The first fruits of CentOS Stream: Red Hat Enterprise Linux 9 Beta

If you already know RHEL 8, then you won't need to learn anything new to make the most of RHEL 9's new improvements and features.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Good news! A brand new operating system! Bad news: You have to learn a brand new operating system. Except, this time, with the release of Red Hat's Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 9 Beta, sysadmins won't have to learn a new way of doing things. Hurrah!

This latest look at the future of RHEL is based on the controversial CentOS Stream Linux distribution. While many CentOS users have grumbled about CentOS becoming RHEL's upstream rather than a Linux distro in its own right, RHEL 9 shows that the new CentOS model has delivered what the company wanted from it. In the meantime, former CentOS users now have RHEL clones Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux or can turn to CloudLinux for CentOS 8 support.

But, if you want to know what's what with RHEL 9 so far, here's what we know. First, it's based on Linux kernel 5.14. It will run on four different architectures: Intel/AMD64 (x86_64); ARM 64-bit (aarch64); IBM Power LE (ppc64le); and IBM Z (s390x). And, in case you've been wondering, unlike RHEL 8.x, you should be able to run RHEL 9 with Mac M1 processors.

Security is, of course, very important to Red Hat. In this latest release, you'll find the following security features:

  • Smart Card authentication: Users can make use of smart card authentication to access remote hosts through the RHEL web console (Sudo, SSH, etc.).

  • Additional security profiles: You can improve your security intelligence gathering and remediation services such as Red Hat Insights and Red Hat Satellite with security standards such as PCI-DSS and HIPAA.

  • Detailed SSSD logging: SSSD, the enterprise single-sign-on framework, now includes more details for event logging. This includes time to complete tasks, errors, authentication flow, and more. New search capabilities also enable you to analyze performance and configuration issues.

  • Integrated OpenSSL 3: RHEL 8 supports the new OpenSSL 3 cryptographic frameworks. RHEL's built-in utilities have been recompiled to utilize OpenSSL 3.

  • Integrity Measurement Architecture (IMA): Digital hashes and signatures. These let you dynamically verify RHEL's integrity to detect rogue modifications across your infrastructure.

  • SSH root password login disabled by default: Yes, I know you ssh into your server with root passwords all the time. But it's never been a smart idea.  By default, RHEL  won't let you do this. Yes, this is annoying, but it's even more annoying to hackers trying to log in as `root` using brute force password attacks. All-in-all, this is a win in my book.

Other new features include:

  • Enhanced web console performance metrics: Access to additional information will allow you to identify the potential causes of performance bottlenecks better. We've also made it easier to export these data to leading analysis and reporting tools like Grafana.

  • Kernel live patching via the web console: Sensitive to system downtime? You can now apply live kernel updates from the web console.

  • Streamlined image building: You'll find several image builder improvements in RHEL 9 Beta, including the ability to build RHEL 8 and RHEL 9 images via a single build node, better support for customized file systems (non-LVM mount points), and bare-metal deployments. 

  • If you're building Universal Base Image (UBI) containers: You can create them not only with standard UBI images but with micro, minimal, and init images as well. To do this, you'll need a fully subscribed RHEL 9 Beta container host. This enables you to pull additional RPMs from the RHEL 9 Beta repositories. 

  • RHEL now uses cgroup2 containers by defaultPodman, Red Hat's drop-in daemonless container engine replacement for Docker, uses signature and short-name (e.g., ubi8 instead of registry.access.redhat.com/ubi8/ubi) validation by default when pulling container images. 

And, of course, Red Hat being Red Hat, RHEL 9 Beta ships with GCC 11 and the latest versions of LLVM, Rust, and Go compilers. Looking ahead, Python 3.9 will also be RHEL 9's default version of Python. 

In addition, RHEL 9 program packaging supports modules, Software Collections (SCLs), Flatpacks, and old-school RPMs. No matter how you like to install programs, RHEL 9 will have you covered. 

Sounds interesting? Want to try it? It's easier than ever. Red Hat recently removed the requirements to sign up for RHEL Beta access. In other words, if you have any kind of  Red Hat account (including the no-cost Red Hat Developer program), you get unlimited access to Red Hat Beta Access subscriptions. For more details, check out the new RHEL Beta experience page

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