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AlBlue’s Blog

Macs, Modularity and More

ZFS and NetApp?

2007, zfs

Seems that there's trouble ahead for Sun and NetApp. In one corner, Sun defending ZFS; and in the other corner, NetApp defending WAFL. Fortunately, for the customers, both companies are indemnifying any losses or issues arising from using either technology (and in the case of Sun, extending to other users of the open-source filesystem like Apple and OpenSolaris).

I don't have the detailed know-how of the patents in question, so I'm not going to postulate on a technical argument. Both are next-generation filesystems that do more than just store data; in the case of NetApp, it's their business, whilst in the case of Sun it's an addendum to their main business. Perhaps understandably, NetApp are concerned that ZFS will kill their business, and so have launched the suit (and the corresponding counter-suit) as a means of attempting to stay in business.

The problem is that Sun have won the PR battle. That won't impact the result of the court cases any, but NetApp will find it difficult to recover their image from this. For starters, the papers have been filed in the patent-whoremongering Texas (when did anything good ever come from Texas?) instead of the state in which both companies are headquartered. You know something's up there. Whether valid or not, comparisons to SCO abound with NetApp; and Sun are helping by comparing the fight against open-source, rather than technologies in general.

But Sun didn't win the PR battle on merit alone. The NetApp support has badly shot itself in the foot with the comments on the NetApp site. Virtually anyone who disagrees with the concept in the comments gets shouted down by TM and Bill Todd, whose stellar arguing technique includes the following gems:

This poster summed up nicely the effect this is having:

Bill Todd. I think your (sic) doing NetApp some damage. I work for a fairly medium data collections agency in Chicago (at Florida base this week). The CTO of my devision, who does the purchasing, said he will be cutting NetApp from his list of purchasing options specifically because of your posts to this thread. If your thinking thats a childish way to make a decision then your not alone. But, there it is.

To which Bill replied:

So your (alleged) CTO can take a flying ... (well, Dave would probably prefer that I not complete that phrase, and since this is his blog I therefore won't), as far as I'm concerned. Clear enough for you?

It's not clear whether the comments above are from any one individual, or a collection of anonymous writers (or even if it's a pseudonym) but the effect has been dramatic. What it's done is to sully the name of NetApp; which is ironic, since the tone of the posts obviously implied some positive connection with the company. However, regardless of the result (and the most likely is going to be some generic cross-licensing deal, maybe with a bit of cash or stock changing hands in a few months time), the whole thing has resulted in Sun coming out smelling of roses and NetApp faring less well off.

However, for the end consumer (whether that's NetApp or Sun products); we're in pretty much the same position as before (unless you own either of their stock). We just get to see where all this is headed.