Apple Drops ZFS Plans Amid Licensing Issues

A three-year effort to add Sun’s (NASDAQ: JAVA) ZFS file system to Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) Mac OS appears to be dead.

A notice appeared late last week on the Mac OS Forge Web site that the ZFS project has been discontinued.

A posting on the Open Solaris list suggested that the deal came apart over licensing, indemnification and support issues, a version of events apparently confirmed by ZFS chief architect Jeff Bonwick.

The news has bloggers and pundits wondering what Apple is up to, perhaps upgrading its own HFS+ architecture or launching other development efforts, as the company is also seeking a file system engineer for Mac OS X.

Some have speculated that Sun’s delayed merger with Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) could be partly to blame, and legal issues stemming from a patent dispute with NetApp (NASDAQ: NTAP) may also have complicated matters.

“I don’t claim to know the full back story here,” said Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff. “I have to believe that legal uncertainty is part of the issue. It’s also the case that there was always a lot more apparent enthusiasm for ZFS on Apple from the Sun side than from the Apple side.”

Haff said Apple just might not have needed all the high-end features that ZFS offers.

“The capabilities that make ZFS an interesting file system are most interesting to large systems with large amounts of storage and even storage of different types,” said Haff. “That’s not to say that file systems used on clients won’t evolve over time, but they’ll certainly lag the server world. With Apple barely selling servers, they just don’t have a pressing near-term need for something like ZFS.”

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Paul Shread
eSecurity Editor Paul Shread has covered nearly every aspect of enterprise technology in his 20+ years in IT journalism, including an award-winning series on software-defined data centers. He wrote a column on small business technology for, and covered financial markets for 10 years, from the dot-com boom and bust to the 2007-2009 financial crisis. He holds a market analyst certification.

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