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Quo vadis, CentOS?

   14.01.2021   Linux, open source, Red Hat
people raise their hands | © Photo by William White on Unsplash

CentOS will soon be a thing of the past. This has far-reaching consequences for users.

It's been almost 17 years since the first release of CentOS (Community ENTerprise Operating System). The free, open-source Linux distribution is considered stable and secure and has therefore become the most popular Linux distribution for web servers. Red Hat purchased CentOS - which has provided a 100% binary functional compatibility with its upstream source, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) - back in 2014. The two products have peacefully co-existed ever since. In addition to CentOS, Red Hat runs another large community project for Linux distributions: Fedora. Fedora acts as the upstream, where innovation happens and is being tested. Red Hat introduces new functions and changes first in Fedora and integrates some of them into new versions of RHEL. CentOS, so far, has been a downstream community project. Any new release of RHEL (for paying customers) was followed a few months later by a new release of CentOS - free of charge for the community.

CentOS announced a fundamental change for the project in its blog on 8 December - with far-reaching consequences for many organisations currently using the open source solution. CentOS will stop updates for the current release (CentOS 8) at the end of 2021. They will continue to maintain CentOS 7 until the end of the life cycle in 2024. Users of CentOS 8 are encouraged to migrate their systems to the relatively new CentOS Stream.

The community is livid

Reactions to the announcement were quick to follow. There were hundreds of negative comments on the CentOS blog and on social media as well as a petition against the planned adjustments - the community left no doubt about what they thought of CentOS's decision. After all, besides the binary 1:1 compatibility with RHEL, the commitment to provide releases with updates for ten years (in the case of CentOS 8 until 2029) was a major draw for users. Instead, they are now breaking the long-term maintenance cycle and leave systems administrators only one year to migrate their infrastructure. This is particularly annoying for all those who who migrated to CentOS 8 assuming to maintain a stable production environment up until 2029. They are now forced to switch to CentOS Stream by year's end or move on and replace it with other distributions.

Multiple alternatives

As a rolling release, CentOS Stream takes on a different role than CentOS 7 and 8. It sits between the upstream development in Fedora and the downstream development in RHEL. As a result, paying RHEL customers get to use an extensively tested, stable solution, while community members are left with an experimental, rolling-release distribution. The first forks have already been announced however, with Lenix or Rocky Linux potentially replacing CentOS.The latter initiative, led by Gregory M. Kurtzer, founder of the original CentOS project, aims to ensure seamless continuity of business operations for companies using CentOS 8 well beyond 2021.

What next?

aspectra operates systems with both CentOS and RHEL. Due to the current developments, we currently refrain from deploying CentOS in new environments. We already have the procedures in place for upcoming migrations from CentOS to RHEL. For customers with non-productive environments, however, we want to continue to offer a free solution that is secure as well as stable. We are therefore keeping a close eye on the development of alternatives such as Lenix and Rocky Linux.

More on this to come soon in a follow-up article.