CentOS Linux 8 is about to die. What do you do next?

As expected, Red Hat is ending CentOS Linux 8's support on December 31, 2021. Now what?

The end of CentOS 8 Linux has been coming for awhile now, and the day is finally here. On December 31, 2021, Red Hat's CentOS Linux 8 will reach End Of Life (EOL). Since that falls right in the heart of the holiday season, Red Hat will extend CentOS Linux 8 zero-day support until January 31, 2022. Indeed, there will be one last CentOS Linux 8 release -- perhaps even after CentOS 8's official EOL. After that, it's all over for CentOS Linux. 

What can you do now?

Well, you could try CentOS Stream, but it's not the same thing. Classic CentOS was a Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) clone. CentOS Stream, however, "tracks just ahead of a current RHEL release." In other words, CentOS will no longer be a stable point distribution but a beta rolling release Linux distribution

Why is that such a big deal? For years, experienced Linux users used CentOS for their Linux server. The vast majority of web and server-hosting companies offered CentOS as their default operating system. I run my own remote servers and websites on CentOS provided by TMDHosting

I'm far from alone. Besides small businesses like mine, as MongoDB's evangelist Matt Asay points out, "IBM's consulting practice … for years told its customers to 'just use CentOS.' European fashion brands that would never countenance someone selling a knockoff of their uber-expensive bags run CentOS. The entire telecom infrastructure of China runs on CentOS. (Yes, really.) Facebook is CentOS-based, too."

Top companies that have depended on CentOS Linux include Disney, GoDaddy, RackSpace, Toyota, and Verizon. Other important technology companies build products around CentOS. These include GE, Riverbed, F5, Juniper, and Fortinet. 

CentOS was once everywhere. Now, it's time for a change. 

True, the previous CentOS version, CentOS 7, will be supported until June 30, 2024. But if you want the most up-to-date RHEL clone, well, you'll soon be out of luck.

Now what?

First things first, you can't just switch to CentOS Stream. Red Hat CTO Chris Wright came right out and said, "CentOS Stream isn't a replacement for CentOS Linux." He's right. Red Hat sees CentOS Stream as a DevOps-friendly, continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) Linux. That's great for developers -- not so great for companies that want a stable RHEL-compatible Linux server or virtual machine (VM).

So here are your choices:

ALMALINUX

For many years, CentOS Linux was beloved by Linux-savvy system administrators. They could use it and get all of RHEL's without paying for support, unless they really, really needed help. Now CloudLinux, a long-time CentOS supporter, is recreating the same model to support its RHEL clone, AlmaLinux.

AlmaLinux is a solid RHEL clone. Like its frenemy, Rocky Linux, AlmaLinux walks in step with RHEL. For instance, AlmaLinux's latest version is AlmaLinux 8.5, which is an exact copy of RHEL 8.5.

The AlmaLinux Foundation, the non-profit behind AlmaLinux, is also working on the open-source ELevate Project. This is an effort to enable migration between major versions of RHEL derivatives. So, for example, you'll be able to easily move from CentOS 7.x to any RHEL 8.x clone. 

ELevate does this by combining Red Hat's Leapp framework with a community-created library and service for the required migration metadata set. This service, Package Evolution Service (PES), enables you to download, customize, and submit new data sets for packages. Users and maintainers can both use PES to help make migrations smooth and easy.

CloudLinux is offering multi-tiered support for AlmaLinux, which includes regular patches and updates for Linux kernel and core packages, patch delivery service-level agreements (SLA)s, and 24/7 incident support. In addition, Perforce is also offering commercial support for AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux

AMAZON LINUX

Amazon Web Services (AWS)'s newest house brand Linux, Amazon Linux AMI 3.0 -- which runs on the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) -- is now based on Fedora, Red Hat's community Linux. 

Yes, Fedora is the community Linux beta for RHEL, but AWS assures users that Amazon Linux 3 is the bees' knees. 

It comes pre-installed with many AWS API tools and CloudInit. CloudInit allows passing instance configuration actions to instances at launch time via the EC2 user-data fields. This lets you remotely configure Amazon EC2 instances. 

The Amazon Linux AMI is provided at no additional charge to Amazon EC2 users. If you're already running your CentOS servers on AWS, check Amazon Linux 3.0 out. It may well be your easiest and cheapest alternative. 

CENTOS 8 WITH CLOUDLINUX SUPPORT

If you want to stick with CentOS 8 Linux, CloudLinux, a company with years of experience with CentOS, has a deal for you: CloudLinux TuxCare Extended Lifecycle.

Service offerings include 24/7 support and updates for system components on Linux operating systems that are no longer supported by their original vendor. CentOS 8 is an addition to TuxCare's Extended Lifecycle Support that covers otherwise out-of-date Linux distributions, such as CentOS 6 and Oracle 6.

The CentOS 8 TuxCare Extended Lifecycle Support service pricing starts at $4.50 per system per month and live patching services start from $3.95 per system per month. An annual subscription is available with a discount, and volume discounts are provided on 1K, 5K, and 10K+ license tiers.

