NetApp, Oracle End ZFS Litigation

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The three-year legal battle between NetApp and Oracle has come to an end as the companies quietly dropped their dueling patent infringement lawsuits over the open source Zettabyte File System (ZFS).

Announced this morning via NetApp’s (NASDAQ: NTAP) website, the companies have agreed to dismiss their pending patent litigation, which began when NetApp sued Sun Microsystems in September of 2007 and became Oracle’s (NASDAQ: ORCL) problem when it acquired Sun last year.

NetApp and Oracle are tight-lipped about the matter only stating that they both “seek to have the lawsuits dismissed without prejudice” and that the terms of the agreement are confidential.

The crown storage jewel of the Solaris operating system, ZFS is a Solaris file system that uses storage pools to manage physical storage. The ZFS pooled storage model eliminates the concept of volumes and the associated problems of partitions, provisioning and stranded storage by enabling thousands of file systems to draw from a common storage pool, using only as much space as it actually needs (see “10 Reasons Why ZFS Rocks”).

NetApp and Oracle are putting their differences behind them and have pledged to work together going forward.

“For more than a decade, Oracle and NetApp have shared a common vision focused on providing solutions that reduce IT cost and complexity for thousands of customers worldwide,” said Tom Georgens, president and CEO of NetApp, in a statement. “Moving forward, we will continue to collaborate with Oracle to deliver solutions that help our mutual customers gain greater flexibility and efficiency in their IT infrastructures.”

But what of the little guys? Several storage startups were drawn into the ZFS battle as NetApp and Oracle were duking it out, leaving many companies in limbo and even preventing some from selling storage products.

Most recently, NetApp stopped Coraid from selling the Coraid EtherDrive Z-Series NAS appliance based on ZFS. The legal threat from NetApp sent a shiver through the industry as many vendors base their products on ZFS – specifically on the ZFS distribution from Nexenta Systems.

Since then, Nexenta has started a grassroots effort to free not only ZFS from Oracle’s grip, but OpenSolaris itself. The company’s new senior director of engineering Garret D’Amore, a former Sun engineer and a leading contributor to the OpenSolaris operating system for the past five years, has formed a new open source community under the Illumos Project

Illumos has its own plans for ZFS. “At the moment, the code is identical. In the future, there may be additional enhancements and innovations in Illumos beyond what Oracle has. We have some concrete ideas we are exploring, but we’re not quite ready to provide concrete details yet,” D’Amore said. “We want to be a self-hosting Solaris derivative without any corporate dependencies. In my ideal world, anybody could use this code for whatever they want.”

Nexenta’s CEO,Evan Powell, said the settlement removes a cloud over the ZFS community, including Nexenta. And while today is a good day for storage users that want openness in enterprise storage, he cautioned that it’s only a first step on that path.

“It is important to note that the storage industry remains broken, sucking over 42 percent of total IT spending into a black hole of aging proprietary technologies and exploitative pricing,” said Powell. “ZFS-based solutions like NexentaStor are the only way forward for enterprises that desire enterprise class functionality without the aged proprietary technologies and lock-in based business models of legacy providers.”

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Kevin Komiega
Kevin Komiega
Kevin Komiega is an Enterprise Storage Forum contributor.

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