What is ZFS?

Introducing ZFS: Your Enterprise-Grade File System

Many people have heard of ZFS, but are unsure what it actually is. So, what is ZFS? The Zeta File System (ZOL on Linux) is an enterprise-grade transactional file system that uses the concept of storage pools to manage physical storage space. Sun Microsystems began work on the product in 2001 and released it in 2005 as part of OpenSolaris. Even after OpenSolaris was discontinued, ZFS gained popularity since it is a user friendly, scalable, and powerful data management system.  Its strength lies in its simple administration model.

What is ZFS?

The Oracle Corporation, famous for its cloud-based data management system, defines ZFS as “a revolutionary new file system that fundamentally changes the way file systems are administered, with features and benefits not found in any other file system found today.” It was designed to eliminate volume management by merging devices together into a storage pool. As such, ZFS operates similar to RAID technologies.

Who uses ZFS?

Companies or individuals who store massive amounts of data and those who prefer network-attached storage systems (NAS) often choose ZFS instead of a cloud. As a redundant storage system, ZFS protects data in the event of a disaster. Small businesses also choose ZFS since it gives them the privacy they are denied in a public cloud as well as complete control over their data.

QSM, QSAN’s NAS Operating System, runs on this file system.

How does ZFS work?

As an enterprise-grade file system, ZFS allows users to create and manage file systems with ease since by eradicating the need to edit configuration files or issue multiple commands. Users can set a quota to limit the amount of disk space used or reserve disk space for a specific file system.

ZFS uses a hierarchical system layout defined by location- and- conductor-specific sub-module ports each of which is restricted in locality. Basically, it manages the physical storage of data through storage pools, which allow file systems to share disk space within the pool.

When users need a larger storage pool, they add disks similar to adding memory to a computer. As users add storage space, the file systems automatically use the additional memory without the user needing to configure that memory or assign individual processes. This system limits human touch, making it not only easy to use but also highly reliable.

What are ZFS’ enterprise features?

As a transactional file system, ZFS maintains a consistent state for the file system on the disk. Instead of overwriting data, which leaves the file system in an inconsistent state, ZFS manages data with a copy-on-write mechanism. This approach means that neither power losses nor system crashes can corrupt the file system.

A checksum algorithm can verify ZFS’ data and metadata in order to protect file integrity. Rather than performing checksum verification on a per-block basis, ZFS checksums work at a file systems level. The storage pools can  self-heal data by detecting bad data blocks and replacing them with redundant copy. Essentially, ZFS can silently check data and make repairs without user involvement.

ZFS’ most significant feature may be its scalability. Since ZFS can manage 1 billion terrabytes of data, nearly any size business or IT department can use the system. It designates all metadata dynamically, meaning users do not have to preallocate inodes, which could reduce scalability.

As Oracle notes, “Directories can have up to 248 (256 trillion) entries, and no limit exists on the number of file systems or the number of files that can be contained within a file system.”

ZFS also offers a built-in snapshot, which can grab a picture of stored data at a precise instant. Users find snapshots quick and easy. Snapshots take up no extra disk space in the pool at first, but as data evolves, they reference old data and thus consume some space.  These snapshots prevent old data from slipping back into the current storage pool. ZFS can also send and receive file system snapshots, a process which allows users to optimize their disk space.

Why do users choose ZFS?

Most users select ZFS because it offers a simple administration model. Creating and managing file systems becomes easy with no separate volume manager commands to learn. Plus, the system manages mount points automatically. The file system’s low costs let companies create new ones for each project and user, enabling finer data management.