Sun’s CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, has fired back at NetApp’s patent suit against Sun over ZFS, the advanced file system that promises to markedly increase data integrity for Sun and Apple users.

From the “best defense is a strong offense” playbook
No court documents to look at yet, but in his blog Schwartz lays out a multi-pronged attack on NetApp:

  • “As a part of this suit, we are requesting a permanent injunction to remove all of their filer products from the marketplace, and are examining the original NFS license – on which Network Appliance was started.”
  • “In addition to seeking the removal of their products from the marketplace, we will be going after sizable monetary damages.
  • Sun “. . . will continue to fund the aggressive reexamination of spurious patents used against the community (which we’ve been doing behind the scenes on behalf of several open source innovators).”

Update: David thoughtfully provided a link to Sun’s legal response. Thank you, David!

Playing to the galleries
Jonathan’s post is aimed at the open software crowd, not NetApp. He wants to turn this into a public relations war over NetApp’s support of open source. That is a battle that NetApp can’t win for (at least) two reasons:

  • Businesses worldwide are realizing that open source software is a Good Thing. By casting NetApp as an anti-OSS ogre, and Sun as a valiant defender, Sun strengthens its public image while tearing down NetApp’s. The IT pros who evaluate and recommend storage buys won’t soon forget who the bad guy is.
  • WAFL, NetApp’s file system, is based on a lot of prior art. If I read Jonathan correctly, that will be abundantly documented over the next year. Suing people over stuff you didn’t even invent makes you look like a whiner while it undermines your high-tech credentials.

The StorageMojo take
NetApp, like all the “big iron” storage vendors, is facing a soft market. No doubt the ZFS suit seemed like a good idea at the time, but NetApp has much more immediate problems. They need to get serious about settling this or their good public image will soon be permanently sullied.

With EMC set to announce storage clusters next year – sources tell me there’s been some slip, but it is still an ’08 announce – NetApp is going to be facing an even more difficult and dynamic environment. ZFS is a threat of sorts, but storage clusters are the gathering storm for all NFS vendors. Maybe it is time for some new blood at NetApp.

Comments welcome, of course. A note to my NetApp readers: it seems like I haven’t written about NetApp for months and then boom! this week it is all NetApp all the time. And the EMC guy just had to pile on in the comments. It is all coincidence, I assure you.

Update II: Dave Hitz has a thoughtful – expect no less from a Princeton grad – response to the Sun suit announcement.