July 28, 2021

What Happened to CentOS and What to Do Next

Operating Systems
Open Source

Sometimes, unforeseen events happen in the software industry — they can be completely unexpected, or sometimes, you are ready for contingencies. Regarding contingencies, English author Penelope Lively stated, “It seems to me that everything that happens to us is a disconcerting mix of choice and contingency.” Choice and contingency are two good words to describe the history and future of developers and organizations using the open source CentOS Linux distribution.

A Short History of CentOS

Let’s start with a brief recap of CentOS history. It started in 2004, and from very early on, each release of the commercial product Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) resulted in a corresponding version of CentOS, these versions are basically rebuilds of RHEL with some changes to remove Red Hat branding. The availability of open source CentOS Linux meant that anyone could rapidly install a free version of CentOS for any use, including development and production applications.

A common practice in today’s open source world is for companies to lead open source projects by contributing infrastructure and resources. With full-time employees working in upstream projects, companies are invested in the success of open source projects. In 2014, Red Hat made that investment in the CentOS project, gaining control of a community that became mainly based on Red Hat employees working full time on CentOS. 

CentOS and Fedora Linux

You may wonder how the Fedora Linux distribution fits into this story. The Fedora project, also driven by Red Hat since 2003, remains the same open source project with constant enhancements and a testing ground for new features. From a Fedora release to a RHEL release, there is significant testing, updates, bug fixes, and packaging done behind closed doors at Red Hat. Some software in Fedora may not make it to RHEL, and being a testing ground, stability is the main difference between Fedora and RHEL/CentOS. There are also other Fedora projects such as Fedora CoreOS, which is a different Linux distribution — the successor to both Fedora Atomic Host and CoreOS Container Linux. 

Back to CentOS, having CentOS fully compatible with RHEL allows low-cost development, and being a free distribution has made CentOS a success with significant market share. According to Enlyft, over 223K companies use CentOS; according to Webspotter, over 2.3 million websites use CentOS, forming a wide user base for both development and production environments.

The CentOS Announcement

On December 8, 2020, in a coordinated announcement, the CentOS community and Red Hat announced the end-of-life (EOL) for CentOS Linux and a shifting focus to the CentOS Stream project. Let’s review what exactly the announcement means and what the CentOS Stream project is.

Red Hat launched CentOS Stream with the goal of providing an open source Linux with a continuous stream of updates, fixes, and enhancements. In other words, instead of waiting six months for a CentOS or RHEL release, this is an updated upstream model with continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD). Builds are available daily or every few days, providing frequent access to the development of the commercial RHEL distribution via CentOS Stream. It could become one of the most up to date Linux distributions in the market, especially when critical vulnerabilities need to be patched.

There’s no shortage of Red Hat and CentOS community blog posts and industry articles covering opinions and reasons to leave CentOS Linux in favor of CentOS Stream. More importantly, let's cover the current status of CentOS Linux versions and what EOL means.

Are You Ready for CentOS 8 EOL?

In this webinar, I discuss the support and migration outlook for organizations working with CentOS 8, and how to prepare for what's next.

CentOS Long-Term Support

Maintainers of open source projects formalize their commitment to life cycles that include major and minor releases. Once open source software has a major release (e.g. version 8.0), the previous major release (e.g. 7.x) enters what is called long-term support (LTS), which defines the length of time the community will continue to update the open source software with maintenance updates such as critical bugs and vulnerability fixes, but no new features. When LTS reaches its end date, it becomes EOL, and the software no longer receives updates.

In the case of CentOS, there are many installations out there with older releases for CentOS 6 and CentOS 7. The last major release was CentOS 8.

As you can see from the CentOS life cycle specification, they offer 2 types of LTS; “full updates” with guidelines for 2 or 3 updates a year, and “maintenance updates” for critical fixes only.

Now that we are clear in the community LTS offered for CentOS let’s check EOL for each version:

CentOS VersionRelease DateLTS “Full Updates” EOLLTS “Maintenance Updates” EOL
6July 10, 2011May 10, 2017November 30, 2020
7July 7, 2014August 6, 2020June 30, 2024
8September 24, 2019December 31, 2021December 31, 2021

Operating systems release life cycle traditionally lasts 10 years, and LTS for the last 5 years. That was the case for CentOS Linux. Most open source software has an LTS of 3 years or less and more frequent releases. 

What has created the most irritation with the recent decision about CentOS Linux is the fact that CentOS 8 is not going to have that long LTS anymore; it now ends on December 31, 2021. That has an impact, especially for those organizations that went to lengthy efforts to update environments from versions 6 and 7 to CentOS 8.

Note that version 7 keeps the existing “maintenance update” LTS until June 30, 2024.

Linux Options and Technical Support

Now that we have clarified that open source LTS refers to fixes for critical bugs and vulnerabilities, let’s not forget that open source software is community-based; the efforts of community members (even with influential employers) do not represent any form of formal technical support. There might be discussion forums and documentation available but there’s no one to call for technical support, no service level agreements (SLAs), and no contracts.

Going back to the beginning of this blog, when I mentioned choice and contingency regarding current CentOS status, there are 3 main options for moving forward regardless of the version (6, 7, or 8).

  • Migrate to CentOS Stream to stay with a similar open source distribution, or migrate to RHEL for a commercial version. Either approach requires moving to version 8 for those environments on CentOS Linux 6 or 7.
  • Migrate to a recent fork of CentOS 8; aside from Oracle Linux, there are new open source projects intended to continue advancing CentOS. Recently launched distributions include Rocky Linux, AlmaLinux, and NavyLinux.
  • Migrate to another open source or commercial Linux distribution altogether. Depending on the applications, these migrations could certainly be more challenging as each Linux distribution could have different kernel and subsystem updates, plus additional or different packages (libraries). Examples include OpenSUSE and Ubuntu.

For organizations not ready to commit to any of the migration options, when the corresponding CentOS version reaches EOL, there won’t be any more updates.

Find the Enterprise Linux Distribution Right for Your Organization

OpenLogic recently published a Decision Maker’s Guide to Enterprise Linux that addresses the pros and cons of each Linux distribution.

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OpenLogic and CentOS Support

OpenLogic by Perforce has many years of experience providing technical support services with SLAs for hundreds of open source packages. In fact, it has offered technical support for CentOS Linux to organizations all over the world for more than 10 years. 

More, OpenLogic’s end-to-end technical support and consulting services are offered by highly experienced enterprise architects. Having in-house expertise and open source contributors allows OpenLogic to offer extended EOL for open source packages, including hotfixes, patches, and image distributions.

In the case of CentOS, OpenLogic offers technical support beyond the CentOS community EOL. This allows OpenLogic customers not ready to commit to any of the 3 migration options above, more time to migrate or decommission CentOS deployments without missing critical security fixes and overall technical support.

CentOS VersionRelease DateLTS "Maintenance Updates" EOLTechnical Support Via OpenLogic
6July 10, 2011November 30, 2020Until December 31, 2025
7July 7, 2014June 30, 2024Until December 31, 2029
8September 24, 2019December 31, 2021Until December 31, 2026

This impressive extended support by OpenLogic experts has been further bolstered by technical support for new Linux distributions including Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux.

Now you know that with regards to CentOS and other open source software, you have choices and contingency options.

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