Support for CentOS has been discontinued. What’s next for its users? – UPDATE

On Tuesday December the 8th 2020 Red Hat announced that it was bringing the end-of-life of CentOS v8 forward by 8 years, from 2029 to the end of 2021. CentOS v7 will remain supported until 30th June 2024 as was originally planned but the focus of the CentOS project will shift to a new version called CentOS Stream.

The Centos announcement stated,

The future of the CentOS Project is CentOS Stream, and over the next year we’ll be shifting focus from CentOS Linux, the rebuild of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), to CentOS Stream, which tracks just ahead of a current RHEL release.”

The problem with this approach is that instead of the stable version that was released just behind Red Hat it will now be tracking ahead as a test bed for Red Hat. While this may be great for developers it is unsuitable for companies that rely on stability to run critical systems.

CentOs Explained

It is especially troublesome for companies that have already migrated to v8. These companies will have little choice but to pay Red Hat to switch to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) or rebuild the systems with a completely different operating system. Although the migration will probably be trivial (a script) these organisations will not have budgeted for either the Red Hat licenses or the staff costs required to do these migrations. At this time this will be an unwelcome cost. One such high profile customer is CERN. They made this statement,

CERN acknowledges the recent decision to shift focus from CentOS Linux to CentOS Stream, and the sudden change of the end of life of the CentOS 8 release. This may entail significant consequences for the worldwide particle physics community. We are currently investigating together with Fermilab the best path forward.”

The Open-Source community seems pretty angry too as a quick search of YouTube for the word CentOS will show you. Their main complaint seems to be the length of time that they have left for v8 support. They understand that Red Hat is a commercial organisation, and it is their right not to maintain and then give away a free version going forwards but the speed for which support is being withdrawn has taken aback a lot of IT administrators.

Who will gain from this move? The most obvious is IBM and Red Hat as some companies may feel forced into migrating just because of the time pressure (less than 12 months and counting) but perhaps the biggest gainer may be Oracle. They have a binary compatible free version of their Oracle distribution (like CentOS) and a paid version (like Red Hat). There is already a script to convert CentOS 7 to Oracle Linux and it seems likely that before the end of support date for CentOS v8 at the end of 2021 there will be a script to do the same for that version. The issue some people have with Oracle is that they take the Red Hat source code and make their own cheaper commercially available. This is good business practice but some in the Open-Source community won’t use it for that reason. And with 2019’s announcement that Oracle Java is no longer free for commercial use who is to say they won’t do the exact same thing with their free Linux releases.

There is one other interesting thing that happened in December 2020.  Gregory Kurtzer, founder of the original CentOS project started a new venture called Rocky Linux. Their aim is to function as a downstream build of Red Hat as CentOS had done previously, building releases after they have been added by Red Hat and not before. There is no release date for Rocky Linux as yet but with the involvement of Gregory Kurtzer this may be the best bet for those that want a free and stable release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Update

On 20th January 2021 Red Hat announced that they will allow an Individual Developer subscription for RHEL to be used in production for up to 16 systems. To take advantage of this you need to sign in with a free Red Hat account (or via single sign-on through GitHub, Twitter, Facebook, and other accounts) to download
RHEL and receive updates. This will start on February 1, 2021.

Red Hat said in reply to a question via Ars Technica,

Our intent is to keep small-production use cases as a key part of the Red Hat Developer program and the Individual Developer subscription to help bring enterprise-grade Linux to more users.

There will be an option to upgrade to full support, but it won’t be a requirement. This goes someway to addressing the concerns of the CentOS community and will definitely be a way forward for small users.

Hits: 153