7 Linux Distros to Replace CentOS on Your Servers

7 Linux Distros to Replace CentOS on Your Servers

Looking for CentOS replacements? Plan to migrate your servers to one of these seven best CentOS replacements for your Linux server needs.

On December 8, 2020, Red Hat shocked the Linux world by announcing that it was discontinuing all CentOS investments in favor of CentOS Stream. And this is where history repeats itself. In 2004, Red Hat did the same thing by EOL’ing all “Red Hat Linux” and forcing users to Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

So, if you are currently using CentOS 8, you will have to find an alternative operating system. This is because its end-of-life cycle was cut short in December 2021. However, if you use CentOS 7, you can wait to take action, as CentOS 7 will reach its end of life on June 30, 2024.

To clarify, Red Hat will not release any new CentOS versions, only CentOS Stream. Therefore, CentOS will no longer be a stable point distribution but a rolling release one. In addition, the announcement clearly stated that CentOS Stream is not a replacement for CentOS Linux.

As expected, many CentOS users feel betrayed and seek a way out. Why? Because they found out that their “until-2029” distro had become an “until-2021” distro. Fortunately, there are several excellent options for CentOS replacements. This article closely examines each to help you make the best-informed decision for your situation and needs.

To make things even easier for you, we will divide them into two main groups. The first one includes RHEL-based Linux distributions. In other words, those that are 1:1 binary compatible with Red Hat, so migrating apps and services from CentOS to them is relatively easy and requires little effort.

The second category includes Linux distributions that have proven their reliability in the server market over the years but do not provide backward compatibility with Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Therefore, switching from CentOS to them requires you to have prior experience with the respective distribution.

With the clarification thus made, let’s dive in and explore the top 7 Linux distros to replace CentOS on your servers.

Best RHEL-Based CentOS Replacements

1. AlmaLinux

AlmaLinux 9.1
AlmaLinux 9.1

When Red Hat announced that it would no longer be maintaining CentOS releases, CloudLinux, a company specializing in delivering a customized Linux-based operating system to large hosting providers and data centers, decided to create its own RHEL fork.

This initiative resulted in the emergence of AlmaLinux – an open-source, forever-free enterprise Linux distribution that intends to fill the gap left by the demise of CentOS.

As a standalone, community-driven project, AlmaLinux is a 1:1 binary-compatible fork of RHEL and enjoys $1M in annual sponsorship from CloudLinux Inc.

With ten years of experience building a hardened CentOS Linux for data centers and hosting companies, the company brings deep technical knowledge of enterprise infrastructure, kernel development, and open-source software to the project.

There are several reasons why AlmaLinux may be a suitable replacement for CentOS on your production servers. Some of the main advantages of AlmaLinux include the following:

  • Stability: AlmaLinux is based on the stable and well-supported RHEL, making it a reliable choice for production environments.
  • Compatibility: AlmaLinux is fully compatible with RHEL packages and repositories, making it easy to transition from CentOS to AlmaLinux.
  • Predictability: The AlmaLinux Foundation, a non-profit organization, guarantees that the distribution is entirely independent of corporate interests and AlmaLinux will stay forever free, avoiding a repeat of CentOS’s fate.
  • Community: AlmaLinux has a strong community of users and developers who provide support and help with any issues you may encounter.

In conclusion, AlmaliLinux is a solid and reliable choice for replacing CentOS on your production servers. It offers similar features and compatibility but adds predictability and a strong community.

If you are planning to migrate your CenOS server to AlmaLinux, you will find our guides below very useful:

2. Rocky Linux

Rocky Linux 9.1
Rocky Linux 9.1

Rocky Linux is designed as a drop-in CentsOS replacement. It was created by the same person who birthed CentOS into being, Gregory Kurtzer, and Rocky follows the same mission of offering an enterprise-ready version of Linux. The name was chosen as a tribute to early CentOS co-founder Rocky McGaugh.

As we said before, Red Hat announced it was shifting focus from downstream build CentOS to upstream build CentOS Stream on December 8, 2020. The next day, Kurtzer launched the Rocky Linux development effort on GitHub. Over 650 contributors joined in less than 24 hours.

In other words, the Rocky Linux concept got an immediate, positive community reaction. As a result, the Rocky Linux team announced the general availability of its first stable release, Rocky Linux 8.4 “Green Obsidian,” on June 21, 2021.

Additionally, the project has backing from multi-billion-dollar companies, such as Microsoft, VMWare, Amazon, Google, etc.

Rocky Linux is a complete RHEL binary-compatible distro using the source code of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system. It is compatible with RHEL and can run the same software and applications as RHEL.

There are several reasons to choose Rocky Linux as a replacement for CentOS. Some of the key advantages of Rocky Linux include the following:

  • It is a stable and reliable platform built on the foundation of RHEL, one of the world’s most widely-used enterprise Linux distributions.
  • Rocky Linux is backed by some of the world’s largest multi-billion-dollar companies. This is a strong enough guarantee of the distribution’s reliability and quality.
  • The distribution offers full compatibility with Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
  • Through CIQ (Ctrl IQ), Rocky Linux provides commercial support and services for Rocky Linux to customers in research, academia, government, enterprise, partners, and everyone in between.

