SGI's XFS file system to go open source

Linux community awaits information about the key piece of SGI's operating system.
Written by Matt Loney, Contributor on
SGI Inc. is set to announce plans to give the Linux community the source code of XFS, its 64-bit Unix file system. Industry watchers say this marks the first time a company the size of SGI has released a major chunk of its software intellectual property into the open source community.

"They are putting their technology where their mouth is," said senior analyst Tony Iams of DH Brown Associates, referring to earlier hints from SGI (NYSE:SGI) that it would make such a move.

The decision will be announced Thursday in the Linux Expo in Raleigh, N.C.

Key technology
The decision is important for the Linux community and for businesses thinking of adopting Linux, said Iams, because the lack of a journaled file system is a major deficiency of Linux that is present in all its competitors. "It's something the Linux community has not yet been able to come up with," he said.

A journaled file system is crucial if Linux is to be suitable for large mission-critical applications such as data warehousing. Journaled file systems speed recovery from system failures because they don't have to scan the file structures for errors and make corrections during the reboot. On a system with hundreds of gigabytes of data, this can take hours. XFS can recover from most unexpected interruptions in less than a second, says SGI.

Handles big files
That the XFS file system is also 64-bit means that it will enable Linux to scale to handle file systems as large as 18 million terabytes, and file sizes up to 9 million terabyte. Despite being 64-bit, XFS will work with 32-bit Linux versions, too.

The announcement was welcomed by at least one Linux distributor, with Caldera CEO Ransome Love calling it terrific news. "We're happy to have SGI as part of the open source family," Love said in a statement.

SGI still must decide how the license will work, said SGI strategic technologist Hank Shiffman. "Whatever it is, it will follow the Open Source Initiative's guidelines," he said. "We'll model it the same way the Linux kernel works."

Coming this summer
Shiffman said the company would ideally like to keep the code and work with universities and a limited number of corporate partners. But that would not preclude anyone else from using the code or making changes, and Linux distributors will be free to build it into their distributions.

People should get to see the source code later this summer. Shiffman said the company still has to make sure it doesn't contain other companies' intellectual property.

Another Linux step
SGI has other plans in the pipeline, from releasing more source code to making suggestions for improvements to the Linux kernel to increase system IO, or data input/output.

Also this week, SGI committed to Linux as the Unix operating system for its Intel-based workstations and servers. It will continue offering Windows NT, as well.

"They also had the choice of moving their own Unix (IRIX) to Intel," said Iams, "but it's now clear that IRIX will stay on MIPS."

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