Zettaset claims Intel lied, cheated and stole its Hadoop software

According to a lawsuit filed by Hadoop startup Zettaset against Intel, the microprocessor giant didn’t just infringe on Zettaset’s Hadoop technology — it flat-out stole it.

“In multiple and uncanny ways, Intel’s product is Zettaset’s product,” Zettaset claimed in a complaint filed last Thursday in Santa Clara County, California. Zettaset is suing Intel for breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets and intentional misrepresentation.

The complaint tells the tale of a hot-and-heavy partnership agreement that lasted for the better part of 2012. Zettaset shared its Orchestrator Hadoop-management code (and lots of other information), Intel benchmarked it and the two companies ultimately began planning a commercial collaboration. There was talk of an Intel Hadoop appliance powered by Zettaset, and Intel Capital was considering an investment in Zettaset.

In early 2013, however, the talks slowed down until Intel announced its Intel Distribution and Intel Manager for Apache Hadoop products in late February. The Hadoop management software is the focal point of this lawsuit.

That’s where things get really interesting, according to Zettaset’s allegations. It claims Intel copied Orchestrator’s management console, as well as its approaches to security and high availability within a Hadoop cluster. Some of those techniques are now only in use in the Zettaset and Intel products. Furthermore, Zettaset alleges that Intel copied the configuration settings of the benchmark test the two companies ran, despite the fact that the benchmark settings were optimized to run on high-performance solid-state drives while Intel’s Hadoop distribution was designed for hard-disk drives. (For what it’s worth, Intel actually did market its Hadoop distribution as being optimized for solid-state drives.)

Because they’re so similar in functionality, Zettaset claims, Intel’s distribution is the only commercial Hadoop distribution with which Orchestrator isn’t compatible. “[T]rying to run Zettaset on top of Intel is akin to trying to put a key into a lock already occupied by a key,” the complaint alleges.

To make matters worse, Zettaset alleges that Intel then approached Zettaset’s partners and potential customers, positioning itself as a direct replacement for Zettaset.

It’s not evidence by a long shot, but here are Zettaset’s and Intel’s Hadoop marketecture charts for the sake of comparison.


Zettaset Orchestrator

Intel Distribution for Apache Hadoop.

Intel Distribution for Apache Hadoop.

It’s difficult to assess how, if at all, they’ll factor into the resolution of this lawsuit, but there are some additional facts worth noting. One is that Intel had been offering a version of its Hadoop distribution in China since July 2012 (a short time after Intel received Zettaset’s code, according to the dates in the complaint)but had been working on Hadoop since 2009, according to a post on ZDNet.

And then there’s Intel’s own legal history. This won’t be the first time the company has had to defend itself against claims of unfair trade practices, although it might be the first time the company is accused of breaking the law in the name of entering a market rather than to abuse its near-monopoly status in the microprocessor market.

As with most lawsuits, though — especially those involving complicated technology and fuzzy timelines — it’s probably way too early to rush to judgment. An Intel spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit, except to note the company is “preparing [its] plans to conduct a defense.”