If you plan to migrate your CentOS server to Rocky Linux, our guide “CentOS 8 to Rocky Linux 8 Migration: A Step-by-Step Tutorial” will come in handy.

3. Oracle Linux

Oracle Linux 9.1
Oracle Linux 9.1

Oracle Linux is a free, open-source distribution developed and supported by Oracle Corporation. It is based on the source code of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and is designed to be fully compatible with RHEL.

One of its main advantages is that in addition to the stock RHEL kernel, Oracle Linux ships with the in-house developed UEK (Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel), which provides additional benefits over the mainline kernel.

There are several reasons to choose Oracle Linux as a replacement for CentOS. Some of them are:

  • Oracle Linux is completely free to download and use.
  • Oracle Linux is based on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) codebase, which means is a stable, reliable, and enterprise-grade operating system.
  • Oracle Linux comes with an Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel (UEK), a high-performance kernel optimized for running Oracle workloads.
  • Oracle Linux is backed by Oracle’s world-class support team, which can assist with installation, configuration, and troubleshooting.

So, if you have any doubts about the quality of the distribution, let us dispel them. Oracle Linux uses the same codebase as Oracle’s enterprise Linux clients, so it is rock-solid.

If you are planning to migrate from CentOS to Oracle Linux, the maintainers have created a script available on GitHub that allows an easy transition to Oracle Linux.

If you plan to migrate your CentOS server to Rocky Linux, our guide “CentOS 8 to Oracle Linux 8 Migration: A Step-by-Step Guide” will come in handy.

4. VzLinux

VzLinux 8
VzLinux 8

But there’s another contender – VzLinux. It is also a 1:1 completely binary-compatible fork of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, just like Rocky Linux, AlmaLinux, or Oracle Linux, and it has been around for over two decades.

You’ve most likely never heard of this enterprise-ready Linux distribution. However, VzLinux was the foundation for OpenVz and several commercial Virtuozzo products.

In addition, VzLinux comes with extra features that cloud-native and container developers may appreciate. Those features include:

  • CentOS conversion dry-run.
  • Snapshot creation and roll-back.
  • Unattended mass conversion.

On top of that, VzLinux currently offers a ready-to-use utility, vzdeploy8, to convert from CentOS 8 to VzLinux without downtime.

The conversion utility allows for the smooth conversion of CentOS 8 bare-metal servers, virtual machines, and containers, effectively managing risk while minimizing negative business impact.

On the other hand, VzLinux is a less popular distribution than the others on this list because it is mostly used in virtualized environments. So, only a limited amount of documentation and articles are available to help users.

Taking note of this remark, if you are looking for a CentOS replacement, VzLinux seems like a good alternative.

Best Non-RHEL-Based CentOS Replacements

Here we enter the land of distributions that have proved their reliability as Linux servers but do not provide backward compatibility with Red Hat Enterprise Linux, as the ones listed above do.

This means that there are no ready-made tools to migrate your current CentOS system to one of them. Furthermore, their package base, as well as the services and configurations that are included with them, may differ from those in CentOS.

Therefore, to adapt them to any of the distributions listed below, you will need specific skills and knowledge for that distribution.

1. Debian

Debian 11
Debian 11

Debian is a free and open-source operating system composed entirely of free and open-source software. It is developed and maintained by a community of volunteers from around the world and is best known for its security, stability, and reliability.

With nearly 30 years of history, Debian is a living legend in the Linux world and is still used by countless Linux servers today.

Debian provides stable packages and a very long support window with Long Term Support (LTS) until the end of the life of its versions. It is also very conservative in upgrading Linux kernel versions and packages. This only makes your server more stable without any surprises.

The main Debian pros are:

  • Debian is made of free and open-source software and will always be 100% free.
  • Debian is known for its stability and reliability, which makes it a good choice for servers and other critical systems. Users have liked Debian’s stability and reliability since 1993. The developers provide security updates for all packages over their life whenever possible.
  • Debian has one of the largest and richest software repositories among Linux distributions, including countless open-source applications and tools.
  • Debian is well known for its easy and smooth upgrades within a release cycle and the next major release.
  • It uses a conservative approach to updates, which means that new versions are released infrequently but are thoroughly tested and well-supported.
  • Debian is not just a Linux distribution. The software is co-produced by thousands of volunteers from all over the world. The distro has one of the biggest and most active communities of users and developers who contribute to the project by providing support, testing, and development.

It is hard to go wrong with Debian as your server operating system. The only main barrier to using it as a replacement for CentOS is the extra effort required to transition from an RPM-based ecosystem to a DEB-based one.

2. Ubuntu

Ubuntu 22.04 LTS
Ubuntu 22.04 LTS

Ubuntu is another strong competitor for the niche market left by CentOS, and it needs no introduction. But just like Debian, Ubuntu has one significant drawback – it is not RHEL-based. Instead, it is from the Debian Linux family tree.

