puppy pulling a rug with the CentOS logo on it to signify CentOS being pulled from the tech community too soon
Some people in the tech community feel that the CentOS they know and love has been pulled from underneath them.

As if 2020 wasn’t bad enough with COVID-19 and the New York Jets unable to secure a single win all season, Red Hat just announced some major changes to CentOS, the long-time Red Hat Enterprise Linux alternative. From now on, there will be no CentOS Linux — just CentOS Stream.

CentOS vs. RHEL

Among the many flavors of Linux available in the industry, Red Hat Enterprise Linux is perhaps the most ubiquitous implementation. It’s the golden standard for enterprises of every size, shape, and form. It goes without saying that its widespread adoption does not come without a cost — and expensive it can be.

Organizations balking at the expense required to license and support RHEL were stuck using various other flavors of Linux that may or may not have been compatible with typical RHEL-based packages. Thus, in 2004, CentOS (Community Enterprise Operating System) was born as a semi-official, but open-source (and free!) version of RHEL 2.1 Advanced Server, changing the status quo in the enterprise Linux world.

Fast forward to today, where many organizations have adopted CentOS alongside implementations of RHEL and Debian-based competitors like Ubuntu. The industry has come to rely on CentOS being a like-for-like version of RHEL that can be trusted to run any and all enterprise applications with the same assurance of stability and security.

Upstream, downstream, or bleeding edge?

For the uninitiated, there are three major components to Red Hat’s software lifecycle:

  • The first is Fedora Core, or Red Hat’s “experimental” and “bleeding edge” distribution used to test the latest technologies, kernels, packages, and other features for consideration.
  • Then, features that get approved and are found to be stable and secure then get ported over to RHEL as part of a minor or major release.
  • Finally, there is CentOS, which is effectively a rebuilt version of the latest RHEL releases, though sometimes a minor version or two behind.

This has been the RHEL paradigm for over 15 years in which the community has relied on to ensure applications and businesses continue working with a stable environment. However, IBM (the owner of Red Hat) doesn’t seem to be content with the current paradigm and instead announced that CentOS as we know it today will not exist past 2021.

CentOS Stream

As of December 8, 2020, the Red Hat and CentOS organizations have announced that CentOS will no longer be a rebuild of the RHEL platform, but instead move “upstream” to RHEL, effectively sitting in between Fedora Core and RHEL itself.

This new project initiative is being called “CentOS Stream” and will act as the developmental version of RHEL while keeping Fedora Core and RHEL in their places. No longer will the community be able to use CentOS as a production-ready and capable version of RHEL.

This change is sure to have many implications for the industry: a significant number of software product vendors rely on CentOS as their base operating system. Vendors will be forced to adopt an actual RHEL deployment or refactor their applications to work with alternatives such as SUSE Linux (another RHEL fork), or even convert to a Debian-based operating system.

Such a task is monumental for many development companies. It’s not within reason to believe that some may forgo refactoring/converting their applications and sticking with the current tried-and-true release of CentOS 7 or 8 for as long as possible. Of course, keeping their applications tied to these versions of CentOS may become a security concern in the future once updates to CentOS cease as planned.

All is not lost

Frustrated by such news, Gregory M. Kurtzer, the original creator of CentOS, has begun to take matters into his own hands. He is introducing Rocky Linux as “100% bug-for-bug compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux” to replace CentOS as the downstream component to RHEL. Not much movement has been made given the short amount of time since the CentOS announcement, but it will be interesting to see what develops as the situation unfolds in 2021.

Where we go from here

As of today, it is imperative that all organizations take a hard look at their adoption of CentOS within their environments and determine what the next best course of action may be. We expect to see some of our customers moving from CentOS to RHEL, moving to Ubuntu, or abandoning certain implementations entirely.

As a Red Hat Service Provider, SCTG is here to support and assist our customers in adopting the proper migration strategies as CentOS is quietly (and quickly) retired.

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