build your own storage appliance with openzfs

OpenZFS – Leveraging OpenZFS to Build Your Own Storage Appliance

OpenZFS – Leveraging OpenZFS to Build Your Own Storage Appliance

OpenZFS is overall not just a suitable solution as a software-define storage fabric but can be leveraged as your key component for either a storage appliance or even a storage product on its own. There are several companies that have built products based on OpenZFS, such as TrueNAS, OpenMediaVault, Proxmox, and OSNexus, which provide a range of storage solutions for home, business, and enterprise users. These products use OpenZFS as the core storage technology and provide a user-friendly interface, management tools, and add-ons that make it easier to manage and scale storage systems.

Did you know?

Managing OpenZFS environments requires deep technical expertise, and numerous factors to consider.

At Klara, we have a team of some of the most experienced OpenZFS system engineers and developers ready to assist you regardless of project or challenge

Limitations and Considerations

If you are planning to build a product with OpenZFS, there are several factors to consider, such as the target market, product features, hardware and software components, and support and maintenance requirements. Building a product based on OpenZFS requires technical expertise in storage management, software development, and hardware integration, so it may not be suitable for all businesses or startups.

The difference between using OpenZFS to simply store and manage data and using it to build your own storage appliance is in the level of control and customization that you have over your storage system.

When you use OpenZFS to simply store and manage data, you are typically using it on an existing operating system or hardware platform, such as a Linux or FreeBSD server, and you are primarily using the storage features of OpenZFS, such as creating and managing datasets, snapshots, and backups. In this scenario, you are not necessarily building a dedicated storage appliance, but rather using OpenZFS as a tool to manage your data on an existing platform. When using a general-purpose system for storage, you don’t have to consider as many factors related to hardware integration and supportability.

On the other hand, when you use OpenZFS to build your own storage appliance, you have greater control over the hardware and software components of your storage system. You can choose the hardware components, such as the server, storage controllers, and disks, and you can install a dedicated operating system, such as TrueNAS or OpenMediaVault, that is optimized for storage management and provides a user-friendly interface for managing your storage. Controlling the hardware the appliance will use allows for deeper integration, letting the UI visualize the hardware for the user, and blinking the correct fault LEDs for a failed drive. You can also customize the software configuration of OpenZFS to meet your specific needs, such as setting up advanced features like deduplication or encryption, and specific tuning work your target workloads.

Building your own storage appliance using OpenZFS allows you to create a highly customized storage solution that is tailored to your specific needs and can provide greater performance, reliability, and scalability than using OpenZFS on an existing platform. However, it does require more technical expertise and effort to set up and maintain compared to simply using OpenZFS to manage data on an existing platform.

Making OpenZFS Licensing Work for You

Overall, the OpenZFS licensing model provides a flexible and cost-effective option for building a product based on a powerful and proven storage technology. So let’s take a look at what’s in store:

  • Open-source Licensing: OpenZFS is licensed under the CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License), which is an open-source license that allows you to use, modify, and distribute the software in your own products. This means that you can leverage the existing code base of OpenZFS and build on top of it, rather than starting from scratch.
  • No royalties or fees: There are no royalties or fees associated with using OpenZFS in your product, which means that you can keep the cost of your product low and pass on the savings to your customers.
  • Flexibility and customization: OpenZFS is a highly flexible and customizable storage technology that can be adapted to a wide range of use cases and hardware configurations. By building a product with OpenZFS, you can customize the storage features, management tools, and user interface to meet the specific needs of your target market.
  • Large community of developers and users: OpenZFS has a large and active community of developers and users who contribute to the development of the software, provide support and documentation, and share their experiences and best practices. By building a product based on OpenZFS, you can tap into this community and leverage their expertise and resources.

