CentOS Replacements For Your Production Linux Servers

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CentOS Replacements For Your Production Linux Servers

CentOS 8 suddenly has its life cut short to the end of 2021. 6 Linux distributions you may want to consider for CentOS replacements.

On December 8th, 2020, Red Hat shocked the Linux world. They announced they would be shifting all of their investment in CentOS Linux from the popular downstream CentOS distribution. This is where history repeats itself. Back in 2004, Red Hat did the same thing by EOL’ing all versions of “Red Hat Linux” and forced users to Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

If you are currently using CentOS 8 you will have to find an alternative operating system to use. Its end-of-life cycle has been cut short in December, 2021. But if you use CentOS 7 you do not have to take any action right now. CentOS 7 will reach its end-of-life June 30th, 2024.

Red Hat will not release any new CentOS distributions, only CentOS Stream. CentOS will no longer be a stable point distribution but a rolling release. In addition to, the announcement clearly stated that CentOS Stream is not a replacement for CentOS Linux. Therefore many CentOS users feel betrayed and are looking for a way out. They find out that their “until-2029” distro had become an “until-2021” distro.

Below is a list of 6 Linux distributions that you can consider as a possible replacement for your current CentOS server.

AlmaLinux

AlmaLinux is an open-source, community-driven project that intends to fill the gap left by the demise of the CentOS stable release. AlmaLinux OS is a 1:1 binary compatible fork of RHEL 8 and it is built by the creators of the established CloudLinux OS.

As a standalone, completely free OS, AlmaLinux OS enjoys $1M in annual sponsorship from CloudLinux Inc. With 10 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.

Why alma? Just like every developer and every user that relies on a Linux-powered OS, we at CloudLinux benefit from the dedicated and often selfless efforts of the Linux community. This community is the soul of Linux. In the spirit of the Linux community, we decided to name our new distribution AlmaLinux.

CloudLinux states it will support AlmaLinux through 2029. And guess what? AlmaLinux 8.3 RC1 is already available for download. So final release is on its way.

Rocky Linux

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.

Rebuilding RHEL is not difficult. If that was our first priority, we would have been done earlier this month. But instead, our first priority is building the community, the infrastructure, and the trust that Rocky Linux will always remain stable, open, collaborative, and secure.

Gregory Kurtzer, founder of Rocky Linux and CentOS project

The Rocky Linux concept got immediate, positive community reaction. But there’s an awful lot of work and expense that goes into creating and maintaining a Linux distribution. The CentOS Linux project itself made that clear when it went for the Red Hat acquisition in 2014.

Rocky Linux is a complete binary-compatible release using the Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system source code. The release is launching more than a half year after Red Hat deprecated its support for the widely popular CentOS server operating system.

Related: CentOS 8 to Rocky Linux 8 Migration: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

Oracle Linux

Oracle Linux is one of the most compatible OSes with RedHat. It is one of the free and downloadable offerings developed and maintained by Oracle. One of the main advantages is that it closely follows the RHEL release cycle using the modified UEK or “Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel” produced by Oracle. The kernel provides additional benefits over the mainline kernel in terms of stability and minimal backport packages, among other features.

The maintainers have created a script that allows for an easy transition to Oracle Linux stored at GitHub. The script has two main functions: it switches your yum configuration to use the Oracle Linux yum server to update some core packages and installs the latest Oracle Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel. That’s it. You won’t even need to restart after switching.

However Oracle Linux support costs money. But if you just want the software, it’s 100% free. 

What about the code quality? You’re running the exact same code that Oracle Linux enterprise customers are, so it has to be rock-solid.

Ubuntu

Another major player looking to step into the fray is of course Ubuntu and it needs no introduction. But unlike the above distros Ubuntu has one big problem: It is not a RHEL relation. It’s from the Debian Linux family tree.

The main arguments we can mention in favor of Ubuntu are:

  • Reliable release schedule: Canonical publishes new releases of Ubuntu on a regular cadence, enabling the community, businesses and developers to plan their roadmaps. LTS releases are the ‘enterprise grade’ releases of Ubuntu and are utilised the most. An estimated 95% of all Ubuntu installations are LTS releases.
  • Stable and supported Linux OS: Ubuntu LTS 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. 

Debian

Undoubtedly Debian is one from the top choices for server in terms of stability. Debian is the base of many Linux distribution today, including Ubuntu. It provides stable packages and a very long support window with Long Term Support (LTS) until the end of life of its versions. It is also very conservative on upgrading Linux Kernel versions and packages. This only makes your server more stable without any surprises.

The main Debian’s pros are:

  • Debian is Free software: It is made of free and open source software and will always be 100% free.
  • It is a stable and secure: Users like Debian stability and reliability since 1993. Once again, since 1993. The Debian developers provide security updates for all packages over their lifetime whenever possible.
  • Provides smooth upgrades: Debian is well known for its easy and smooth upgrades within a release cycle but also to the next major release.
  • The Debian project is a community: Debian is not just a Linux distribution. The software is co-produced by hundreds of volunteers from all over the world. They have developers in more than 60 countries and also rock-solid users community.

openSUSE

openSUSE is also a good candidate for replacing CentOS. The distro offers two different formats, the LTS-style release Leap and the rolling release Tumbleweed. Now openSUSE Leap is based on the source code of SUSE Linux Enterprise and it share the exact same binaries. This means that with its latest stable release, there is no difference between the free-to-use community distribution and SLE.

Related: openSUSE Leap vs Tumbleweed, Difference Between Them Explained

If you want to use openSUSE as a CentOS alternative on your server, it will be wise to use the Leap version, which is considerably more stable. So openSUSE Leap with Release 15.3 becomes also an interesting alternative to CentOS 8 and is worth to take a look at it.

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

With SUSE, you have YAST, which makes setup and managing a lot easier. When it comes to things like the kernel or the user interface, it’s not the same, but in my experience it’s not a huge transition to go from CentOS to openSUSE or SUSE Enterprise.

Gerald Pfeifer, SUSE, CTO (EMEA-based)

Closing thoughts

Due to its stability and active community, CentOS has been a popular choice for developers and system administrators. However, things have changed recently. Now other Linux distros will see many new users. Probably most users have already started migration. Tell us what is your choice?

8 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.

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