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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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  • Boycott (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Improv ( 2467 ) <pgunn01@gmail.com> on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:03PM (#32853592) Homepage 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. If we got enough techies onto it who would use it at work, it could have some muscle.

  • So, what happened? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by somaTh ( 1154199 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:04PM (#32853596) Journal
    The Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] on NetApp talks about them bringing a suit against Sun/ZFS and that Sun countersued, but doesn't mention the verdict. What happened there and why isn't the verdict applying here?
  • by dnaumov ( 453672 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:07PM (#32853646)

    Easy. NetApp sues a small vendor, wins and then uses this win as leverage in their battle against Oracle.

  • NetApp (Score:4, Interesting)

    by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:21PM (#32853842)

    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.

  • btrfs successor (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mlts ( 1038732 ) * on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:31PM (#32853958)

    Even though btrfs isn't in production yet, we really need a successor to it not just to replace the filesystem, but to replace the LVM layer. ZFS isn't just a filesystem, but also goes one layer lower, coordinating RAID.

    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:

    1: Deduplication on the block level. This would be selectable because in some cases, there would be performance issues to it... but a good filesystem would stick heavily duplicated blocks on fast media (flash or inner cylinders).

    2: 64 bit CRCs. This way, a backup program just has to pull from the filesystem stored CRCs and it would know which files have been changed or not. This also helps with integrity checking.

    3: Compression. Selectable levels would be nice, from a fast zip based to bzip2 -v9.

    4: Encryption, perhaps like EncFS where encrypted directories can be cattached at will. Even better would be more elaborate (public key, smart card) key management.

    5: Block device encryption. It would be nice to install the OS, set a flag that all further writes will be encrypted to a key, then proceed to copy data to the machine. This way, the machine can get set up and (ab)used without waiting for disks to encrypt.

    6: TRIM support. Enough said.

    7: Ability to move data so one directory might be on a three-way mirror, while the rest of the filesystem sits on a RAID-Z equivalent. This way, critical documents are protected.

    8: Advanced snapshotting functionality. It would be great to be able to restore a machine by booting from a USB flash drive or CD, having the filesystem be configured to the hard disks at hand, then copy from a stored image, regardless of architecture or setup of the previous machine's drives were. This way, a machine could be snapshotted, it be moved to a completely different configuration, then restored. A good example of a nice way to restore would be IBM's Sysback utility for AIX, where one can completely redefine where data resides before kicking off a restore.

    9: Advanced attributes, where files can be flagged where if they are unlinked, the OS does a manual TRIM or multiple overwrite, and so on.

    10: Automatic repair of damage. Starting with Windows Server 2008, Windows does a background check to look for damage in mounted NTFS filesystems. This way, something like missing free space or other issues can be flagged before it bites someone in the next bootup. For example, when a machine is idle, it will compare written 64 bit CRCs to what is on disk to ensure that they match, and flag nonmatching files as possibly corrupt.

    11: Ability to add varying amounts of ECC to a filesystem. This way, the volume can take a lot of damage, but the files are highly likely to be still readable. A good example of this is Nero's SecureDisk, where it writes invisible ECC information to burned CDs/DVDs which can be used to piece together damaged files. This way, volumes that are stored for long term archiving can sustain damage, but there is a good chance of recovering the files, or at least knowing the files were damaged.

  • by jythie ( 914043 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:38PM (#32854102)
    And if I understood correctly, were not the patents involved in the lawsuit mostly invalidate?
  • Re:NetApp (Score:3, Interesting)

    by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:13PM (#32854512)

    Bullshit, look at mainframes many of those had these features. A NAS is just a server with a bunch of disk.

  • Re:NetApp (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:13PM (#32854522) Homepage Journal

    ZFS does a _lot_ of the things WAFL has done for years. I don't really think those approaches should necessarily be able to be patented though, but as it is now, you can see how something like ZFS -- very similar to WAFL in a lot of ways would raise some red flags and at least warrant some investigation (whether or not we agree with the principles there).

    Chrome does a _lot_ of the things MSIE has done for years. I don't really think those approaches should necessarily be able to be patented though, but as it is now, you can see how something like Chrome -- very similar to MSIE in a lot of ways would raise some red flags and at least warrant some investigation (whether or not we agree with the principles there).

    I suppose they realize this and are just doing their corporate "due diligence" in aggressively trying to protect their IP.

    Screw their "due diligence". They're just being desperate assholes and everyone knows it.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:21PM (#32854614) Journal
    I suspect that they are going after NAS vendors simply because the NAS vendors are a more direct threat to their business.

    NetApp probably doesn't like that Sun, now Oracle, is using "their" features in direct-attached storage for Solaris boxes; but NetApp doesn't sell direct attached storage, so that isn't as much their problem(and Larry's lawyers are probably scary).

