Practical Technology

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Linux and Sun Partnering?


What happens when you get Linus Torvalds, Mr. Linux, together with Jeff Bonwick, Sun’s master of storage and creator of ZFS? Well, right now, we don’t know.

All we know is that Bonwick has posted a trio of photos of himself and Torvalds on his blog under the mysterious title, Casablanca, with a couple of cryptic comments about chocolate and peanut butter and the phrase, “All I can say for the moment is… stay tuned.”

Jim Grisanzio, Sun’s senior programming manager for OpenSolaris, links to the blog under the title “ZFS Pics.” This seems to indicate that Sun may be talking with Torvalds about bringing ZFS to Linux. Even this conclusion is really just speculation.

If that is the plan, and readers at Bonwick’s site are assuming that it is, not everyone is happy about the idea of sharing ZFS (Zettabyte File System) with Linux. A reader under the name old school wrote, “If you let Linux have ZFS, it’s like porting Solaris to x86, the stupidest move you ever made. Now no one is forced to buy your computers, and your stock sucks. Face it, proprietary is the only way to go.”

Jalana agrees to an extent, “To people saying ZFS on Linux would stop anyone getting Solaris, what about FreeBSD and MacOS, which already have ZFS (in slightly old forms admittedly)? ZFS is still a massive draw to OpenSolaris for people, despite FreeBSD and MacOS having implementations too? Though I can still see where people are coming from.”

Others like Che Kristo, thinks that “allowing the Linux community to use ZFS will broaden the usage of ZFS meaning that more people will have their eyes on the code and hopefully contribute back.”

A few people even go so far as to suggest that the photos indicate that Linus might be joining Sun to work on OpenSolaris. That seems, shall we say, highly unlikely.

Sun claims that ZFS is a completely new take on file systems. Introduced in Solaris 10 in 2004, Sun says that ZFS has several significant advantages over earlier file systems. These include much simpler administration; data integrity thanks to 64-bit checksums that’s used to detect and correct silent data corruption; as a 128-bit file system it has almost unlimited scalability, and great performance thanks to its transactional object model.

Torvalds likes ZFS. In a LKML note from June 12, 2007 Torvalds wrote, “I think the only really interesting thing they have is ZFS.”

He continued, “And yes, maybe ZFS is worthwhile enough that I’m willing to go to the effort of trying to re-license the kernel [under GPLv3]. But quite frankly, I can almost guarantee that Sun won’t release ZFS under the GPLv3 even if they release other parts. Because if they did, they’d lose the patent protection.”

At the time, Torvalds didn’t see much chance of Sun licensing ZFS under GPLv2 or GPLv3: “And yes, I’m cynical, and yes, I hope I’m wrong. And if I’m wrong, I’ll very happily retract anything cynical I said about Sun. They _have_ done great things, and maybe I’m just too pessimistic about all the history I’ve seen of Sun with open source.”

Has Sun decided to license ZFS in a way that would make it available to Linux? If ZFS is released under the GPLv3, would Torvalds consider re-licensing Linux under GPLv3? Could Torvalds convince the other Linux kernel developers, who dislike GPLv3 to go along? We don’t know yet. Much as we may want to know, we’re just going to have to wait and see how this plays out.