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Linux's ZFS high-reliability filesystem ready for production use

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March 30, 2013

The team in charge of maintaining the native Linux port of the ZFS high-reliability filesystem have announced that the most recent release, version 0.6.1, is officially ready for production use and is ready for download.

"Over two years of utilization by real users has convinced us that ZFS on Linux is ready for wide scale deployment on everything from desktops to enterprise servers," developer Brian Behlendorf said in an email to subscribers.

Overall, ZFS is a combined filesystem and volume manager for Unix-like operating systems, originally developed by Sun Microsystems for its Solaris OS in the early 2000s.

The main features that set ZFS apart from many competing filesystems are its support for astronomically large storage systems and its near-manic obsession with data integrity.

A single ZFS filesystem can theoretically scale to as many as 256 quintillion zettabytes, or 2.56 × 1041 bytes. We're talking storage on a very large scale here.

But all of that storage wouldn't be much good if your data wasn't there when you went to retrieve it. All types of storage media – from tapes and disks to solid-state media and beyond – are subject to errors and defects.

A drive can fail, or the power fluctuates in just the wrong way during a write operation, or an errant cosmic ray passes by at just the wrong time. One way or another, some level of data corruption is simply inevitable at certain times.

But on a small scale, such corruption is manageable, however. Disk-repair utilities, journaling filesystems, and RAID arrays do a good job of keeping even fairly large traditional storage systems airtight. But when you get into the staggeringly huge storage systems of the Big Data world, the effectiveness of such methods begins to break down, allowing silent data corruption to creep in and lurk unnoticed.

For this reason, ZFS was designed for data integrity from the ground up. It uses a complex system of checksums to spot corruption wherever it appears, and once found, errors can be corrected on the fly on a live filesystem. In addition, it supports snapshots that allow admins to roll back the filesystem to an earlier state in the case of a serious failure.

Sun Microsystem released its ZFS code under an open source license as part of OpenSolaris Build 27 in 2005. Efforts to port it to Linux began soon thereafter, with the native ZFS on Linux (ZoL) port being maintained by the U.S. Department of Defense's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

So when will the latest, production-ready release of ZoL find its way into the kernel of your favorite Linux distribution? Here's the catch. Because of incompatible licensing and other intellectual property concerns, the ZFS filesystem module can't be distributed with the Linux kernel-- well at least not yet anyway.

For that reason and that reason alone, much of the Linux community has already turned toward Btrfs, a GPL-licensed filesystem that has been under development at Oracle since 2007 and which offers similar features to ZFS.

Still, those who are impressed by the possibilities of ZFS and would like to try it out on their Linux systems – or who are already using it and who want the most stable version, can download source tarballs and packages from the project's website.

In other Linux news

Linux support vendor Red Hat announced this morning that is has defeated Uniloc USA in an invalid Linux patent lawsuit, and the company vows to continue doing the same if and when similar cases arise in the future. But to be clear, Uniloc didn't actually sue Red Hat directly, they went after Rackspace, a Red Hat customer. Red Hat indemnifies its customers and has since launched its Open Source Assurance program back in 2004.

Red Hat's initiative to launch such a program came after SCO Group's invalid lawsuit against IBM was over, whether select versions Unix, parts of which SCO claimed copyrights to, slipped into select kernels of the Linux operating system.

While that issue worked its way through the legal system, Linux systems vendors were increasingly moving to offer indemnification protection to their customers using Linux in order to ease their concerns over potential legal exposure.

The decision also follows similar actions by Hewlett-Packard to offer an indemnification program for its enterprise customers that deploy Linux operating systems with some of the vendors' product lines.

The patent in question is U.S. Patent 5,892,697 which deals with the processing of floating point numbers. The judge disallowed the patent because mathematical algorithms cannot be patented under U.S. Patent laws.

"We salute Red Hat for its outstanding defense and for standing firm with its customers in defeating this invalid patent troll," said Alan Schoenbaum, Rackspace General Counsel. "We hope that many more of these spurious and invalid software patent lawsuits will be dismissed on similar grounds."

Rob Tiller, Red Hat’s Assistant General Counsel for intellectual property, said: "Overall, NPE patent lawsuits are a chronic and serious issue for the IT and the technology industry itself. Such lawsuits, which are frequently based on patents that should never have been granted in the first place, typically cost millions of dollars to defend."

"These lawsuits are a plague on innovation, economic growth, job creation and have a tendency to slow down many initiatives. Courts can help address this issue by determining the validity of patents early and with appropriate care," added Tiller.

"In this particular case, Judge Davis did just that, and set a great example for future cases," said Tiller.

This is exactly what indemnification is all about. Red Hat said in 2004 that it would protect its customers against patent trolls, since at the time they were worried about SCO, and with good reason to be.

Here we are in 2013. SCO is now a defunct and out-of-business company, but invalid patent trolls still walk the East Texas courtrooms, but the Open Source Assurance model works as promised, so the Linux community can sleep in peace at night.

In other Linux news

China said this morning that it has chosen Canonical's Linux-based Ubuntu operating system as the reference architecture to establish a standardized OS in the nation that could end up with multiple PCs, servers, tablets and smartphones all running on the popular operating system. The end result will be a new version of Ubuntu, customized and tailored just for the Chinese market. The news were also confirmed by Canonical.