    If, on the other hand, the world starts sprouting outfits who are combining CDDL software+commodity disks+commodity NICs+modestly custom 'lots of SAS/SATA and redundant PSUs' chassis, NetApp suddenly has a whole bunch of competitors who can undercut them good and hard. That won't mean instant death or anything; but it certainly isn't good news for them.
  • by jpswensen ( 986851 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:28PM (#32854726)
    http://blogs.netapp.com/dave/2007/09/netapp-sues-sun.html [netapp.com] The victim has become the offender.
  • by Galactic Dominator ( 944134 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:37PM (#32854830)

    Yes but Berkley invented FFS before WAFL. While not patented, WAFL implements many of the features of found in FFS eg cheap snapshots, meta-data structure(which allow WAFL to work as it does), etc.

    Both WAFL and ZFS are a fork of ideas and methods used in FFS. I don't know the nature of the patents NetApp holds, but if they are these features which ZFS implements then it would be terrible shame if they were able to control this market. That jeopardizes all similar FS's like HammerFS, and which ever linux fs is the next promised saviour as these are becoming more of a requirement than option.

  • Re:Here, here... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mea37 ( 1201159 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:16PM (#32855334)

    Patents are funny that way. If I patent an invention and use it in Product X, and you come along and create Product Y which infringes my patent, then I can sue you (as you expect), and also I can sue anyone who uses, sells, or offers for sale Product Y. That's one of the reasons indemnity is a big deal when corporations look at OSS solutions, and it was the basis of many of SCO's legal threats back in the day.

    So you get the store down the street to sell Product Y, I can sue the store down the street. Bob buys Product Y from the store and puts it to use, in theory I can probably sue Bob. Sue enters into an OEM arrangement with you and embeds Product Y in Product Z, I can sue Sue, and Sue's distributors and users as well. All because I have a patent on something I did in Product X.

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

    by afidel ( 530433 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:16PM (#32855346)
    Netapp is claiming that ZFS infringes on multiple core WAFL (the filesystem behind their filer products) patents. They may have a point insofar as software patents are enforceable. Time and again the Sun engineers behind ZFS have referenced WAFL as being the closest comparable filesystem to ZFS. The patent enforcement against ZFS started after Sun in their pre-Oracle takeover death throws came to Netapp expecting $$$ millions for supposed patent infringement.
  • Re:Here, here... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Luminary Crush ( 109477 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @06:17PM (#32855928)

    So the story goes, this dates back to some interns who worked at NetApp and then went to Sun and perhaps influenced ZFS.

    The technology in WAFL is that of a pointer-based filesystem - which itself is pretty ingenious and is only now being feature-emulated (ZFS, BRTFS, etc).

    One can say what they want of Netapp's pricing, but the technology is extremely solid and simple to operate compared to managing Linux or Solaris boxes running a filesystem as a NAS; the snapshots are without I/O penalty and you can take a lot of them, the clustering is *FAR* simpler than anything happening on general-purpose OSes, the support for protocols is industry-leading (FCoE, NFSv4, SMB 2.0 - they have a codeshare w/ Microsoft and do not use a reverse-engineered Samba implementation or run any kind of Windows storage server like competitors do).

    ZFS has a lot of promise, but does not have nearly the performance that WAFL does (considering RAID-DP versus ZFS RAID6) and has only some of the feature set of mirroring, snapshot vaulting, filesystem and file cloning, WORM-compliance, etc. Companies don't want to bet their business on a science project of roll-your-own NAS which doesn't have the feature set the Netapps do, and no serious competitor (eg a company with the ability to financially stand behind the product) in the enterprise space has anything like the feature set.

    I work for a systems integrator and I've messed with hundreds of Netapps, Sun and Linux appliances, and competitors over the years. I use ZFS at home because I can't afford a Netapp (and wouldn't want to pay the electricity bill if I could!) but if I ran an IT department I'd put my data on a Netapp FAS over a ZFS appliance any day.

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

    by Sinical ( 14215 ) on Friday July 09, 2010 @06:51PM (#32856232)

    I'm not gonna go through and do a feature check, but there is Ceph [newdream.net]. It's still pretty early in the development, but looks pretty promising. It uses btrfs as the underlying filesystem.

    Someone put together 1.2PB of Glustre (with dual replication) at my company and it's been problem free so far...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 09, 2010 @06:53PM (#32856256)

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

    You may want to tell that to SmugMug:


    Greenplum also doesn't seem to have received your message:


    Similarly with Joyent:



  • Re:Indemnification (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Macrat ( 638047 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @01:09AM (#32858116)

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

    Neither Schwartz or Sun exists anymore.

Someone is unenthusiastic about your work.