Rocky Linux developer lands $26m funding for enterprise open-source push

Take up of the new open-source software is 'massive', says Rocky Linux founder.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

CIQ has landed $26 million in funding to support its plans to expand the use of Rocky Linux in the enterprise space. 

Last year, Red Hat decided to stop supporting CentOS 8 and shifted focus to CentOS Stream. CentOS had some huge enterprise users, among them Disney, GoDaddy, RackSpace, Toyota, and Verizon. 

In response, Greg Kurtzer, one of CentOS's founders, kicked off Rocky Linux in December 2020. Seven months later, the Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation (RESF) released the first stable release of Rocky Linux 8.4.    

And now Kurtzer's firm, CIQ, the founding sponsor and services partner behind Rocky Linux, has secured $26 million in Series A funding led by Two Bear Capital. It's the "lion's share" of the $33 million CIQ has raised previously, according to Kurtzer. 

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The investment follows CIQ's partnership with Google Cloud to provide customers with support for Rocky Linux issues

Kurtzer says Rocky Linux adoption has been "massive", with monthly downloads of OS images typically 250,000, reaching 750,000 in a bumper month. 

"Within two months we had 10,000 developer and contributors trying to be part of this project. That's too many people for such a young project," says Kurtzer.  "Just having 10,000 people saying we want to help is not helpful," he jokes.

Before the release of Rocky Linux, CIQ was developing a platform for enterprise high performance computing (HPC), HPC centers, and people doing AI and ML in the cloud. 

"In the midst of that, Red Hat end-of-lifed CentOS. It's always been, at least of the last decade, one of the primary operating systems used by enterprise, cloud, VMs and containers. When Red Hat announced CentOS would be end-of-life'd, we felt my background would be beneficial for doing it again and doing it right," explains Kurtzer.  

Kurtzer also sees the type of open-source license used as a key differentiator in the enterprise software space. 

"We are very open source, to the point we usually prefer non-copyleft licenses. We usually prefer MIT and BSD license. Everything we're releasing is going into MIT or BSD," says Kurtzer.  

He reckons most firms treat open source like a "marketing stunt" to gain more adoption.    

"But they control it, they own it. They end up holding it hostage to some extent. A true open-source community should not be controlled by a single corporation and that's a strong belief that we have," says Kurtzer. 

"Our view is that if an organizations wants to open source a particular piece of software, they have to be ready for the notion that a competitor or another company may end making more money or be more successful with their open source project than they are," he said. 

"It's not until that point does it really make sense for an organization to open source something. So if an organizations isn't ready for that, don't open source it, keep it closed source."

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Next on the agenda for the Rocky Linux project is the operating system's build system, called Peridot, as well as ensuring Rocky Linux ships with a modern Linux kernel. Kurtzer adds that most Rocky Linux contributors prefer building the OS in Google-created programming language Golang.   

The project has gained the support of Greg Kroah-Hartman, the maintainer of the main-line stable Linux kernel, to meet community demands for Rocky Linux to run on a more modern, optimized kernel, Kurtzer said.

Kroah-Hartman is leading Rocky Linux special interest group (SIG) for the kernel to create an optional enhanced kernel for Rocky Linux. 

"He's working closely with us to make sure the kernel we use is blessed by him. He's in the loop as bugs come up and help us manage that kernel in Rocky Linux," says Kurtzer. 

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