Key Features and Capabilities to Leverage in OpenZFS

When building your own storage appliance with OpenZFS, there are several key features and capabilities that you may want to consider:

  • Data protection: OpenZFS includes several data protection features, such as checksumming, automatic error correction, and redundancy options like triple parity RAID-Z, which can help prevent data loss and ensure data integrity.
  • Scalability: OpenZFS supports truly massive storage pools with exabytes of data and can scale to meet the needs of growing storage workloads. This makes it suitable for building storage appliances that can scale as your storage needs increase over time.
  • Compression and deduplication: OpenZFS provides built-in compression and deduplication features that can help reduce storage costs and increase efficiency by eliminating duplicate data and compressing data on the fly.
  • Snapshots and cloning: OpenZFS supports snapshots and cloning, which can help simplify data management, enable rapid backup and recovery, and support test and development scenarios.
  • Data sharing: OpenZFS provides several options for data sharing, including network file sharing protocols like NFS and SMB/CIFS, as well as block sharing protocols like iSCSI, and object storage protocols like S3, all of which can enable easy sharing of data between multiple systems and users.
  • Performance tuning: OpenZFS provides a wide range of performance tuning options, including block size, caching, prefetching, and other parameters that can be optimized to achieve high performance for specific storage workloads.

These features and capabilities can help you build a robust and scalable storage appliance with OpenZFS that can meet the needs of a wide range of storage workloads and use cases. However, the specific features you choose to use will depend on your specific storage requirements and use case.

Caveats When Considering OpenZFS for Your OpenZFS Storage Appliance

While OpenZFS is a powerful and flexible platform for building storage appliances, it may not be the best choice for every startup. There are other solutions available, such as Ceph, that offer different strengths and weaknesses depending on your specific needs and requirements.

One of the main advantages of using Ceph is its distributed architecture, which enables you to scale your storage solution across multiple nodes and geographic locations. This makes Ceph a popular choice for large-scale, enterprise-grade storage solutions that require high levels of scalability and performance.

In contrast, OpenZFS is more suited for building single-node storage appliances or small-scale storage solutions that require flexibility and data integrity. OpenZFS provides advanced features such as snapshotting, deduplication, and compression, which can help you to optimize your storage usage and reduce costs.

Another advantage of using Ceph is its support for a wide range of hardware configurations and operating systems, including Linux, Windows, and macOS. This makes Ceph a more versatile and interoperable solution compared to OpenZFS, which is limited to Linux and BSD operating systems.

However, there are some drawbacks to using Ceph, including its complexity and steep learning curve. Ceph requires a high level of technical expertise (even more so than OpenZFS) to deploy and manage effectively, which can make it challenging for startups with limited resources or expertise. Distributed systems are notorious for being complicated to debug and to restore when something goes wrong.

Ultimately, the choice between OpenZFS and Ceph (or other storage solutions) depends on your specific needs and requirements. If you require a highly scalable and distributed storage solution, Ceph may be the better choice. However, if you need a flexible and reliable single-node storage appliance, OpenZFS may be a more suitable option.


Building a storage appliance with OpenZFS can be a viable option for startups that require a flexible and reliable storage solution. OpenZFS provides advanced features such as snapshotting, replication, and compression, which can help you to optimize your storage usage and reduce costs. Additionally, OpenZFS has a permissive open-source license, which allows for commercial use and customization.

However, building a storage appliance with OpenZFS also comes with some challenges and caveats. These include the technical expertise required to build and manage a storage appliance using OpenZFS, compatibility and interoperability issues, limited vendor support and documentation, and legal and licensing concerns. In addition, building a storage appliance with OpenZFS requires a significant investment of time, resources, and expertise.

Before deciding to build a storage appliance with OpenZFS, it’s important to carefully consider your storage requirements, target market, and resources. You may wish to consult with the OpenZFS experts at Klara to determine which option best meets your specific needs and requirements.

Overall, building a storage appliance with OpenZFS can be a great option for startups that require a flexible and reliable storage solution, but it requires careful consideration and investment to ensure success.

Meet the Author: Sabina Anja

One of the two co-founders at Klara Inc., Sabina Anja has a long history in networking technologies and later on stepped into the realm of storage. Before founding Klara together with Allan Jude, Sabina had been working on different networking solutions and took on more business roles advising customers on technologies and strategies.

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