Using ZFS in your storage considered harmful … without a license from NetApp …

Chalk this up to “you knew this would happen”.

NetApp is going after ZFS storage vendors, folks who use ZFS in their products, as infringing upon NetApp patents. Yes Virginia, this includes open source vendors.

Now we see a significant hardening of NetApp’s stance as it directly attacks the open source community using ZFS with this offensive against Coraid. This could be part of a negotiating tactic against Oracle.

One outcome is that Oracle agrees to license the relevant patents pertaining to ZFS from NetApp. This would then open the way for Coraid and other ZFS-using storage suppliers to have to license them as well, significantly upsetting their business models unless the license fees are set low.

Anyone wanna take bets as to whether or not the license fees will be “set low”? I have my doubts. ZFS directly impacts NetApp’s business model. It is unlikely that they will use RAND pricing. Well … their version of “reasonable” may not mean the same thing as others version of “reasonable”.

We haven’t received a C&D letter, though we do offer Nexenta’s products. Our agreement with them includes clauses to shield us in these events, so if and when they get a license, we should be covered using their product.

It is possible that GreenBytes and Nexenta have also received letters from NetApp’s lawyers relating to their use of ZFS. Compellent uses Nexenta’s ZFS in its NAS head. The ripples spread.

Yes … yes they do.

But this does look like it means we can’t ship OpenSolaris based machines until either a) patent dispute is resolved, or b) we get a license from NetApp to use ZFS.

You just knew the was gonna happen.

Don’t jump all over NetApp over this. They are following a prudent legal strategy … set the precedent by taking out a vendor. With this tactic set, go after the rest. We don’t have to like it, but we have to respect it.

I don’t know the merits of NetApp’s patent claims vis a vis ZFS. But I wonder aloud if they also claim patents over BTRFS.


This is getting ugly …

[Update] Thinking about this, they may also go after large ZFS customers directly. Folks who will cave quickly rather than fight a bruising patent battle. I haven’t heard any such things yet, but I think they could be out there.

I did a quick scan of NetApp’s site looking for legal folks contact info to inquire as to license cost (likely covered by NDA, but we are curious … we can see if it is worth it for us versus simply dropping allegedly infringing options …) didn’t find them. If you happen to know of such a person/email, please have them contact me at the day job. I am not worried by these things, but I need to know the costs for their license, and ascertain whether or not it is something we would consider, versus the alternatives.

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