ZFS on Linux – Freedom can be so restrictive

9 06 2007

UPDATE2: Back in May, there was a post on Jeff Bonwik‘s (Lead ZFS developer) blog with pictures of him and Linus having lunch, they where linked to from Jim Grisanzio’s (Another Sun employee) blog with the title of “ZFS Pics“.

There is also some work on developing a new Linux filesystem, btrfs with many of the ZFS features. “the filesystem format has support for some advanced features that are designed to leapfrog ZFS”.

UPDATE: There has recently been some talk on the kernel development mailing list about GPLv2, GPLv3 and Solaris, including ZFS. Linus’s post, skeptical about Sun cooperating and Sun’s CEO reply saying “if it was, we wouldn’t be so interested in seeing ZFS everywhere, including Linux, with full patent indemnity.”.

ZFS is a great file system from Sun, currently its going to be the default for the file system in OSX Leopard when its released (apparently its read-only) and its already in the FreeBSD kernel. And of course Suns operating system Solaris.

Grub boot loader already allows for booting from it.

Sun claim it to be the last word in filesystems. Apparently speed wise its close to hard drive platter speed like XFS, handles software raid like LVM and is able to handle more storage capacity than anyone should ever needed like ext4, supports Compression, snapshots and encryption its being worked on.

There is ZFS on FUSE that allows you to use it on Linux, but FUSE is slower than a real file systems (Benchmarks here) and it is much harder have the main root partition on it as it must load the programs that access the hard drive from somewhere. dpkg also requires a patch for systems using Debian apt.

Unfortunately there are 2 problems with to getting it into the core Linux kernel.

Licensing and Patents.

Currently OpenSolaris is under Sun’s CDDL which is incompatible with the GPL license that the Linux kernel uses. Sun have been talking about GPLing Solaris with the GPLv3. Would this mean we could see ZFS in Linux? Unfortunately no, the Linux kernel is under the GPLv2, with Linus previous saying that he would probably stick to GPLv2 for the Linux kernel, although he did recently say he was ‘pretty pleased’ about the new draft but still skeptical. The GPLv2 says that there must be no restrictions on how the software is used, the GPLv3 says you must not use it with DRM or on hardware the deliberately prevents the modification of the software (ie Tivo). Some parts of ZFS are under the GPLv2 via grub, but only the very basic bits needed for booting so probably not enough to use on a system.

The other problem is Sun apparently have 56 patents on the technology that goes into ZFS. If its under a compatible license with the Linux kernel, then this could still prevent wide spread adoption of it in the Linux community. Its theoretically possible that Sun is secretly being payed by MS to get their code into the kernel and sue em although it seems a bit to tinfoil hat to me. Sun apparently won’t sue anyone using their codebase, but I’m not sure how legally binding that is. It also prevents reverse engineering ZFS from scratch.

Sun have recently been making an attempt at getting the Linux community involved with Solaris, recently recruiting an ex-Debian developer Ian Murdock who’s job it is to make Solaris more appealing to the Linux user with project Indiana (mailinglist), a binary based Solaris distribution designed to be what people expect from Linux, it is possible that we could see Sun releasing ZFS in such a way that the Linux community can make use of it as a show of good faith. But its also possible that they will keep it as bait in an attempt to sway Linux developers to their side. Sun have been fairly good with the free software community of late, releasing Java under the GPLv2 (At least the bits they could), but it might be viewed as an attempt at keeping Java in play since C# and Flash have taken a large chunk out of the area.

We could also see few GNU/Linux distributions switch to GNU/Solaris ones if/when/how Solaris is GPL’d, we could see Ubuntu Solaris one day, it being under the newer GPLv3 license could make it the free software OS of choice (well maybe it would still be HURD because of its microkernel, but that doesn’t seem to be usable yet after almost 20 years of development), there already is Nexenta which is a GNU/Solaris distribution similar to Ubuntu. I tried the version that shipped with the OpenSolaris demonstration pack (they ship’em to you free here, like Ubuntu does here), it includes a bunch of Solaris versions on 2 dvds, the case smelled funny). It looked fairly nice for an Alpha, although it didn’t detect my networking or sound, the newer Developer Solaris on the same cd had better hardware support so Nexenta might just need a newer kernel version (They have already release an alpha7 and CP with ZFS boot support, but I haven’t tried them just yet).

I hope to see ZFS in the Linux kernel, every time its brought up in discussions it generally goes: ZFS is cool, I want it, Theres a FUSE version, FUSE is slow i want it for real, Linux carn’t have it because of CDDL, its really the patents the are the problem.

Hopefully someone will eventually code it, just ignoring the patent issues for peoples personal use and distros will could start to include it when Solaris gets GPL’d or Sun will make some statement about it since it seems to be the most commented issue on ZFS.





2 responses

10 06 2007

It’s probably a little unfair to judge the performance of ZFS/FUSE yet, given that Ricardo is yet to really get stuck into optimisations. Just being a FUSE filesystem doesn’t mean it can’t perform well.

11 06 2007
Ricardo Correia

Very good analysis of the situation, you just summed up the whole discussion of ZFS on Linux.
It’s also worth noting that ZFS is also being ported to NetBSD as part of the Google SoC, although I don’t know how far along that is at the moment.

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