:29PM (#32854742)

    NetApp is suing Sun (and now Oracle) over ZFS because they *claim* it violates patents they hold that they implemented in their own WAFL fs. WAFL does predate ZFS. NetApp was granted patents in WAFL that ZFS seems to also do, but prior-art may have caused those patents to be invalid.

    They are suing vendors that also use ZFS probably because those vendors are either licensing from Oracle (in which case indemnification may just pass this on) or are using FreeBSD, which makes the link between the vendor and Oracle a bit more odd and possible has the vendor on the hook for liability.

  • by vm ( 127028 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:47PM (#32854986)

    It might be worth reading through NetApp's original ZFS patent lawsuit vs Sun [] before making wild speculations. It seems to me that they are now trying to sue other, smaller companies after their original attempt to sue Sun had failed.

  • Re:NetApp (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert AT slashdot DOT firenzee DOT com> on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:48PM (#32854992) Homepage

    Competing on product merit is less profitable because you actually have to invest in improving your product, you can't just keep selling the same old shit at ridiculously high prices and hope the competitors don't overtake and undercut you.

  • Re:btrfs successor (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:58PM (#32855136) Homepage Journal

    I wish I had the cash to make an open source (GPL or BSD license preferably) bounty for the following in a filesystem/LVM replacement, since ZFS isn't going to be going past Sun hardware these days:

    ...list of requirements...

    To which I would add:

    12. BSD-licensed. What's really needed is a robust filesystem that's ubiquitous---a filesystem that is supported across operating system platforms--- and let's face it, no GPL-licensed filesystem will ever darken the door of any OS except Linux, at least not as part of the OS. Even the *BSDs won't touch a GPLed filesystem except as a from-scratch rewrite. Forget about commercial UNIX vendors. And although you can gain partial support through little tricks like FUSE, such workarounds will never be as fast, as reliable, or as integrated into the whole user experience as a native filesystem would be.

    There's little point in taking any filesystem beyond academic research into a production-quality filesystem if the resulting disks can't be moved from one machine to another without forcing users to being a single-OS shop. Most of the real world doesn't consist of single-OS shops. In fact, an ideal next-gen filesystem would integrate SAN capabilities at the filesystem level so that disks could not just be moved, but actively shared between boxes running Linux, Mac OS X, Solaris, etc. That's just not likely to happen unless you choose a much more open license than the GPL.

    Don't get me wrong, I've written and licensed code under the GPL. There's nothing inherently wrong with the GPL for tools/utilities, GUI apps, and other end-user bits. For libraries, filesystems, drivers, and other code that is tightly coupled with the OS or software built on top of it, however, the GPL is really a rather poor choice. It sends the message, true or not, that you care more about dogma than interoperability, which is generally not a good thing. Ask me why I don't run either btrfs or ZFS.... It's the license.

  • Re:Boycott (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:04PM (#32855190)

    Of course they do. They are much better qualified to make purchasing decisions than the low-level people who will be working with the products selected. After all, the sales reps from places like NetApp told them that their expensive products are better, over expensive dinners with wine. Who do you think you are, someone important?

  • by reebmmm ( 939463 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:13PM (#32855296)

    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.

    You would be very, very wrong. Your use of an infringing product still makes you an infringer. (35 U.S.C. Sec. 271(a))("whoever without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention...). Now, there are default rules that say that a purchaser of a good is "indemnified" from claims of infringement by the seller. (See UCC Art. 2 Sec. 312 []) This is typically how end user avoid litigation.

    In addition, you're also wrong to think that the patent system doesn't support third party liability. It does. One party's can be sued for another person's direct infringement. It's called "indirect infringement." (35 U.S.C. Sec. 271 (b) and(c)). The rules on when this apply are stated in the statute and are not always so easy to discern. One way to think about it: a party cannot escape liability by simply knowing moving the infringement downstream.

    And, just so that you know, it is a somewhat common strategy that a patent owner sues the end user, direct infringer. There is nothing worse as a supplier than receiving about 30 letters from angry customers seeking indemnification from the infringement suit. This is a great technique to annoy the party with deep pockets and drive home the advantages of settling early.

  • by MachineShedFred ( 621896 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @06:18PM (#32855944) Journal

    In order to license something, the licensor needs to be willing to enter into an agreement. Don't be so sure that NetApp wants to do that, when they can sell overpriced filers to Apple's customers.

  • Re:Boycott (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sglewis100 ( 916818 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @07:22PM (#32856520)

    How many techies actually make purchasing decisions at their workplaces? Not many. Most are made by high-up managers, under advice from sales reps.

    Where on earth do you work, and can you find better? I'm not currently in a decision making role, although I have been, but I am in a role where I help gather requirements, evaluation specifications, invite vendors for product demos, work on getting evals / visiting labs / visiting and talking with other customers, review quotes, beat up reps on pricing, make a formal recommendation, and wait for my boss to get it done. We have a purchasing department... but they just purchase things they are told to. We also have a CFO, but if we're doing our diligence, and meeting our budget, he's not often overruling us.

  • Re:btrfs successor (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @09:14PM (#32857232) Homepage

    Meh, personally I'd say LGPL so you don't get slightly incompatible file systems. With a BSD license the temptation is pretty big to keep the changes for yourself and say "works on our OS" while diverging from the common code base. Either that or a very detailed and exhaustive spec with a strict conformance test suite.

  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi&evcircuits,com> on Friday July 09, 2010 @10:02PM (#32857448) Homepage

    There is no magic that NetApp adds that would make it any faster or slower than a comparable system using ZFS. I've seen, implemented and used both systems, they both use commodity hardware. There is no reason your ZFS should work any worse when you get down to the wire than your NetApp appliance unless you're doing something wrong. If you're comparing Sun's RAIDZ with their proprietary RAID0 then you're looking at the wrong implementation for a database. If you add a couple of L2ARC and ZIL SSD caches to your ZFS system, your database should be able to sustain well over 10000 IOPS - on commodity hardware. The other problem with NetApp is it's limits - 16TB is laughable in my field (even 16PB will be laughable in less than a decade).

    When I look at NetApp's white papers, all I see is a similar implementation to ZFS. NVRAM as caches, aggregated writes, snapshots... As I said, they're afraid because ZFS does everything NetApp does and more for a heck of a lot less. NetApp seems to have stopped developing major features which could have distinguished them from other systems and instead just focuses on selling as much systems in the next few years as possible and possibly litigate to get some more cash (the SCO business model).

  • Re:NetApp (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 09, 2010 @10:33PM (#32857562)

    The computing world is all about duplicating features, improving on things, and seeing who can do it better. If it weren't for this, we'd still be stuck with one vendor's implementation of a GUI desktop.

  • Re:Here, here... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @03:09AM (#32858560) Homepage Journal

    Sadly, all of that is true even if product Y was invented entirely from first principles by people with no knowledge of X, even if they did it at the same time as X was being invented.

    How anyone can claim that granting the patent to inventor X doesn't steal from inventor Y the fruits of his labor, I cannot say.

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI