Storage Firms Turning to ZFS


What started out as a new type of virtual storage system for Solaris users has morphed into a powerful tool that is helping small storage firms wedge themselves into markets dominated by the major players.


Call it the power of open source. Back in 2004, Sun released the Zettabyte File System as a means to bring advanced features like filesystem/volume management integration, snapshots and automated repair to its storage systems to its platforms. Since then, it has been fully integrated into OpenSolaris and Solaris 10. Now, it seems the ZFS functionality is a major selling point among the latest releases by small to mid-sized storage vendors.


A company called Nexenta Systems has included ZFS on its NexentaStor 2.0 system, which provides for unified SAN/NAS operation, as well as clustering tools, automated/active failover and optional block-level targeting. The system employs ZFS under the Deloreon 1.0 module to enable Windows backup, but it also allows the system to cross vendor barriers that tend to lock enterprises into single platforms.


ONStor is also jumping onto the ZFS bandwagon, deploying the technology on its Pantera LS 2100 system that aims to bridge iSCSI and NAS environments in small businesses. ZFS allows users to create hybrid storage pools that will support SAS, SATA and SSDs for high-data environments. ONStor also plans to add ZFS to its expanding range of NAS gateway products, such as the EverONStorFS and Cougar systems. Another newcomer to ZFS is Thecus, which recently launched the N7700SAS server, a seven-bay device sporting Core 2 Duo processors and both RAID and JBOD data protection. The device supports multiple file systems, including ZFS, XFS and EXT3, allowing for a range of capacities to suit various applications. It also features a dual-DOM (disk-on-module) design that ensures continuous operation in the event of a failure.


Not surprisingly, the larger vendors seem to be taking a pass, even ones that had expressed interest earlier. Apple, for example, pulled ZFS out of the final release of Snow Leopard, despite touting the format's use as a high-performance tool for storage pooling and RAID functionality. The move raised a few eyebrows at the recent Worldwide Developers conference, considering that ZFS has been ported to Mac OS X for at least three years and is still part of the MacOSForge project, although the move does make some sense in light of Sun's recent acquisition by Oracle.


Open source technology is often a two-edged sword, as many of you already know. On the one hand, you don't have to deal with the limitations of proprietary software, but on the other, just because it's open doesn't mean you get seamless integration. ZFS is likely to be easier to work with than most, considering it's been released under the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), but by itself it still won't be the panacea to disparate storage systems. What it will do, though, is bring the promise of storage unification a little closer to reality.