Ding, dong.
PC file system progress took a giant step back this week with the news on MacOSforge that Apple’s ZFS project has been discontinued.

ZFS Project Shutdown 2009-10-23
The ZFS project has been discontinued. The mailing list and repository will also be removed shortly.

Apple announced in June ’08 that Snow Leopard server would support ZFS. But things came apart early this year.

What happened?
Jeff Bonwick, ZFS architect, posted Saturday on an earlier quoted comment:

> Apple can currently just take the ZFS CDDL code and incorporate it
> (like they did with DTrace), but it may be that they wanted a “private
> license” from Sun (with appropriate technical support and
> indemnification), and the two entities couldn’t come to mutually
> agreeable terms.

I cannot disclose details, but that is the essence of it.


Sun is being sued by NetApp claiming that ZFS infringes on NetApp patents. If NetApp won, Apple would find itself in a tough position unless Sun shouldered the financial damage. That’s indemnification.

IMHO Sun has a good case that NetApp’s patents will be invalidated by prior art. But with all their other problems and the Oracle purchase it was a headache they, Oracle and Apple didn’t need.

Where does Apple go from here?
Apple has hired some smart file system engineers and wants to hire more to work on “state-of-the-art file system technologies for Mac OS X.”

I’m not convinced: it sounds like standard HR boilerplate and a snare for the unwary. But hey! it could happen.

But writing new file systems isn’t easy. It takes 5-7 years for a new file system to achieve the maturity needed to support large-scale deployment. Even replacing QuickTime is non-trivial.

So if Apple is starting from scratch we have a long wait for real innovation to appear. Like Mac OS XII.

What about Microsoft?
Meanwhile Redmond’s file system gurus are well aware of NTFS issues. They’re making stepwise enhancements.

But as the NTFS and HFS+ architectures age and the pace of storage innovation increases the gap between what is and what could be grows. It’s like putting a 1001 hp Bugatti engine in a Model T: the power is there but you can’t use it.

The StorageMojo take
I already hate software patents – but that’s another post. As long as law allows companies will try to enforce them.

Why didn’t Apple cut a deal with NetApp directly? Probably for the same reason Sun didn’t: money. Apple has a lot more of it than Sun, but Steve is a tightwad, especially when it comes to storage.

NetApp could have raised their visibility in the consumer market by cutting a deal with Apple, but NetApp’s management isn’t thinking strategically about the low-end of the market, as the rapidity of StoreVault’s entrance and exit demonstrated. True, they have bigger issues, but multi-tasking is supposed to be a corporate strength.

Consumers are generating masses of video and photos at an accelerating pace – and they’ll need reliable, available and dirt-easy storage. Lots of it.

Let EMC supply it!

Until the Next New Thing in file systems rolls out of Cupertino, Redmond or, maybe, Redwood City, consumers will stuck with too many BSODs, missing or corrupted files and app crashes. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too many more years.

Comments welcome, of course. An earlier version of this was posted on Storage Bits. Can you spot the dozen or so differences?

And there is a Google code page for MacZFS for you diehards out there.