However, unlike Debian, Ubuntu is a more business-oriented operating system, and you can get paid support here. However, if we compare Debian with Ubuntu in terms of stability and reliability, we are likely to say that Debian is better.

The main arguments we can mention in favor of Ubuntu as a CentOS replacement are:

  • Reliable release schedule: Canonical publishes new releases of Ubuntu on a regular cadence, enabling the community, businesses, and developers to plan their roadmaps.
  • Long-Term Support Release: Ubuntu’s LTS releases ensure five years of support with the option of extending this period. They are enterprise-grade and are utilized the most. An estimated 95% of all Ubuntu installations are LTS releases.
  • Stable and supported Linux OS: Ubuntu is a predictable, stable, and secure platform with commercial services and solutions provided by Canonical. 
  • Performance and versatility: Ubuntu is certified by leading hardware OEMs, and with comprehensive deployment tools, finservs can get the most from their infrastructure deployments.
  • Ubuntu has a large and active community of users and developers who can support and help with any problems you may encounter.

In conclusion, Ubuntu may be a good choice as a CentOS replacement if you want an easy-to-use, feature-rich, and well-supported operating system. But, of course, the previously noted Debian considerations apply here as well.

3. openSUSE

openSUSE Leap 15.4
openSUSE Leap 15.4

openSUSE is a Linux distribution that often gets overlooked by individuals and businesses looking for enterprise-ready solutions but is also a good candidate for replacing CentOS.

It is a free and open-source Linux operating system developed and maintained by a community of volunteers and sponsored by SUSE, a German-based software company.

The operating system is available in two main editions: Leap, which provides a stable and reliable platform for enterprise users and server needs, and Tumbleweed, which offers the latest and most cutting-edge technology for users who want to try the latest software developments. More on this topic can be found here.

So, regarding server needs, the preferred option is Leap which is considerably more stable. Furthermore, it is based on the source code of SUSE Linux Enterprise and shares the same binaries. In other words, there is no difference between free-to-use community distribution and SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE).

One of the main advantages of openSUSE Linux is its “Evergreen” support. Some of the chosen releases are supported for a much longer, thus named “Evergreen.”

Overall, openSUSE can be a good choice for CentOS replacement for users who want a user-friendly, customizable, and secure operating system for their server needs.

Closing Thoughts

Due to its stability and active community, CentOS was a popular choice for developers and system administrators. However, things have changed, and now other Linux distros will see many new users.

Here are our recommendations for the best CentOS replacement for your server needs. Choose AlmaLinux or Rocky Linux if backward compatibility and seamless migration are critical. Because both distributions are virtually identical, whichever you choose will give you a reliable and secure server operating system.

On the other hand, if you want to stay away from the RHEL-based ecosystem, we strongly recommend Debian. An operating system that has proved its reliability over the last 30 years, providing you with flexibility, predictability, security, and peace of mind.

Most users probably have already started the migration. So tell us, what is your choice?

Bobby Borisov
Bobby Borisov

Bobby is an Editor-in-Chief at Linuxiac. He is a Linux professional with over 20 years of experience. With a strong focus on Linux and open-source software, Bobby has worked as a Linux System Administrator, Software Developer, and DevOps Engineer for small and large multinational companies.

13 Comments

  1. Do not forget the openSUSE.
    And especially now when ooenSUSE Leap is to have exatly same software base than SUSE Enterprise. They are 100% compatible very soon.
    And it is RPM distro!!

  2. Yes, I agree, OpenSUSE is a better choice than all the above mentioned, we have been testing it in house for over a year and will replace all our CentOS (and Redhat) desktops & servers with Leap. OpenSUSE Leap / Tumbleweed are far more secure out of the box and so far have not had any issues with updates which I can’t say for the Redhat based OS’s which bork updates fairly regularly. OpenSUSE is the best enterprise grade distro available period, we will not be renewing our paid Redhat Support and will move it all over to SUSE & OpenSUSE by the middle of this year.

  3. I don’t know why the author exclude openSUSE, really stable and nearly 100% compatible with SLES, an enterprise Linux capable distro with technological upgrades that you won’t find on others distros, rollback for a file or a system state with snapper, and software really up to date. Rocky Linux still a test release…. Ubuntu is a mess with the snap soft and the installer gives diferents options for different languages… Debian is really stable… but old software.
    And Alma Linux… a clone of CentOS for now… but what happends when you found a bug? report to alma, alma report to red hat… redhat fix, alma fix or….. you report to alma, alma fix and the two distros begin to differ???

  4. I have used CentOS to compile when I need a version of RHEL. It was simply a means to an end. I thought RedHat already had a test bed compile all the time, so this is confusing.

  5. I’m still deciding the best replacement for me to use but am surprised that OpenSUSE protagonists have not mentioned that it is not binary-compatible with CentOS. If you need to rely on CentOS or RHEL-compatible applications the OpenSUSE won’t do it for you.
    Don’t get me wrong, I am sure it is very good at what it does, but it doesn’t do this.

    Oracle is not an option for me because I was at the sharp end of their open-source support previously, I won’t make that mistake again.

    Like Ricardo, I will be choosing between Rocky and Alma

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *