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CentOS Linux lives on in the new AlmaLinux 9

If you already know how to run Red Hat Enterprise Linux like a pro, AlmaLinux may be the no-cost Linux for you.

If you knew your way around Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) not so long ago, but you didn't want to pay Red Hat's support fees, you'd run CentOS Linux, an RHEL clone. Then Red Hat decided in 2020 that they'd no longer release CentOS Linux as a standalone distribution. Instead, CentOS Stream would work as a beta for RHEL. 

The competition immediately sprang up to replace CentOS. The two most important of these are the AlmaLinux OS Foundation's AlmaLinux and Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation's (RESF) Rocky Linux. Now, mere weeks after the release of RHEL 9, AlmaLinux 9 has arrived. 

Like RHEL itself, AlmaLinux 9 starts from CentOS Stream via RHEL. Indeed, AlmaLinux developers are CentOS Stream contributors. The bottom line is that CentOS 9 is an identical twin to RHEL 9 -- except for the names and trademarks. It has all the same features, all the same advances, and, for better or worse, all the same bugs. 

AlmaLinux 9 isn't only available for the x86 architectures, such as x86_64 and aarch64. It's also available for IBM's PowerPC ppc64le and IBM Z s390x

Besides the big server architectures, AlmaLinux is also ready to run on:

Cloud images

    • AWS AMIs for x86_64 and Graviton Instances

    • Azure Images in standard and HPC flavors for x86_64 and aarch64

    • Google Cloud

    • Generic Cloud/Cloud-init for all four architectures

    • Open Nebula

    • Oracle Cloud Infrastructure for x86_64 and aarch64

Docker images

  • Platform and UBIs alternatives 

Raspberry Pi

Windows Subsystem for Linux

On servers, clouds, or the Raspberry Pi on your desktop, AlmaLinux is ready for work. Jack Aboutboul, AlmaLinux's Community Manager and AlmaLinux OS Foundation board member, said, "We are building AlmaLinux with the specific goal of creating an independent CentOS successor that is truly community-centric and designed for everyone, whether you're deploying hybrid multi-cloud solutions, large HPC or VFX clusters, a small business, a homelab, or even for your Raspberry Pi. We offer everyone a uniform platform that is safe, secure, easy to use, and dependable to build your tomorrow on."

Here are AlmaLinux 9's Main Features

Automation and web cockpit improvements

  • More performance metrics in web cockpit

  • Access to information to identify bottlenecks 

  • Easier data export to data analytics and reporting tools, such as Grafana

  • Ability to apply kernel live patching inside web cockpit

  • Ability to build images via a single build node

Security improvements

  • Ability to use Smart Card authentication to access remote hosts

  • Additional security profiles to help comply with standards like PCI-DSS and HIPAA

  • More logging details from SSSD, the open-source client for enterprise identity management, such as time to complete tasks and errors

  • A new log parsing tool for SSSD debug log analysis, which acts as "a grep front-end" for new search capabilities

  • AlmaLinux 9 integrates OpenSSL 3, which allows for use of the latest security standards and security ciphers for encrypting and protecting data

  • A new FIPS module has been submitted for FIPS 140-2 validation, the federal security requirement for cryptographic modules

  • Benefits from digital hashes and signatures that are provided by the kernel integrity subsystem, Integrity Measurement Architecture (IMA) for verifying the OS

  • SSH root password login is disabled by default

Application Development Environment updates

  • GCC 11 is the default system compiler 

  • Latest versions of LLVM, Rust, and Go compilers

  • Version 2.34 of the GNU C Library project (Glibc)

  • Python 3.9, which includes proper timezone support, a new high-performant parser, new string functions, dictionary update, and merge operators

  • AlmaLinux 9 UBI base images

  • Standard, micro, minimal, and init images

  • Updated Podman container engine

  • Cgroup2 by default, is supported by Podman, which adds rootless containers and better memory management and is now more frequently required for Kubernetes tooling. 

Sounds familiar? It should; it's the same feature list that RHEL 9 boasts.

How was AlmaLinux able to do this? Andrew Lukoshko, AlmaLinux's OS Architect, explained, "Actually, it wasn't that bad. Every major release comes with changes and challenges, but this time around the trickiest part was doing the actual bootstrapping from CentOS Stream 9 at the same time as working on our new open build system, which is better equipped to get future releases out the door even quicker." 

So, if AlmaLinux is so good, why shouldn't you do it? First, you're working with AlmaLinux without the net of Red Hat Support. If your staff are already RHEL experts, you can do that. But if they're not, or your RHEL maven leaves you in the lurch when they move to another job, you're taking a big risk. 

In addition, at the recent Red Hat Summit, Red Hat's Executive VP of Products and Technologies Matt Hicks told me, "Downstream rebuilds don't benefit how we engage with partners; sometimes it's very negative where partners tend to work with CentOS Stream assuming a feature would go into RHEL and it doesn't."

Besides, Red Hat is far more than just RHEL today. True, if all you need is a server operating system, AlmaLinux will work just fine for you. But say you need more. 

Hicks said, "It's a very different ecosystem partnership today. RHEL is still a really important part of our business, but in a lot of cases, we work with partners." 

He added, "We both have a shared understanding of the technology, we understand each other's roles. For example, Verizon was actually great for us because they know telecommunications much better than we do. Sure. We know OpenShift and form factors and hardware integration and VNF support on those really well, but together, we built something that deeply works for both of us."

In other words, with sufficient in-house expertise and for straightforward Linux server needs, AlmaLinux may be all you need. But without that knowledge and for more complex business projects, RHEL is still the smart move.

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