CLOUDLINUX OS

Another RHEL clone, CloudLinux has made a business of taking RHEL and CentOS code and fine-tuning the resulting operating system to be a high-performance, lightweight server for multi-tenant web and server-hosting companies. They've been doing it since 2010, and they're good at it. I've used CloudLinux OS myself, and it works well. 

CloudLinux offers a script to convert existing CentOS servers without any customer configs or data changes to CloudLinux OS. A single server license runs $168 annually. If you opt for multiple servers, the license price drops per instance. 

HPE CLEAROS

Do you have a small business that relies on CentOS on HPE ProLiant servers? There's already a CentOS/RHEL compatible Linux ready and waiting for you: HPE ClearOS

HPE's main selling point for ClearOS has been that with it SMBs have an HPE Linux server that is ready to go right out of the box. It comes in three versions: a free one; a home edition that costs $36 a year; and a business edition that starts at $108 a year. 

If you're already invested in HPE and you're not a Linux expert, ClearOS is an excellent choice. I (and I know many other SMB users) like having only one company for both our hardware and software support.

ORACLE LINUX

Fifteen years ago, Oracle introduced its "own" Linux. I place "own" in quotes because Oracle Linux has always been a copy of RHEL. That's not a bad thing now for CentOS users. But, keep in mind, Oracle's never been all that open-source friendly -- just ask OpenSolaris fans. 

While Oracle Linux is very close to being an exact RHEL clone, it does have some differences. You'll find some divergences in Glibc, OpenSSL, and other components. So if you need exactly what's in RHEL, you should look elsewhere. 

Still, Oracle saw its chance to finally get some users for its not terribly popular Oracle Linux by swiftly introducing scripts, which will quickly and automatically port you from CentOS 6, 7, or 8 to Oracle Linux. It does not, tellingly, support porting from CentOS Stream. 

I've tested it myself, and I easily moved CentOS 6 and 7 servers to Oracle Linux. If you're using Spacewalk or Foreman to manage your CentOS servers, however, you won't be able to use these scripts.

Oracle promises that Oracle Linux, source code, and binaries, will remain free. If you want support, that will cost you. Annual Oracle Linux support will bill you for $1,199

RED HAT ENTERPRISE LINUX

I know most of you are ticked off at Red Hat, but let's get real. If you want a plug-and-play alternative to CentOS, it doesn't get any better. Now you can scream and curse all you want, but if your business depends on CentOS and you can't afford the time and effort needed to move to another platform, RHEL may be your best choice.

RHEL server prices start at $349 without support. With standard support, RHEL server pricing begins at $799. 

ROCKY LINUX

CentOS had a long, successful history before Red Hat acquired CentOS in 2014. For not quite 10 years, CentOS was a major independent Linux server distribution. In no small part that was because of the hard work that co-founders Greg Kurtzer and Rocky McGough put into CentOS. McGough has passed, but Kurtzer lives on and has started a new RHEL/CoreOS fork named in Rocky's honor: Rocky Linux.

Rocky Linux, like the pre-Red Hat CentOS, is a free, community-based server-oriented Linux. This RHEL clone tracks RHEL very closely. For example, RHEL 8.5, was released in November 2021, and Rocky Linux 8.5  followed right on its heels a few days later. 

Rocky Linux is free. If you need support, Kurtzer's company, CIQ, aka Ctrl IQ, can come to your aid.

UBUNTU

Canonical's Ubuntu needs no introduction. It's very popular on desktops, servers, and the cloud. For companies looking for a brand-name switch, Ubuntu is already drawing attention. Debian, while also popular, is Ubuntu's direct ancestor, but there's no corporate support for it. If you're already a Debian expert, then by all means continue to use it. But, if you're not, Ubuntu's a better choice. 

But Ubuntu has one big problem: It is not an RHEL relation. It's from the Debian Linux family tree. It also uses many software packages that CentOS doesn't use, such as snap instead of flatpak for easy application installation.

Can you move from CentOS to Ubuntu? Of course. People do it every day. But, when you move to Ubuntu, you're making a major move. With all the other distros I've mentioned, it's a more minor move. 

Is it worth it? It depends on your needs. If you're a large company that can afford to port your in-house apps, or if you're a smaller business that depends on standard Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python (LAMP) applications, move to Ubuntu. If you're not, or you rely on a lot of CentOS-specific code, then try one or more of the Linux distros above. 

Like CentOS, many people run Ubuntu without support. If you need Ubuntu support, Ubuntu Advantage for Infrastructure starts at $225 for Essential Support for a physical server and $75 for a virtual server.

WHERE NOW?

I can't answer that question for everyone. Personally, as someone who's been working with Linux for almost 30 years, I'd be inclined to go with AlmaLinux or Rocky Linux if I were a CentOS user, . They're both backed by good people and if you know your way around the RHEL distro family, you'll do just fine with either one.

Good luck.

Show Comments