China Software and Integrated Chip Promotions Centre (CSIP) and the National University of Defense Technology have formed a joint partnership in Beijing for the whole project.

The partnership is just the latest attempt by China to develop a homegrown operating system in a market where Microsoft's Windows still dominates the whole country.

CSIP is an institution under China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and it actively promotes the utilization of Linux-based systems in a very broad manner.

Overall, Windows has currently about a 95 percent share of the operating system market among Chinese Internet users, according to online analytics site Linux-based systems have less than a 1 percent market share as of January 31, 2013.

The ultimate goal of the latest effort is to push for an open and widely used operating system, Canonical said. The new localized Chinese version will be called Ubuntu Kylin and, remarkably, will be released in just a few weeks, alongside the latest 13.04 global release of the Ubuntu standard OS. Some in the Linux community are surprised that a new tailored version just for a country like China can be ready in such little time.

Future releases of Ubuntu Kylin will feature integration with popular Chinese online services run by local search engine Baidu and ecommerce giant Alibaba Group.

Payment processing for Chinese banks and real-time train and flight information will also be incorporated into the new OS. The partnership could help expand Ubuntu's user base in China, now the world's largest market for PCs and smartphones.

The company's partnership in China will not only bring local investment to the Ubuntu OS, but also make it "useful" for export products made by Chinese companies, Canonical said in its statement.

The naming of the new Chinese version also suggests that Ubuntu could leverage technologies from the Kylin OS, an operating system developed by the National University of Defense Technology.

The university is best known as the designer behind some of China's supercomputers, including the Tianhe-1A, now the world's eight fastest machine.

In other Linux news

Some in the Linux community will tell you that observing Debian Linux releases come together has most often been a long and very slow process, and they are probably right. And it probably explains why most Debian enthusiasts are so patient.

Few other Linux projects have the same breadth of platform support or packages and few have the same fiercely principled approach to development as Debian always has demonstrated and the trend is as strong as ever, make no mistake.

Codenamed Wheezy, the next big Debian release is almost done, with just a few minor changes to the kernel, we are told. But there are still one-hundred bugs and issues that need to be fixed to Wheezy before it can be deemed a 'production' version.

So the question is: how is the Debian community and its developers going to deal with those last 100 bugs and problems?

Well, some will tell you that it's a process that will involve some discipline and 'package cutting' as well. In a mailing list posting, Debian developer Julien Cristau wrote: "We are only interested in the absolute minimum patches that fix RC bugs. Spurious changes will simply lead to longer review times for everyone, disappointment and ultimately a longer freeze."

He then added "It helps us if you justify your request sufficiently to save time going back and forth. We don't know all packages intimately, so we rely on you to answer the question why should this fix be accepted at this stage?".

Going a step further he said: "As the release approaches, it's more likely that we will simply remove some packages that have open RC bugs."

Overall, Debian has long had the philosophy of being done 'only' when it's done. But it's a view of doing things that has caused some issues in the past, such as the so-called 'Sarge' release which was delayed for nearly a year back in 2005.

However, some in the Debian community say it's also a doctrine that works, provided you are patient about it and if time is on your side, of course.

In other Linux news

In case you didn't know, there's a new law that's about to take effect soon, and it sure raises the bar in the field of patenting. What makes it worse is that the burden falls entirely on small inventors and, most of the time, on startup companies with limited financial resources.

The full measure of the penalties for not adhering to the new patent laws, i.e., not promptly filing a patent application are the most dire-- no patent protection to begin with, and no future protections against copying either.

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The most significant change to U.S. patent law since 1836 (or perhaps even 1790) is being implemented tomorrow, March 16, 2013. Part of the America Inventors Act of 2011, the new law concerns the doctrine of first-to-invent, laws concerning the protection of original inventors, regardless of whether they were the first to apply for a patent or not.

The new law awards inventorship under a first-inventor-to-file standard. The emphasis is now placed on inventors seeking immediate patent protections, preferably before any disclosures to any third parties and patent filings of others.

Under the soon-to-be old law, such disclosures were somewhat protected and true inventorship ascertained and rewarded. However, those protections have almost all been eliminated.

Now, there are greater hazards to inventors -- particularly small inventors -- which will possibly preempt them from obtaining a patent alltogether.

The so-called 'grace period' of one year from a public disclosure of an invention to patent filing under the old law is technically still there. But third-party patent filings during that grace period now trump the earlier inventor merely by reaching the Patent Office first.

This change in the law tries to objectify determination of a true inventor instead of engaging in procedural challenges called "interferences," which it eliminates.

Many view this substantive change as contrary to the philosophy of the U.S. patent system, which rewards true and original inventors, i.e., the first to invent.

The new law is patterned on that of foreign patent systems, which place much less emphasis on the individual in favor of corporations, which want more certainty in the patenting process.

Since some third-party patentees may derive their "inventions" from primary inventors who are second to file for patents, new proceedings determine inventorship under these circumstances.

Source: The ZFS Team.

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