Given the recent announcement regarding CentOS 8 and CentOS Stream, many teams are anxious about the short and long-term future for CentOS. But as the dust settles around the announcement, it’s easier to see the motivations behind the change, and the potential impact it may have on teams currently using CentOS.
In this blog, I'll address some of the key takeaways from the Red Hat announcement, including the outlook for CentOS, CentOS Stream, and the greater open source operating system landscape. I’ll also talk about the nature of the change and why it marks a necessary shift to keep operating systems more aligned with application deployment.
In a recent announcement from Red Hat Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Chris Wright, he revealed that Red Hat is shifting their investment focus from CentOS Linux to CentOS Stream. For some development teams using CentOS as a low-cost alternative to RHEL, this announcement may complicate the path forward. For others, it marks an opportunity to further embrace DevOps and enterprise application modernity.
So, what are the key takeaways companies should get from this announcement?
From a practical technical point of view, this shift won’t make that big of a difference.
From a trust point of view, knocking eight years off the support timeframe for a popular CentOS version is, at best, jarring. At worst, it will leave many companies searching for the next free and stable alternative.
CentOS, at least as it was originally created and defined, is dead. The perceived long-term stability of CentOS, which drew many companies to the OS, has quickly been replaced with feeling of uncertainty surrounding long term support, and the viability of CentOS Stream as a long-term solution.
"We’ve informed the CentOS Project Governing Board that we are shifting our investment fully from CentOS Linux to CentOS Stream."
- Chris Wright, Senior Vice President and CTO at Red Hat
While these feelings of uncertainty are merited, and understandable, (after all, Red Hat did just reduce the community support window for CentOS 8 by eight years), much of the consternation surrounding this decision boils down to a lack of understanding of what CentOS Stream is, and how it will impact production applications.
While there are differences between CentOS and CentOS Stream, Red Hat has been adamant that they are not expecting any serious compatibility issues. That statement should be largely accurate for most companies. There will be differences and problems that stem from CentOS Stream, and even ones that make the headlines in tech circles.
But will those differences and problems be a universal experience for all production installations? Almost certainly not.
At its heart, the shift in focus to CentOS Stream is one that will bring the operating system more in line with modern development practices and trends. Chief among those modern practices, CI/CD.
"CentOS Stream is the stable and reliable continuous delivery of RHEL."
- Steff Walter, Director of Linux Engineering at Red Hat
For companies capable of integrating these continuously delivered distributions, it enables them to innovate at a faster pace, eventually bringing substantial improvements to areas like virtualization and container technology, directly supporting microservices and serverless computing, and generally doing more on-prem if they prefer some workloads to stay out of the public cloud.
For operating system providers, accommodating companies with mature CI/CD pipelines means retaining market share for large companies as the pace of cloud migration continues to accelerate.
In a recent blog reacting to the CentOS announcement, Steff Walter, director of Linux Engineering at Red Hat, said that this transition, and the emphasis on CI/CD, is a conscious effort to modernize the development practices behind RHEL.
"Three years ago, several of us working in RHEL Engineering had an idea: what if we applied modern development practices to RHEL such as continuous integration, continuous delivery, predictable release cadence … paired with open source development practices like release early release often, pull requests, forking, and code review."
- Steff Walter, Director of Linux Engineering at Red Hat
For RHEL, at least, these so-called rolling distributions are nothing new. Long-time Red Hat employee Scott McCarty described the RHEL release cycle in a recent blog as being “similar to a rolling release within a major version.” More directly, it’s one that doesn’t follow dot releases, at least “in the traditional sense of Unix numbering.”
This means that dot releases aren’t following a linear, feature-dependent timeline, and instead are simply bundling the most recent changes that have passed quality engineering testing.
According to Red Hat, while CentOS Stream has been perceived as a comparatively unstable build, the truth is that it’s no less stable than the RHEL version that will be based on it.
The biggest shock from the announcement was regarding the CentOS 8 community support EOL, which was originally scheduled for December of 2029. Now, that EOL will be December of 2021. This is an eight year reduction in community support, with that support often playing a large role in companies migrating to CentOS in the first place.
Support via OpenLogic
EOL November 2020
EOL support available until December 31, 2025
EOL June 30, 2024
Support available now, EOL support available until December 31, 2029
Dec 2021 (originally Dec 2029)
Support available now, EOL support available until 2026
OpenLogic offers extended support options for CentOS, please contact us to learn more.
With the shock of that decision fading, there’s plenty of time to decide on the right course of action. Whether that’s staying with CentOS and finding alternative support when the time comes, moving to CentOS stream and embracing the benefits of that system, or migrating to another distribution altogether, teams still have time to find the solution that’s right for them.
From a Red Hat perspective, CentOS Stream will likely improve a few problematic areas in the relationship between the CentOS community and RHEL. These improvements, given enough time, may mark a new era of community buy-in and innovation within CentOS Stream.
"CentOS Stream represents several positive steps for Red Hat:
- Jim Perrin, Former CentOS Board Member
On the other side of the coin, there will be a surge in available options for open source enterprise Linux. In fact, there are already announcements from multiple groups planning a direct CentOS replacement.
There’s Rocky Linux, which is planned to be a downstream, bug for bug compatible release that uses the RHEL source code. Then there’s Project Lenix, which similarly plans to be a “1-1 binary compatible fork of RHEL 8 (and future releases).”
There will also likely be upstream versions in the mix as well, where distributions will find a way to reliably snapshot CentOS Stream as close as possible to RHEL releases.
While teams won’t want to start planning a migration to a potentially short-lived project, eventually the growing number of quality options will lead to another problem – the tyranny of choice.
For now, the best choice is to take a wait and see approach while the dust settles. There's no reason to rush away from CentOS. If you need alternative support, there are options (including CentOS support from OpenLogic).
The discussion surrounding CentOS and Linux is a familiar story in operating systems. After all, Linux was originally created as a free alternative to the expensive Unix.
With Red Hat Enterprise Linux now the expensive option, open source projects are already rushing in to stake their claim as the stable and free alternative. It also does leave questions surrounding other Red Hat open source projects and their plans for long term community support.
Luckily, behind all the noise surrounding enterprise Linux, the operating system itself is largely good enough. As long as distributions can keep the operating system secure and functional, it won’t be a significant obstacle to innovation.
If you're one of the many teams with questions about the CentOS news, OpenLogic is here to help. Get answers to your questions and advice on the path forward in a free consultation with our CentOS experts.
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CTO, Perforce Software
As the founder of OpenLogic, and now CTO at Perforce Software, Rod Cope provides technical vision and architectural leadership for the company’s globally distributed teams. Rod has over 25 years of experience in software development that spans a number of industries, including telecommunications, aerospace, healthcare, and manufacturing. Rod holds both Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Software Engineering from the University of Louisville.