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NetApp shakes fist at sprat supplier over ZFS

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NetApp has threatened Ethernet and ZFS storage supplier Coraid with implied legal action unless it stops selling its EtherDrive Z-series NAS. Coraid has buckled under the threat and temporarily withdrawn the product.

The back story here is that NetApp sued Sun in 2007 for infringing its patents with the ZFS file system product which it used in its 7000 storage system and which it made available to the open source community. Sun counter-sued NetApp to destroy the validity of the patents in question by showing that there was prior art - existing IP - rendering the patents null and void.

The two legal actions were combined, with the case ongoing in a northern California court. Oracle has inherited the case with its acquisition of Sun. A letter from Coraid's CEO, Kevin Brown, to Coraid users and partners says NetApp and Oracle are trying to resolve the dispute out of court.

Now we see a significant hardening of NetApp's stance as it directly attacks the open source community using ZFS with this offensive against Coraid. This could be part of a negotiating tactic against Oracle.

One outcome is that Oracle agrees to license the relevant patents pertaining to ZFS from NetApp. This would then open the way for Coraid and other ZFS-using storage suppliers to have to license them as well, significantly upsetting their business models unless the license fees are set low.

Another outcome is that litigious Larry goes to court. He's not inexperienced in such manoeuvres; witness the Americas Cup yacht race shenanigans.

It is possible that GreenBytes and Nexenta have also received letters from NetApp's lawyers relating to their use of ZFS. Compellent uses Nexenta's ZFS in its NAS head. The ripples spread.

NetApp is likely to face some criticism for attacking a small supplier like Coraid. It might say that, faced with someone using its stolen property supplied by a third party, Oracle-Sun, with whom it is in a legal dispute, what is it expected to do?

It can expected to be told to wait until the Oracle-NetApp dispute is resolved and stop using little guys as pawns in a much bigger game. ®

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