The instant value of Open Source Storage

[ Full disclosure: I work for iXsystems™ . Opinions and views are mine. ]

TrueNAS Open Storage logo

The story began …

It was 2011. A friend of a friend called me out of the blue. He was rambling about his company’s storage needs. I recalled vividly that he wanted 100TB, and Dell and HP (before HPE) were hopeless doing NAS (network attached storage) in an Apple environment. They assembled a Frankenstein-ish NAS and plastered a price over MYR$100K around it.

In his environment, the Apple workstations were connected to dozens of WD Cloud Book storage (whatever it was called back then), daisy chained via Firewire to each other. I recalled one workstation had 3 WD “books” daisy chained together. They got the exploding storage needs but performance sucked. With every 2nd or 3rd user, access to files were at a snail pace, taking up to more than 2 minutes to open a file sometimes.

At that time, my old colleague at Sun was fervently talking about ZFS and OpenSolaris™. I told him about this opportunity, and so we began. It was him who used the word “crafter”. “We are not building“, he said, “we are crafting“. He was right.

OpenSolaris logo

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The True Value of TrueNAS CORE

A funny thing came up on my Twitter feed last week. There was an ongoing online voting battle pitting FreeNAS™ (now shall be known as TrueNAS® CORE) against Unraid. I wasn’t aware of it before that and I would not comment about Unraid because I have no experience with the software. But let me share with you my philosophy and my thoughts why I would choose TrueNAS® CORE over Unraid and of course TrueNAS® Enterprise along with it. We have to bear in mind that TrueNAS® SCALE is in development and will soon be here next year in 2021.

The new TrueNAS CORE logo

The real proving grounds

I have been in enterprise storage for a long time. If I were to count the days I entered the industry, that was more than 28 years ago. When people talked about their first PC (personal computer), they would say Atari or Commodore 64, or something retro that was meant for home use. Not me.

My first computer I was affiliated with was a SUN SPARC®station 2 (SS2). I took it home (from the company I was working with), opened it apart, and learned about the SBUS. My computer life started with a technology that was meant for the businesses, for the enterprise. Heck, I even installed and supported a few of the Sun E10000 for 2 years when I was with Sun Microsystems. Since that SS2, my pursuit of knowledge, experience and worldview evolved around storage technologies for the enterprise.

Open source software has also always interested me. I tried a few file systems including Lustre®, that parallel file system that powered some of the world’s supercomputers and I am a certified BeeGFS® Systems Engineer too. In the end, for me, and for many, the real proving grounds isn’t on personal and home use. It is about a storage systems and an OS that are built for the enterprise.

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Phoenix rising from OpenSolaris ashes

I got a little nostalgic over the weekend. As I was working on Solaris 11 x86 over the past few weeks, I got a little bit peeved about how much Oracle has changed the OS.

Command like ifconfig doesn’t not appear to be very functional anymore and instead ipadm has taken over most of the configuration options. And when I working with Jumpstart (damn!), it does not work the way that I know anymore. And now AI (Automated Install) has taken over Jumpstart and I got to relearn the whole what-ca-ma-callit. Dang!

I remembered the day when Solaris x86 first came out in the early 90s. I was ecstatic because I could finally test and run Solaris on x86 platform. I could get things running at home and have fun with it. Drivers were limited then (and still is but has gotten much better) but I was happily hacking away together with other Linux distros as the open source revolution was just beginning. After I joined NetApp, things started to change and I abandoned Solaris in favour of Linux as my job, as well as my interest, were on Linux, especially RedHat. I eventually got my RHCE and completely lost touch with Solaris. By 2005, when OpenSolaris was announced under CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License), I was no longer well versed with the developments of Solaris and OpenSolaris.

Enough about my nostalgia because I am beginning to see a young phoenix (a mythical firebird) rising from the mess of what Oracle did with OpenSolaris! Since Oracle purchased Sun in 2010, Oracle has practically burned OpenSolaris to ashes. On August 13 2010, Oracle announced the end of OpenSolaris in an internal memo and it read:

Solaris Engineering,

Today we are announcing a set of decisions regarding the path to
Solaris 11, and answering key pending questions on open source, open
development, software and binary licenses, and how developers and
early adopters will be able to use Solaris 11 technology before its
release in 2011.

As you all know, the term “OpenSolaris” has been used colloquially to
refer to any or all of a collection of source code, a development
model, a web site, a logo, a binary release, a source license, a
community, and many other related things. So it’s taken a while to go
over each issue from an organizational and business perspective, and
align on the correct next step. Therefore, please take the time to
read all of the detail here carefully. We’ll discuss our strategy
first, and then the decisions and changes to our policies and
processes that implement that strategy.

If you want the entire memo (and all the fa-lah-lah that goes with it), go to Steven Stallion’s blog. Incidentally Steven Stallion was the OpenSolaris kernel developer who leaked the memo into the open.

It became pretty obvious that Oracle business suit culture and “is this going to make money?” ways were suffocating talents and innovations of the Sun engineering tribes. Some of the high profile leavers were James Gosling (father of Java) and Jeff Bonwick (father of RAID-Z and led the ZFS development team in Sun). And there were many top talents exodus within 90-120 days after the Oracle acquisition.

The key technologies that went into OpenSolaris (and Solaris) were slowly but surely deprived of their inventors’ and maintainers nourishment. These technologies were:

  • ZFS (Project Pacific)
  • DTrace
  • Zones (aka Solaris Containers, aka Project Kevlar)
  • Fault Management Architecture (FMA)
  • Service Management Facility (SMF)
  • Advanced Network Virtualization (Project Crossbow)
  • Least-privilege

and many more. Some of these technologies were already open under CDDL license but some were still very much proprietary to Sun (I mean, Oracle). It was difficult to use what was available under OpenSolaris CDDL license to rebuild again, especially when the inventors, talents and maintainers are now all scattered in companies like Delphix, Nexenta, Greenbytes, Joyent and so on .

At the end of last year, shortly before Solaris 11 was announced by Oracle, the people who are passionate about OpenSolaris (and Solaris) have got together in full force again. Dubbed “Project Illumos“, the key people who has developed for Sun convened to build a new open-source, Solaris-based operating environment. The proprietary bits that are closely guarded by Oracle are going to be either rebuilt from scratch or ported from BSD into the last OpenSolaris-kernel before Oracle killed it. That kernel was Solaris Nevada, which was supposed to be the successor of Solaris 10.

The Illumos team already has a bootable and working operating environment and new developments are going on at a frantic pace. From the words of Bryan Cantrill (father of DTrace) and now VP of Engineering at Joyent,

“illumos was not designed to be a fork,but rather an entirely open downstream repository of OpenSolaris”

And the talents congregating to the Illumos project (like moths to a flame) are super-stellar. Just have a look at this list:

  • ZFS –> Matt Ahrens, Eric Schrock,  George Wilson, Adam Leventhal, Bill Pijewski and BrendanGregg
  • SMF –> Dan McDonald and Sumit Gupta
  • DTrace –> Bryan Cantrill, Adam Leventhal, Brendan Gregg, Eric Schrock, Dave Pacheco
  • Zones & Jumpstart –> Jerry Jelinek
  • and many, many more.

KVM (the Linux kernel-based virtual machine) is being added into the Illumos operating environment, giving it the final piece of the puzzle.

I cannot help but to feel extremely proud that OpenSolaris (and Solaris) is not dead yet and it’s alive and rising. Oracle cannot lay claim to the source code and the rights of Illumos (according to Bryan Cantrill) without itself abiding to the CDDL licensing and distribution scheme that it had killed off a year ago.

And this is indeed the young phoenix rising!