ZFS vs. EXT4

A ZFS and EXT4 Analysis

ZFS may be the best-known enterprise-grade transactional file system to use storage pools to manage physical storage space. It is not the only one on the market, however. ZFS competes with ext4 for market share in the data management system world.

While both ZFS and ext4 can retain massive amounts of data in a secure, non-cloud storage pool system, the two products are not equal in capacity, management, or usability.

Looking at ZFS vs. ext4, we see two distinct transactional file systems. ZFS supports advanced file systems and can manage data long term whereas ext4 cannot.

What is ZFS?

Sun Microsystems introduced ZFS in 2005 as a data management system that combined volume management with scalability. Employing RAID style technology, ZFS allows users to create and manage file systems using a hierarchy. It also includes includes enterprise features such as a built-in snapshot and a checksum algorithm.

What is ext4?

Linux created its original extended file system (ext) as early as 1992. It was the first to use a virtual file system (VFS) switch, which allowed Linux to support many file systems at the same time on the same system. Linux has released three updates since – ext2, ext3, and ext4. Today, ext4 – dating back to 2001 – is the default on the Linux System.

ZFS vs. ext4: Which is right for you?

While ext4 comes embedded on Linux, it may not be the right choice for managing your data. Consider the strengths of each system in light of your needs.

Ext4

Ext4 is backwards compatible, meaning you can mount it on an ext3, ext2, or ext2 system. Since all these products were created before 2002, compatibility will not be important to most users, however. Ext4 also reduces file fragmentation, improves memory flash memory life through delayed allocation, and can handle larger volumes and files than its evolutionary predecessors. Since the beginning, it has used journaling, a system of logging changes, to the file to reduce file corruption.

While these components of ext4 constitute an improvement over older extension file systems, the program remains limited in both capacity and engineering quality.

Because ext4 is a refurbishment of technology developed in the early 1990’s, it has limited capacity to manage modern loads of data. Its once-helpful journaling system now slows down its processes as it stores more data. Plus, ext4 can support a file size no larger than 18 terabytes, making it a modest storage space for a contemporary data-driven, digital company.

ZFS 

ZFS, by contrast, offers nearly unlimited capacity for data and metadata storage. It can hold up to 1 billion terrabytes of data. To organize that data, ZFS uses a flexible tree in which each new system is a child file of a previous system. ZFS allows users to move these files anywhere and even to attach them to the ZFS on points outside the main point. Users can separate children from parent systems, manage disk space hierarchically, and view the entire tree with a single command.

Basically, ZFS lets data managers organize and control massive amounts of information effortlessly. With one command, users can relocate a sub-tree, backup or mirror a sub-tree, or  snapshot a ZFS file system and all its children together. ZFS’ auto-mount feature means files get mounted as soon as they enter the system although users can override this command. Furthermore, it automatically tracks used file space, speeding up the system’s operations and giving users a near-instant update on what’s happening with stored data.

Final Thoughts

Users who store massive amounts of data and those who prefer network-attached storage systems (NAS) need an enterprise-grade transactional file system. While ext4 can get the job done, it remains a re-engineered version of a long-outdated system. Ext4 is convenient because it’s the default on Linux, but it lacks the user-friendly, up-to-date approach of ZFS.

By employing ZFS, users can get a system that automatically reconstructs data after detecting an error, seamlessly combines several physical media devices into one logical volume, has snapshot and mirror capabilities, and can quickly compress data. When considering ZFS vs ext4, users choose ZFS to enjoy a user-friendly, high-volume storage system that doesn’t need an IT technician to hold its hand.