Last week, at WWDC, Apple introduced many of the features found in their next operating system, OS X “Lion”. At that time, I posted an article about the storage features found in this new release, including integrated revision control, a major update to the FileVault encryption package, and additional enterprise storage protocol support. But, like Snow Leopard, Lion still lacks many storage related features, and it doesn’t look like Apple will get around to adding these anytime soon.
A Better Filesystem (ZFS, Please)
During the development of Mac OS 10.5, “Leopard”, Apple spent a great deal of time working to replace their legacy HFS+ filesystem with ZFS, a much more advanced option. For starters, ZFS would have given Mac OS better reliability and flexibility, and it has been extended to include advanced features for security and capacity optimization.
But the battle between Sun and NetApp over patents related to the development of ZFS cast a shadow over the long needed replacement of HFS+. With Oracle buying Sun and focusing away from infrastructure products like ZFS, Apple seems to have lost interest in replacing their crufty old filesystem.
Instead of adding an advanced filesystem like ZFS, Mac OS X Lion extends HFS+ with versioning and enhanced security. The new Core Data incremental storage technology in Lion would probably have been easier to implement on ZFS, but Apple was able to add it to HFS+, and it will be a lifesaver in the guise of autosave, versions, and resume. The same goes for encryption, with FileVault 2 boasting background full disk encryption, remote wipe, and external drive support.
Those hoping for the integration of ZFS with Mac OS X appear to be out of luck. All components were removed from Snow Leopard, and Lion is moving forward without it. Sadly, this means that Mac OS X still lacks a flexible volume manager, something even Microsoft Windows boasts.
Perhaps the next version of Mac OS X will include friendly volume management features, but it is more likely that Apple will focus away from the filesystem and direct application developers toward the iCloud Storage API. And cloud truly is next-generation storage, making this a leapfrog approach and leaving ZFS in the dust.
Update: Lion does indeed include a full logical volume manager! See Mac OS X Lion Adds CoreStorage, a Volume Manager (Finally!)
USB 3.0: Still AWOL
Although Apple may have simply overlooked or neglected to mention it, USB 3.0 apparently made no appearance at WWDC. Thunderbolt is an impressive technology to be sure, and I am bullish on its future application and performance. But “SuperSpeed” USB 3.0 seems poised to seize the baton and become the ubiquitous next-generation interconnect for every day peripherals.
Thunderbolt is a strategic protocol for Apple, and I expect it to rapidly spread across the entire Mac product range. Rather than simply a high-speed interconnect, Thunderbolt will soon enable advanced docking features, as envisioned in my recent post about the iMac as a Thunderbolt peripheral. It will also enable changes to the physical size and shape of laptop and desktop computers and servers, with many suggesting that the next-generation MacBook Air will become the standard Apple laptop.
In contrast, USB 3.0 is simply a performance bump for USB. It is likely that Apple will support USB 3.0 sooner or later, and third-party vendors are already rolling out Mac OS support. CalDigit recently shipped their third USB 3.0 controller for the Mac, and LaCie sells their own “walled garden” card and peripherals as well. I heard rumors that a few vendors are working on Thunderbolt to USB 3.0 bridges and breakout boxes as well.
USB 3.0 will come to the Mac sooner or later, but Thunderbolt is here to stay.
Enterprise iSCSI Support
Another technology that Apple has flirted with in Leopard but never delivered is a software initiator for iSCSI, the block storage protocol that runs over Ethernet. We have not heard anything further about iSCSI since 2007, and there was no mention in the Lion introduction either.
Interestingly, Apple did rollout other new enterprise storage protocol options, including NFSv4, DFS, and even integration of Xsan, the Fibre Channel filesystem. Xsan also added ALUA compatible multipathing, a real surprise for storage geeks like me. But iSCSI was nowhere to be found.
This is a real shame, since iSCSI is becoming increasingly common in enterprise storage circles. Convergence on Ethernet is a hot topic right now, and iSCSI for Mac would give exceptional flexibility and interoperability and fit right into the “prosumer” Mac market niche.
Instead, end-users are stuck working with third-party iSCSI initiators, Fibre Channel and Xsan, or NFS. Although I am a fan of their free globalSAN product, Studio Network Solutions does not offer enterprise support for third-party arrays. The other major option for Mac iSCSI is ATTO’s Xtend, which is supported but somewhat expensive. Drobo also offers an iSCSI client for use with their storage arrays, but it is severely limited. An integrated Apple solution would be a welcome addition, both for consumers and enterprise systems administrators.
Apple is not in enterprise storage company to be sure, and news from WWDC dashed any hopes we had for ZFS and iSCSI support. USB 3.0 seems a foregone conclusion, but Apple seems intent on ignoring it as long as possible. Although I welcome the new storage features included in Lion, it is disappointing that these were left out.
Note that TRIM support was also not mentioned at WWDC, but it is likely included.