Unix and Mac OS are designed to support different file systems - Mac folks may use 3 a day without knowing it - which is why ZFS on Mac is not only possible, but practical. And not only practical, but a giant step forward for data integrity and performance. Here's what to expect.
A new company Ten's Complement is working to release ZFS for Mac. They're starting an engineering beta and plan to release a server-grade product later this year.
What is ZFS? ZFS is designed to protect, store and access data in the most demanding enterprise environments. Using standard, low-cost components: disk drives, enclosures, adapters, cables. No RAID arrays, volume managers, CDP, fsck, partitions, or volumes.
Almost makes you nostalgic for the good old days, doesn’t it? Like before Novocaine.
It is a 21st century open source file system developed at Sun with multiple cool features:
- Its tree structured checksums eliminates most of the bit rot that afflicts Macs and PCs. When ZFS retrieves your data, you can be sure it is your data, and not the misbegotten spawn of a driver burp.
- Add a disk drive to ZFS and it simply joins the pool of blocks available for storage. You don’t have to manage another disk.
- Cheap snapshots: roll your file system back to any point in time - like before you downloaded a malicious pdf - with almost no overhead.
- Fast, cheap RAID. ZFS implements very fast RAID that fixes the performance knock-off against software RAID. In ZFS all writes are the fastest kind: full stripe writes, running on the fastest processor in your system (your Mac), rather than some 3 year old microcontroller.
- Every time you add a disk to your Mac you see another disk volume on the desktop. ZFS eliminates the whole volume concept. Add a disk or five to your system and it joins your storage pool. More capacity. Not more management.
Apple's ZFS history Apple announced ZFS on Mac Server 10.6 in 2007, but Sun - whose engineers developed the open-source file system - put itself up for sale before license negotiations were concluded and Apple had to back down. NetApp's patent suit against Sun over some of the ZFS technology slowed things down as well.
So Apple de-committed from ZFS. Since then they've been hacking the ancient HFS+ like crazy to make it look cool. But it isn't cool - which is why we need ZFS on the Mac.
How will this work? Ten's Complement plans bring an enterprise-grade ZFS to Mac OS X. The founder, Don Brady, is the ex-Apple engineer who led the port of ZFS to Mac OS.
After 20 years at Apple he knows Mac OS and how Apple products should work.
The beta is fully subscribed with more volunteers than Ten's Complement could handle. The plan is to release a command line interface version - you'll need a sysadmin's comfort with the OS X CLI - with limited GUI support later this year.
After that? Well, there's no reason a slick Apple-style GUI couldn't be added. We'll have to wait and see.
Can you really add a file system to OS X? Sure. OS X is already plug & play with FAT 16/32, ExFAT, ISO 9660 on CDs, UDF on DVDs, as well as HFS+. You also used to be able to configure a Unix FS from Disk Utility, but no more.
NTFS could be on the list, but it's a moving target with a raft of improvements due out in Q4 (see How Microsoft puts your data at risk for why). And, of course, Apple offers Quantum's StorNext cluster FS as XSAN.
Yes, you can add file systems to OS X.
The Storage Bits take Once Ten's Complement gets a consumer-friendly product to market I'll try it. I've lost hard-to-replace files due to HFS+ data corruption and I'm not happy about it.
The Mac software group should re-think their reliance on HFS+: the Microsoft NTFS team - some very smart guys there - will be rolling out improvements later this year. As data stores continue to grow, file system failures will become more obvious and more irritating.
If your Mac is business critical, ZFS on OS X will help keep you up and running. It's too bad Apple dropped the ball, but I'm glad Ten's Complement has picked it up.
Comments welcome, of course. Learn more about ZFS: ZFS: Threat or Menace? Apple's new kick-butt file system ZFS data integrity tested And thanks to David Morgenstern for alerting me that ZFS returns to the Mac.