Can Oracle make ZFS much more attractive?

August 2, 2012

In my ruminations on the future of ZFS I called the Solaris version of ZFS dead due to the combination of the departure of the original ZFS developers, the (now) closed source nature of Solaris, and Oracle making Solaris unattractive to people. A commentator took me to task, noting:

We may not like Oracle, but they can afford developers and I do know they are working on ZFS. There are already new features in Solaris 11's ZFS that are not in Illumos, like: encryption, new ARC with in-memory "dedup", 1MB recordsize, better integration with fmtopo, etc.

The commentator is right; I was overly aggressive here. Oracle's version of ZFS is continuing to evolve (at least for now) and so at that level I'm clearly wrong. The bigger question is whether this matters. The core reason I had for it not mattering is Oracle's pricing and general attitude on Solaris making it quite unattractive, but I don't know for sure how much the price et al matters to people. (I know how much it matters to us, but I shouldn't generalize too much.)

However I think we can make some estimates from two things. First, Solaris in Sun's hands at Sun's (low) prices was not exactly setting the world on fire with its popularity. Second, it seems highly unlikely that Solaris got significantly more attractive when Oracle bought Sun (and certainly it's still not setting the world on fire). Given the significant price jump I think it's reasonable to believe that Solaris usage and attractiveness has dropped significantly.

(The potential fly in the ointment is if most or almost all Solaris customers were price-insensitive. I don't think that this was the case but I don't have any particular evidence for my belief. We're certainly price sensitive, but that's just an anecdote.)

This gets me to an interesting question: could Oracle make its version of ZFS matter by adding some features that are really attractive, attractive enough that people run Oracle Solaris in order to get them?

(If they can't and use of Oracle Solaris is basically static and small, then Oracle's ZFS is basically an unimportant backwater.)

My tentative answer is that I don't think so; I can't see how Oracle can make ZFS (in Solaris) significantly more attractive than it already is. ZFS just doesn't seem to be missing anything big, and what's being added is just things that are nice to have but not essential. ZFS today is not incomplete software, which should not be surprising given that Sun put years of development and polish into it. I just can't think of any crucial features that ZFS is currently lacking that would entice new people to use it (much less pay a lot of money to do so).

(This is of course related to the lack of enticing new features for us. It's possible that I'm not imaginative enough or that I'm missing the importance of some features to people.)

As a side note, although I would dearly love to have the ability to remove a vdev from a pool I'm unable to convince myself that it's such a crucial missing feature that adding it would make ZFS significantly more attractive. The same is true in spades for a 'ZFS fsck' and repair tool, partly because most people assume that their filesystems are never going to break in the first place.


Comments on this page:

From 194.168.32.194 at 2012-08-02 04:41:36:

Much as it pains me that this is the case, I tend to agree that if ZFS wasn't appealing enough already, it is hard to think of anything extra that would help. The feature set of Solaris 10, which I thought was quite outstanding from an OS point of view at the time, never seemed to gain much traction with decision-makers (possibly because they tend not to have an "OS point of view").

By cks at 2012-08-05 23:02:26:

The short version is that I think Solaris is (or was) significantly less attractive than some people generally feel it is. I wrote about the general factors in action in OSAttraction.

Written on 02 August 2012.
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